You Could Once Buy “Memento Kits” Made of White House Scraps

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

The White House may be rather gilded these days, but when Harry Truman moved into the Executive Mansion in 1945, the place was anything but luxurious—in fact, it was literally falling apart.

Truman often wrote letters to friends and family romanticizing the creaks and drafts in his new home, imagining they were his feuding predecessors: “The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth. I can just imagine old Andy and Teddy having an argument over Franklin," he wrote to his wife Bess in 1945.

But the problems went well beyond creaky floorboards. By 1947, the First Family noticed chandeliers swinging and entire floors swaying “like a ship at sea.” In 1948, the leg of one of Margaret Truman’s pianos broke through the floor. Not long after, the Trumans moved across the street to Blair House while the White House was completely gutted, leaving only the original walls remaining. But Truman was exceedingly careful about keeping the integrity of those walls: Though the demolition of the interior required the use of a bulldozer, Truman forbade engineers from cutting a hole in the walls big enough to allow the machinery through. Instead, the bulldozer was disassembled and moved inside in pieces, then reassembled.

A black and white picture of a pile of debris inside of the White House, with a bulldozer, workmen and metal beams among it.

Abbie Rowe, National Park Service // Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

As you may imagine, the demolition phase produced literally tons of debris, which the public wanted a piece of—the White House was inundated with more than 20,000 requests for various bits and pieces, including wallpaper, burned wood, and doorknobs. In response, the Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion decided to make 13 different “authenticated memento kits” available to the public, an endeavor that netted an extra $10,000 toward renovations.

An order form for a White House memento kit that details the prices and shipping for the various pieces available.
Stacy Conradt

Souvenir-hunters could request everything from a “small piece of old metal” to “enough stone for a fireplace”—and all they had to pay were the shipping and processing costs. At $2.00, kit #1 (“Enough old pine to make a gavel”) was one of the most popular requests, with 5059 sold. “One brick, as nearly whole as practicable,” was $1.00, though this customer still had to pay 23 cents for shipping upon arrival.

A weathered brick and the cardboard box the brick was shipped in, both under a display case.
Stacy Conradt

“Two pieces of stone to make bookends” were $2.00; 2208 of them were purchased. This particular set, seen at the Truman Library and Museum, was made from two plaster cornice moldings.

Two pieces of architectural scrollwork, painted white and mounted on wooden pieces to create bookends.
Stacy Conradt

For those interested in making White House remnants a larger part of their homes, 1600 pounds of stone suitable for a fireplace went for a mere $100.

Harry Truman himself was able to snag a chunk of fireplace memorabilia, though his was certainly worth more than $100. In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt decked out the State Dining Room with a stone mantel, a piece designed to complement the big-game trophies displayed on the walls. The mantel featured intricate carvings of buffalo heads, and in 1940, a prayer written by John Adams during his first night at the White House was added to the front.

A large stone fireplace mantel with intricate buffalo carvings, on display on top of a large wooden block. A black and white photo of the mantel in its original setting at the White House sits behind the piece.
Stacy Conradt

Because it didn't fit the American-Georgian aesthetic of the reconstruction, the historic piece of architecture was “thrown out on the junk pile,” according to Truman. Official records, however, show that the mantel was never on the "junk pile"—it had been carefully placed in storage. Whatever the case may have been, Truman requested that the Buffalo Mantel be moved to Independence, Missouri, for inclusion in his Presidential Library. In 1962, during her quest to return historical furniture and other items to the White House, Jackie Kennedy wrote to the former president and requested that the mantel be returned home. Truman declined to send it back.

To this day, the original Buffalo Mantel remains at the Truman Library, and a replica adorns the State Dining Room fireplace at the White House.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

A Brief History of the White House Bunker

President George Bush consults with senior staff in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
President George Bush consults with senior staff in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The U.S. National Archives, Flickr // No Known Copyright Restrictions

When Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Secret Service realized something unsettling: If the White House were the target of a similar attack, the soft sandstone structure would easily crumble, and they had no plan of action for ferrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt to safety.

Within weeks, construction had begun on two subterranean projects. The first was a tunnel that connected the East Wing of the White House to the nearby (and much sturdier) Treasury Building, a granite stronghold with underground bank vaults. According to Robert Klara’s book The Hidden White House, one or more of those vaults was transformed into an 1100-square-foot shelter with 10 rooms, including a bedroom, a well-stocked kitchen, a cozy leather chair, and plenty of plush carpeting. The other was a smaller bunker below the East Wing itself. At just 40 feet by 40 feet, the two-room suite featured 7-foot-thick concrete walls, a medical room, enough food and water to sustain dozens of people for days, and a diesel-generated power system.

During President Harry S. Truman’s massive renovation of the White House between 1948 and 1952, this bunker was expanded into what’s now known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC). As Gizmodo reports, it was there that the Secret Service escorted Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne; National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice; First Lady Laura Bush; and other senior officials during the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Dick Cheney in the PEOC on 9/11
Vice President Dick Cheney in the PEOC on 9/11.
The U.S. National Archives, Flickr // No Known Copyright Restrictions

While the dimensions and layout of the entire space are kept under wraps, we do know a little about it from photos taken at the time, which show a plain room with television screens, a long conference table, and the Seal of the President of the United States hung on one wall. Laura Bush revealed a few more details in her 2010 memoir, Spoken From the Heart:

“I was hustled inside and downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal … We walked along old tile floors with pipes hanging from the ceiling and all kinds of mechanical equipment. The PEOC is designed to be a command center during emergencies, with televisions, phones, and communications facilities.”

When President George Bush, who had been in Florida that day, arrived at the bunker just after 7 p.m., the Secret Service suggested he and Laura spend the night in the PEOC. “They showed us the bed, a fold-out that looked like it had been installed when FDR was president,” Laura wrote. “George and I stared at it, and we both said no.”

In 2010, workers broke ground on the North Lawn of the White House for yet another underground project. According to the Washington Examiner, the official word was that they were updating electrical wiring and air conditioning in the building, but some journalists speculated this was just to cover for the construction of a new White House bunker. In his 2018 book The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game, former Washington Post journalist Ronald Kessler confirmed this theory.

Kessler alleged the highly secret structure was “at least five stories deep” and could “house the staff of the entire West Wing indefinitely in the event of a weapons of mass destruction attack.” It even has its own air supply, so occupants would be safe from nuclear radiation. Earlier this week, he explained to The Washington Post that the impetus for creating this new bunker was the realization during 9/11 that it wouldn't be feasible to transport White House officials to an existing offsite shelter if the nation were under attack in the future—traffic would make leaving the city by car too time-consuming, and air travel would likely be too dangerous.

And, though Kessler didn’t comment on the furniture, it’s probably safe to assume this state-of-the-art shelter features something more comfortable than a few fold-out beds from the 1940s.

[h/t Gizmodo]