The First Fixer-Upper: A Look at White House Renovations

Rude visitors, sinking pianos and dismayed presidential residents

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

This year marks the bicentennial of the public reopening of the White House after the War of 1812, when the British burned the executive mansion and sent President James Madison fleeing. Though the grand house has legions of devotees today, its occupants haven’t always loved the place.

The problems began in the 1790s, as the Founding Fathers struggled with the question of how grand such a residence should be for an elected president in a popular government. Was the building to be a government office with sleeping arrangements, a private home, the people’s palace or all of the above? Frequent name changes reflected the confusion: President’s Palace, President’s House and Executive Mansion. The president made its official name the White House only in 1901.

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‘The “Unbroken Spirit” to Survive’ – The Wall Street Journal

Photo: BETTMANN/CORBIS

Photo: BETTMANN/CORBIS

Louis Zamperini was a U.S. Olympic runner, World War II hero and Japanese prison-­‐camp survivor who went on to become a Christian motivational speaker. The extraordinary suffering and hardship that he endured to come home became the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-­‐selling biography “Unbroken” and Angelina Jolie’s recent film of the same title.

One reason why Zamperini resonates with audiences is because his story harks back to classical mythology. The qualities that enabled Zamperini to survive his epic journey—courage, resourcefulness and resilience—were highly prized by the ancient Greeks. A man who displayed them was said to possess arête, broadly defined as moral excellence in the course of fulfilling a specific purpose. For the Greeks, the original Zamperini was Odysseus, whose return to Ithaca after the battle of Troy cost him many arduous trials and lasted 10 years.

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