Smithsonian's White House exhibit opens next week at Historical Museum
Former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier to serve free desserts from White House menu

For immediate release August 26, 2008


Contact: Jeff Morgan,, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – A Smithsonian Institution exhibition that explores 200 years of White House tradition and memories will make its traveling debut next week at the State Historical Museum.

“The Working White House: 200 Years of Tradition and Memories” is an artifact-based traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, developed with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the White House Historical Association. The exhibit will be on display Sept. 6, 2008-March 1, 2009 at the State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines.

The public is invited to see the exhibit in advance during a free reception at 5:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 5, 2008. Former White House Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier will present desserts from the White House menu. The Historical Museum’s regular hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free and open to the public.

“This exhibit offers Iowans a unique glimpse inside the inner workings of the White House and we are very pleased to be the first stop on its traveling schedule,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said. “We will have this exhibit on display through next Spring, bringing us full circle from the caucuses and our Caucus Iowa exhibit to the election and inauguration of our next president.”

The “Working White House” takes visitors through America’s most renowned residence with experiences, first-hand accounts and one-of-a-kind artifacts of the largely unrecognized people crucial to the everyday lives of our first families.

They were maids, cooks, butlers, doormen, electricians and all the people who kept the country’s most famous household running efficiently during 200 years of White House service.

They witnessed history in the making and, in the process, created their own. Their narratives provide a rare and intimate perspective on the ceremonies, elegant state dinners, national celebrations and heartbreaking tragedies that shape and make United States history.

Archival and contemporary images, videos and fascinating oral histories of workers who have served presidents from William Taft through George W. Bush convey the occupational culture of this uniquely private yet public place. Among the broader themes addressed are issues of race and gender, the evolving nature of work at the White House, and how presidents and employees have viewed one another.

  The exhibit showcases souvenirs, housekeeping implements, clothing, letters, menus, photographs and other objects to help illustrate the full story of the presidential residence.

Interviews conducted by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and WHHA staffers with past workers provide eyewitness accounts of White House work culture and is included in an audio tour and exhibition video.

For example, veteran doorman Preston Bruce shares a particularly painful White House memory from 1963:

“It was sad, very sad,” said Bruce of the hours following President Kennedy’s funeral ceremony. “When we came back from Arlington, Robert [Kennedy] pulled off his gloves and said to me, ‘Keep these gloves and remember always that I wore them to my brother’s funeral.’”

Robert F. Kennedy’s gray gloves, featured in the exhibition, bear the memory of that difficult time for a family and the nation.

With memories and household treasures from the presidencies of William Taft through George W. Bush, visitors will take a walk behind the scenes at the White House, guided by the men and women who managed every detail of the inner workings at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


  1. White House calligrapher’s pen.
  2. Menus handwritten by the White House calligrapher for State Dinners.
  3. Invitations to White House events.
  4. Copper skillet from the late 19th/20th century White House kitchen.
  5. Silver-plated crumb tray from the White House.
  6. Chocolate mold from the White House.
  7. Electric call button/buzzer from the early 20th century White House.
  8. Portable Kenmore sewing machine used by White House seamstress Lillian Rogers Parks in the early 1940s.
  9. Reproduction black-out curtains and thread from the Second World War.
  10. Inkstand hand-crafted by prizefighter Robert Fitzsimmons for Theodore Roosevelt. Given to White House valet James Amos by Roosevelt.
  11. Tip envelope given to Alonzo Fields, White House butler and maitre d’, by Harry Truman.
  12. Necktie worn by John F. Kennedy before his assassination in Dallas. Tie given to Preston Bruce, White House doorman, by Jacqueline Kennedy.
  13. Gray gloves worn by Robert F. Kennedy as pallbearer at John F. Kennedy’s funeral. Given to Preston Bruce, White House doorman, by RFK.
  14. Reproduction working dumbwaiter recreating the type designed by Thomas Jefferson and installed in the White House.
  15. Reproduction stereoscope and stereo card depicting lamps in the 19th century White House.
  16. Reproduction scrapbooks documenting the White House service of Lillian Rogers Parks, seamstress; Alonzo Fields, butler and maitre d’; and Eugene Allen, chief butler and maitre d’.
  17. Notebook of brief pictorial biographies featuring notable White House workers.




The Working White House: 200 Years of Tradition and Memories – Reception
Friday, Sept. 5, 2008, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Admission is free and open to the public. No reservations are required.
For 25 years from 1979-2004, Roland Mesnier served as the White House Executive Pastry Chef. Mesnier will appear at the State Historical Museum 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, 2008, for a free dessert reception. Desserts created by Mesnier and prepared by DMACC culinary students will be served. Guests will have a chance to preview the exhibit “The Working White House: 200 Years of Tradition and Memories.” Mesnier had to produce glossy, smooth confections on an almost daily basis at the White House. He developed his own signature chocolate-tempering techniques and used them to delight White House guests for more than 25 years. Mesnier’s plastic chocolate mold from the 1990s, designed to yield nine candies embossed with the presidential seal, can be seen in the exhibition.

My White House Years
Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008, 10 a.m.
Admission is free an open to the public. No reservations are required.
Mesnier will present “My White House Years” at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008, at the State Historical Museum. Mesnier will discuss his experiences in the White House and his work with children and pets. He’ll be available to sign copies of his latest book, All the Presidents’ Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House, A Memoir. This program is free and open to the public.

 A Gala Evening at the President’s Table
Oct. 24, 2008, 6:30 p.m.
The Iowa Historical Foundation will present “A Gala Evening at the President’s Table” at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2008 at the State Historical Building. Participants will enjoy presidential wines and spirits with special guest, Barry H. Landau, author of The President’s Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy. Reservations to the black-tie gala are $125 per person and can be made by contacting Iowa Historical Foundation Executive Director Barb Filer at or 515-281-8823.


The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to enhance the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the White House. All proceeds from the association’s trusts, publications and other items are used to fund acquisitions of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent collection, to assist in the preservation of public rooms, and further its educational mission. 

 SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at

The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

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