Robert Klara

Journalist • Historian • Author

Yet as author Robert Klara reveals in this first-ever comprehensive account of the project, Harry Truman’s White House renovation was, at best, a mixed legacy. Even as workmen constructed a modern presidential fortress at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House’s old sandstone walls also concealed a profusion of secrets and mishaps, many just barely kept from public view. Like Matryoshka dolls—and like the book’s title suggests—there were several White Houses inside the new White House. And stories to go with each.

There was the supervising government commission that allowed Truman to secretly play architect, and the actual White House architect who spent his nights at séances—speaking to the ghosts of dead presidents. There were the truckloads of artifacts that were supposed to be returned to the completed mansion, but were instead sold off as souvenirs, donated to federal prisons, or (in the worst case) buried in a Virginia landfill. And finally there was the top-secret bomb shelter designed to protect Truman in the event of nuclear war. It was a bunker that officially did not exist—and one put to the test during a terrifying false alarm that looked like the start of World War III.

The Hidden White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country’s national heritage. Truman’s rebuilding of the White House was far from a perfect job, but it was a remarkable one—and one whose secrets are now finally revealed.

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