’Twas Was The Night Before Christmas…


Not an immediate problem for Colonel Grant, but of interest to taxpayers, was the fact that, like all federal buildings, the White House was (and is) uninsured because the total annual premiums would cost too much. Fortunately, irreplaceable mementos and the President’s personal flag had been saved. The rescue of the flag was effected by Honorary Deputy Chief Henry C. Stein, one of Washington’s leading fire buffs. Fully suited for the occasion in boots, waterproof coat, and white helmet, Stein plunged into the President’s office and emerged with the flag while the crowd cheered. An official of the American Legion, Elmer John Giggin, who witnessed the deed, wrote, “I have seen service, but never saw a finer lesson than was taught me Christmas Eve night.”

Meanwhile the Christmas party ran its full course. (“ PARTYCONTINUES DESPITE FLAMES ,” headlined the Star .) Many guests, in fact, did not learn until afterward what had happened. Mrs. Hoover finally got the President to bed about midnight.

At 7:27 A.M. , Christmas morning, the White House fire was officially declared out, although Engine 1, first in, stayed all day to prevent rekindles. The cause of the fire was found to be an overheated flue in the open fireplace that had glowed cheerily in Secretary Newton’s office in the northwest corner of the wing. Fifteen firemen had been injured, but the White House was saved.

Once installed in his new offices, the President immediately sent what for him was a warm letter:

My dear Chief Watson :

I want you to know of my appreciation of the excellent service rendered by you and the men of your Department during and following the fire in the Executive Office on Christmas Eve. It was a fine piece of work and I thank you sincerely for all your efforts.

Yours faithfully, Herbert Hoover

The fire had one other sequel. The Secret Service promptly gave Chief Watson a set of White House keys that worked.