Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Eve letter from Pres George H.W. Bush to his Children

The following letter was typewritten by President George H.W. Bush on New Year's Eve in 1990 and addressed to his five children - George, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Doro.

In the letter, he writes about the family time spent at Camp David over Christmas and his feelings about going to war with Iraq.

Source: National Archives; George Bush Presidential Library

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas at Camp David

President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon celebrated Christmas in the Aspen Lodge in 1971

President George W. Bush celebrated Christmas at Camp David a total of twelve times - eight while he was in office and four while his father was in office.  In 2003, First Lady Laura Bush was asked in the online forum "Ask the White House" about why they like to go to Camp David for Christmas.  Her reply:
"We choose to spend Christmas at Camp David because it is such a beautiful snow-covered spot for Christmas. And also it is our sentimental favorite place to be at Christmas because we spent the years 1989 - 1992 there with all of the Bush family. And once again this year we will be joined by President Bush, Barbara Bush, our girls, my mother, the President's sister and her family and one of his brothers. "

President Bush reading Christmas stories to his grandchildren at Camp David in 1991

Bush family Christmas tree at Camp David - 1990

President Bush calling troops overseas to wish them a Merry Christmas 

Laura Bush described plans for Christmas at Camp David in an interview with CBS in 2005 as follows:
"We'll spend Christmas there with all of our family -- President Bush and Barbara Bush; my mother; our girls, of course; George's brothers and sister and their families; their children. I think there will be about 30 of us. It's a very big family. And because Camp David has these little cabins, each family can have their own little cabin; they can have their own Christmas tree when they wake up in the morning. And then, of course, we'll meet for Christmas dinner on Christmas day. We'll go to church together on Christmas morning. They'll be with us for the famous Christmas pageant on one night, and then we'll have Christmas Eve services, as well."
President George W. Bush and his family at Camp David on Christmas Day in 2008

2008 Camp David Christmas menu from

A selection of Camp David Christmas cards from over the years 

Camp David Christmas Ornaments

2011 Camp David Christmas card

Sources:; George Bush Presidential Library; CBS; Nixon Library

Monday, December 13, 2010

Camp David Underground Bomb Shelter

According the the Eisenhower Presidential Library, President Eisenhower had a bomb shelter built at Camp David. President Eisenhower met with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1959 and showed him the new bomb shelter.  The book The President is at Camp David contains an excerpt from the Prime Minister's diary describing the underground shelter:
"a sort of Presidential Command Post in the event of atomic war. It holds fifty of the President's staff in one place and one hundred and fifty Defence staff in another. The fortress is underneath the innocent looking huts in which we lived, hewn out of the rock. It cost 10 million dollars."
 This 1959 Owasso Argus-Press article describes the Macmillan visit to Camp David.

The 8th & I Reunion Association website, which contains items of interest for those who served at the  Marine Barracks at 8th & I St SE in Washington DC (including marines formerly stationed at Camp David), has a section where members contribute stories from their duty at Camp David.

Some former marines who served under President Eisenhower describe an incident in 1957 when President Eisenhower relocated to the secure bunker at Camp David during a war rehearsal.  They describe a Command Center that was accessible via elevator from different locations within the Aspen Lodge, including the President's bedroom.  The Command Center was equipped to allow his image to be televised to various locations around the world.  There was also a War Room, which allowed him to communicate with the military in the event of a war.

When President Nixon decided to add a swimming pool outside the Aspen Lodge, the location he selected was directly over the bomb shelter. "Orange One", as it was called, had to be reinforced for a cost of $261,000.

According to the book "President Nixon: Alone in the White House", the money for this came from secret military funds.  The interior of the underground shelter was also redone with new beds, bedspreads, pictures, paint, and office furnishings.

This 1980 newspaper article reviews a book written by the former Director of the White House Military Office Bill Gulley.  When President Carter expressed concerns to him about the cost of Camp David and considered shutting it down,  he asked the President if he knew what was there.  President Carter replied "cabins".  Then Gulley "explained to him about the bomb shelter, the emergency communications center, and other facilities."

