Two Centuries of Scribbles,
Scratches, Squiggles &
Scrawls from the Oval Office

David Greenberg
The editor has winnowed through endless presidential papers to come up with nothing more important than doodles. He explains that we won't be getting many from the early presidents because goose quill pens were cranky and not something that you would fiddle with, at least until 1823 when the metal quill pen was invented.

And then there was the matter of paper. It wasn't until the early 1830s when techniques for mass producing writing paper were invented. On top of that, the very idea of official documents being collected together in a "Presidential Library" didn't even exist until Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Hyde Park, New York as his official library (he even, according to Greenberg, doodled a preliminary sketch of how the library should look).

Some presidents didn't want their doodles handed out for public consumption. George Bush the senior hid his under "executive privilege," as did Nixon. Contrariwise, Herbert Hoover doodled everything and his are some of the most interesting or maybe weirdest in the book.

Don't feel bad if you don't know what a doodle is. In 1970, Norman R. Uris compiled a book of them by celebrities. When asked for a sample, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion replied, "I don't know what is a 'doodle.' I did not find this word in the Oxford Concise Dictionary."

There are fifty or so that appear here. Some of the ugliest are by Benjamin Harrison (ghastly 'jack-o-lanterns') and Lyndon Johnson (hideous multi-faced women). Herbert Hoover's are strange if not overwhelming spider-webs). The saddest is by John Kennedy (an elegant sailboat done the night before his murder).

The most surprising in the book is by, of all people, Ulysses S. Grant: a draft horse complete with feedbag (it may not be a doodle though: it was a watercolor completed when he was at West Point).

The funniest are from Theodore Roosevelt, sketches for his children, including one, a picture of two dogs with campfire, with the note, "We have a great many hounds in camp; at night they gaze solemnly into the fire." The most vulgar are ones Reagan sent to Nancy, including one written on a paper stamped "IF THIS GETS INTO THE HANDS OF THE RUSSIANS, IT'S CURTAINS FOR THE FREE WORLD." The note scrawled under this says,

    I love you mucher & mucherthanthat. You are my cuddely [sic], wuddly [sic] little pink-Honey Pot.

It's signed "XXXXX Guess Who?" All this doodled, presumably, during a cabinet discussion of Russian/American nuclear capabilities or some other nonconsequential matter.

--- Richard Saturday
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