If This House Could Talk, the Tales It Could Tell : History: Harry Truman buzzing the presidential mansion in a plane and Grover Cleveland's secret operation are just two stories in a book of White House lore.


Queen Elizabeth II, resplendent in a diamond-studded tiara, sparkled before a White House crowd that included diplomats, star athletes and celebrities such as Cary Grant and Julie Harris.

It was the bicentennial of the American Revolution, and President Gerald Ford was throwing a gala state dinner for the British royalty.

The July 7, 1976, event was one of the most elaborate ever held at the presidential mansion. But the mood was shattered when Ford led the queen to the dance floor while the song "The Lady Is a Tramp" echoed throughout the State Dining Room.

"I remember thinking why instead of pop music don't they have Aaron Copland or something that is cultured and refined for the royalty of England," said C. Brian Kelly, a University of Virginia lecturer who has compiled a book of offbeat moments at the presidential mansion.

The story of the queen's dance is among the 101 White House vignettes Kelly relates in "The Best Little Stories From the White House."

The book's release will coincide with the 200th anniversary of the laying of the White House cornerstone on Oct. 13, 1792.

The lives and times of those within its walls has led to the White House becoming one of the most-storied homes in America.

"I think it's important to know that this great towering institution that we know as the White House is more than (a) cold institution," Kelly said. "It's more than simply politics, it's human stories."

He excavated the accounts from biographies, Washington insiders and the memoirs of presidential advisers, chief ushers and retired pilots.

They form "a mosaic of American history and the personalities of the people in the White House--not only the Presidents, but their families, the first ladies, the staffs, the visitors," he said.

Take President Cleveland's secret operation.

In 1893, he discovered an unusual growth on the roof of his mouth. His physician determined that the growth was cancerous and should be removed.

Cleveland had just begun a second term at the White House, and the country was in the throes of an economic crisis.

White House officials were afraid that news of Cleveland's cancer would undermine public confidence in the presidency, so they arranged for a secret operation to be conducted on a friend's yacht off Manhattan Island.

They announced that Cleveland was going on a short vacation. Instead, six doctors accompanied him to the East River, and while the boat rocked, they removed the growth and ferried the President off to Cape Cod to recover.

Cleveland spoke with a slight slur for weeks, but the public didn't find out about his operation until 25 years later, when the chief physician spilled the beans in the Saturday Evening Post.

Kelly doesn't provide a story for every President, and he could not verify some accounts.

Take Harry Truman buzzing the White House in the presidential plane, for example. As the story goes, Truman ordered his pilot to swoop in on the White House.

"He had his face pressed against the cockpit window, laughing and yelling and having a great time--allegedly," Kelly said.

"We checked the Washington Post for the next day and there's no mention of it. But if any President buzzed the White House, chances are it would have been Truman. He was quite a character."

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