A 1994 article in Mother Jones Magazine describes the preparations required to conceal the work on the underground command center when Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev was scheduled to visit Camp David:
"Laborers worked night and day to haul truckloads of dirt and stone, making sure to hide every trace of their excavations before Khrushchev's arrival. A large deck was constructed to conceal the cavernous hole. Little did Khrushchev know, as he stood smiling on the deck posing for photographers, that he was atop a presidential relocation site."
The above article describes one of the entrances to the underground facility as being "concealed within a phony water tower".  This water tower is described on a blog about Presidential emergency facility sites.  The code name for the emergency relocation site at Camp David is "Cactus". Some of the other sites were Crown (White House), Crystal (Mt. Weather), and Creed (Raven Rock Mountain Complex).  A related "Cartwheel" site in northwest Washington, DC is still in use by the FAA.

Each of these sites had a communication tower equipped with antennas, transmitters, and receivers.  They were 100 feet tall and had multiple floors underground to house supplies and living quarters for the staff.

To disguise the existence of the communication tower, an observation deck and signs were added for the Khrushchev visit to make it appear like an ordinary water tower.  The tower has since been torn down, but the underground command center remains in place.

Aerial view of Camp David in December 1961.  Note the green "water tower " in the background

Underground bunker location near Aspen Lodge - President Kennedy and President Eisenhower - April 1961

Sources: Eisenhower Presidential Library; President Nixon: Alone in the White House; The President is at Camp DavidThe 8th & I Reunion Association; Life.comOwasso Argus-Press; The Daily Reporter; Mother Jones Magazine; Historian for Hire; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library; coldwarcomms; Early Presidential Emergency Facilities

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Camp David Jackets

One of the customs at Camp David is to present guests with an official Camp David jacket.  The most common type is the windbreaker; although some Presidents prefer the leather bomber jacket.  Below are some photos of Presidents and their guests wearing the official Camp David jacket.

President Nixon with Soviet President Brezhnev - June 1973

President Nixon wearing his Camp David leather jacket in December 1971

President Carter with close friend and advisor Charles Kirbo at Camp David in April 1978

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan at Camp David in September 1978

President Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone at Camp David in April 1986

Prime Minister Nakasone presents a portable television to the Reagans in the Aspen Lodge 

The Reagans at Camp David in July 1988

President and Mrs. Bush - March 1990

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David 

Gift from President George W. Bush to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

President Obama and VP Joe Biden at Camp David in October 2010

And, for just five bucks you can buy an official-looking Camp David patch on eBay and sew it on your own jacket.

Sources:  Richard Nixon Library; Jimmy Carter Library; Ronald Reagan Library; George Bush Presidential Library;  AP; Daily Mail; White House; eBay

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving at Camp David

President and Mrs. Bush along with daughter Doro watch as Thanksgiving pies are prepared in 1989

According to this story in the Washington Examiner:
"The Thanksgiving holiday week at the White House traditionally follows a familiar trajectory: pardon the turkey in the Rose Garden, receive bizarre, carriage-driven delivery of the White House Christmas tree, then off to Camp David to give staff and Secret Service time off with their families."

The Clintons celebrate Thanksgiving at Camp David in 1994
Camp David - Thanksgiving 2000

This 1998 newspaper article describes President Clinton's Thanksgiving Day round of golf at nearby Maple Run Golf Course prior to sitting down for a traditional dinner at Camp David with his family and friends.

Hillary Clinton describes that 1998 Thanksgiving in her book Living History:
 "The men played golf despite the freezing weather, competing for what they called the Camp David trophy.  We ate our meals and spent our time in Laurel, where I had a big-screen television brought in so that every play in every football game could be seen from every corner of the room.  At dinner we voted on which movie to watch that night in the camp's theater."

The Clintons celebrated their first Camp David Thanksgiving in 1995.  The menu included President Clinton's mother Virginia Kelley's cornbread stuffing.  The complete menu can be found on this foodie blog.

President George W. Bush had an annual Camp David tradition of calling troops stationed overseas to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.   .

