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Making a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

Lou Henry Hoover and King Tut

Lou Henry Hoover in 1928.

On March 18, 1928, an urgent telegram was received by Lou Henry Hoover by Lady Lister-Kay, wife of Sir John Lister-Kay groom-in-waiting to King Edward VII. Lady Lister-Kay queried: "I was horrified to read in the papers this morning of the very narrow escape you had in your automobile yesterday which most happily and mercifully ended without injury to you. I do hope you are not feeling any shock and would like to hear how you are." Lou Hoover responded immediately reassuring Lister-Kay: "So many thanks for your wires. A very short skid and bump into a low wall going at very slow speed has been unduly exaggerated. None of us were in any way injured or alarmed or even slightly shaken. Glad to receive such pleasant expression of sympathy from you." What began as a single inquiry based upon a newspaper report soon mushroomed into many queries over the course of the week, all expressing sympathy for Mrs. Hoover in what was reported to be a terrible car accident. A brief review of some of Mrs. Hoover's responses to friends and well-wishers provides a better idea of the inaccuracies of some of the newspaper accounts as well as the likely sources for reporters.

Lou Hoover recounted the details of the event to all concerned. While returning back to Washington, D.C., rain had dampened the roads causing Lou to lose control of her car and veer over a stone wall. The accident happened near Winchester, Virginia by the Shenandoah Bridge. Some newspaper accounts had the car skidding through the bridge railing making the car and its occupants hanging over the water. Only by jumping to safety were Mrs. Hoover and friends saved. At least, that is what the owner of Baird Differential Control Company in Detroit, Michigan believes to have been the course of events. Writing to Mrs. Hoover on April 3, Frank C. Baird asserted "we confidently believe that the accident was caused by a defect in the design and construction of the car, a defect that is common to all cars now being manufactured." Mrs. Hoover's secretary replied to Baird asserting: "In some way, a very slight skid on the road not far from the Shenandoah Bridge got grossly exaggerated. They were not on the bridge, so did not go through any railing and consequently did not hang over the water and therefore did not have to jump out. They were not even shaken up as one mild report had it! Therefore I am assuming that in view of the false nature of the newspaper account you will not care to continue to use this item when you have further circulars printed."

How did such a minor incident in a rural area get reported in the first place? Mrs. Hoover surmised in a letter to Mrs. George Scott that "Either the purveyors to the press or some local garage people exaggerated most picturesquely a very short skid and bump which we had while travelling very slowly. We knocked a few stones out of a very loosely constructed stone wall in which we tangled up one of our wheels temporarily and bent a rod and one or two other little things that had to be straightened. But we were not"shaken up" the least bit, either in ourselves, our nerves, or baggage, as the paper said, nor did we hang precipitously over the river, nor break down wire bars or wooden stanchions..."

In spite of the many disclaimers Lou would write over the many days following the news story, she found some solace in the exercise. Writing to her friend Doctor Fairclough, Lou confessed: "This dramatic newspaper story has had one pleasant result—that I am again in touch with many friends who have been kind enough to write me sympathetically and express their concern over my welfare."

Telgram Scam

One of the annoyances of modern life is the variety and volume of shady emails that clog our computers. Phony pharmaceutical ads, Nigerian investment schemes, too-good-to-be-true offers for jobs or relationships, the list goes on. Modern technology makes it much easier for the perpetrators, but all of these scams were tried through other media long before the invention of the internet. Even President Hoover was a target for scammers. Here's one example.

On Sunday, October 20, 1929, Mr. Hoover received the following urgent telegram:

Telegram to President Hoover.

Nothing will more quickly panic a parent, even the President of the United States, than the possibility that his child may be in trouble. The telegram purports to be from the Hoover's younger son, Allan, claiming that he is in police custody in South Bend, Indiana, and asking for money for transportation to Washington by way of Cleveland.

Allan, who was 22 at the time, was a student at Harvard Business School in Boston. Classes had recently started for the fall, and there was no reason to think that Allan might have been in South Bend. Mr. and Mrs. Hoover were preparing to leave later that day for a trip to Ohio and Michigan, and had actually talked to Allan on the telephone the previous day to invite him to come on the trip if he could spare the time. Due to his class schedule, Allan had declined the invitation.

But as the penciled note on the telegram indicates, Mr. Hoover personally telephoned Allan to make sure nothing was wrong. Once the telegram was confirmed as a hoax, he shared it with Mrs. Hoover and her secretary, Ruth Fesler, and apparently they all had a good laugh.

But I would guess that the telegraph operator in South Bend, who let the scammer talk him into sending it collect, didn't think it was very funny.

Lou Henry Hoover and the Girl Scouts

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., and because of Lou Henry Hoover's close involvement with this organization the new winter exhibit at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum is 100 Years of Girl Scouts. It will be open from January 21 through March 25. Here is an excerpt from a tribute written in late 1945 by Dare Stark McMullin, a friend and former secretary of Mrs. Hoover:

"Mrs. Hoover first became associated with the Girl Scout movement in 1917. Her interest in it arose from her own and her husband's concern for the well-being of the American child. He was at that time Food Commissioner, and both he and his wife realized so keenly how the sad lack of proper food, housing, and recreational facilities had warped the lives of the war-abnormal little Europeans.

"But Lou Henry Hoover was a Girl Scout in spirit all of her life. She herself once said, 'I was a Scout years ago, before the movement ever started, when my father took me hunting, fishing and hiking in the mountains. Then I was sorry that more girls could not have what I had. When I learned of the movement I thought, here is what I always wanted other girls to have.'

"From 1917 to the very end of her life, Girl Scouting was one of her great enthusiasms and she devoted herself to it heart and soul. During those years she served in many and varied official capacities - deputy commissioner in Washington, council member in Palo Alto, and in the national organization, vice-president, member-at-large, and chairman of the board of directors, president, honorary president and honorary vice-president. She was also a leader of her own Girl Scout troop in Washington for ten years...

"The influence of Lou Henry Hoover in Girl Scouting is difficult to evaluate. She was but one of many able women devoting themselves to the movement during its critical formative years. But her enthusiasm, indefatigable labor and prestige, certainly played an important role in developing it from a small group of about 15,000 in 1917, with troops in only a few cities, to a well established, nationwide organization at the end of 1945, with a membership of more than 840,000."

1933-66, Mrs. Hoover addresses the public on the subject "What does the future hold for our daughters." NYC, New York American by McKevitt, New York Herald Tribune.

Christmas 1903

As the holiday season approaches, thoughts turn to family gatherings, festive celebrations, and delighted children. The Hoovers were not a typical family, and spent many Christmases in unusual circumstances. Take, for example, Christmas 1903.

The year 1903 was significant because Herbert and Lou welcomed their first child, Herbert Charles Hoover, into the world on August 4. At the time, they were living in London, in a cozy flat near Hyde Park. But by Christmas, all three, including the baby, were half a world away.

On September 7, Lou and the five-week-old baby boarded the North German Lloyd liner Gneisenau in Southhampton, bound for Australia. Of course, being a well-off family of the Edwardian era, Mrs. Hoover had a full-time nurse for young Herbert, named Miss Huber. The proud father joined them later, at Genoa, having been detained on business.

Herbert Hoover Jr. with nurse, Miss Huber.
1904-03, Herbert Hoover, Jr. and nurse, Miss Huber. Unknown

The Hoovers arrived in Australia in mid-October; Lou and the baby stayed in Kalgoorlie for a few weeks while Herbert traveled to outlying mining properties. The family left for Freemantle in early November, and sailed to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sidney, Brisbane, and back to Sidney. At each stop, Herbert tended to business matters, and he and Lou socialized with the upper crust of Australian society.

In mid-December, the family sailed again, this time for New Zealand. The week before Christmas Herbert visited a mine near Waihi, and the family toured some of the interesting sites around the North Island. On Christmas Day, they celebrated in their hotel room before boarding SS Sonoma at Auckland, bound for Samoa and San Francisco.

Christmas, 1903
Dec. 25, 1903, The Hoovers around their first Christmas tree.

"Boy's first Christmas tree spirited from hotel hall, decorated with last night's purchases, and enjoyed just after breakfast." - Lou Henry Hoover's diary, Dec. 25, 1903.

The Hoovers reached the Bay Area on January 12, where Herbert Jr. was introduced to many of his relatives. By that time he was just over five months old, and he had already traveled more than 21,000 miles.

Dec. 25, 1903 Auckland Harbour, AL38-82A
Dec. 25, 1903, Auckland Harbour


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