President Bush talks to troops on Thanksgiving in 2006

2007 Thanksgiving phone call to the troops

Here is what was served for Thanksgiving at Camp David in 2008:

Sources:  White House; National Archives; William J. Clinton Presidential Library; Washington Examiner; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Living History; Gherkins & Tomatoes; George Bush Presidential Library; Boston Globe

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Truman Shangri-La Photos

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum website has these interesting old photos of Camp David back when it was called Shangri-La:

Bess Truman and her Independence (MO) bridge club at Shangri-La  -  1946

Aspen Lodge at Shangri-La  -  1948

Laurel Lodge at Shangri-La  -  1948

Aspen Lodge at Shangri-La  -  1948

View from Shangri-La  -  1950

Outdoors at Shangri-La  -  1950

Source:  Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

Friday, November 5, 2010

Aspen Fish Pond

President Nixon with Soviet President Brezhnev 

There is a fish pond located in front of the Aspen Lodge that, according to the Camp David Tour site, was originally built there to use as a water supply in the event of a fire. The site describes how the water is "pumped from the pond to the top of a concrete-lined spillway where it cascades over the rocks and returns to the pond".  The pond was first stocked with rainbow trout at the request of President Eisenhower.

I received an email from someone who took care of the Aspen Pond in the early 1970s. Upon his discharge, he was given the photo of Nixon and Brezhnev signed by President Nixon.  He provided some additional information about the pond:
"In the picture of Nixon and Brezhnev at Aspen fish pond, the fish in there at that time were Japanese Koi and Golden Orfe plus floating water hyacinth and some water lilies. The log in the foreground was cut out as a bench where FDR would sit and fish. The log has been replaced several times because of decay and rot. FDR then was fishing for stocked bass and trout."  

I also came across an anecdote about the Aspen Lodge fish pond written by someone who once lived at Camp David:
In front of Aspen Cabin, the President’s abode at Camp David, is a man-made rock pond, filled with imported, exotic fish. A call was placed to the Camp’s CO:
“Sir, the President is on the line,” said military aide.
“Yes, Sir, Mr. President,” my husband said, “What can I do for you, Mr. Reagan?”
“Well…..,” came the slow, steady voice, “You need to get over here right away, the poor fellas are floating belly up!”

Below are some more photos of the pond.

President Johnson and Ambassadors Ellsworth Bunker and W. Averell Harriman in April 1968;
 CyrusVance, Jody Powell, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Hamilton Jordan in September 1978

                                                                                                                       President Ford in front of the Aspen pond in 1974

September 1978

Google Maps view of the pond in front of the Aspen Lodge

Sources:  Richard Nixon Library; Lyndon Baines Johnson Library; Jimmy Carter Library; Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library; Camp David Tour; The New York Times; What A Party; Florida Sportsman Magazine; UPI; Google Maps

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Camp David on

The first website was launched in October 1994.  The official White House website was redesigned multiple times during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.  Below are the Camp David pages from each administration.  You can visit each original website page by clicking on the screenshot image.

Clinton Administration:

Bush Administration:

Obama Administration:

Thursday, October 21, 2010


President Obama playing basketball at Camp David in July 2009

The photo above shows President Obama playing basketball with senior staff and their family members at the Leatherwood Court during a retreat at Camp David on July 18, 2009.  President Obama was reported to have played basketball on his first trip to Camp David in February 2009 and on subsequent trips.

In January 2009, Black America Web reported that President Obama would "become the first president in history to build a basketball court at Camp David".  They reported they received information from an unnamed source that Resilite was working on a project at Camp David taking measurements for wall padding for a basketball court.

I could not find any follow-up stories confirming this and a quick search on FedBizOpps found no basketball court-related materials for Camp David (a long shot, I admit...). So, did President Obama build the basketball court pictured above at Camp David?  The question remains unanswered.

In August 2009, Boston University basketball player Sherrod Smith got the chance to play basketball with President Obama at Camp David. The story, photo and video about this opportunity is on the BU website.

Captain's Cup Dodge Ball at Leatherwood Court at Camp David

Sources: The White House; Black America Web;  Baller-in-Chief; The Swamp; ESPN; Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC)