THERE ARE FANCIER DIGS AROUND. There are other swell White House guest rooms. But there’s nothing quite like the Lincoln Bedroom. If you’re invited to a Pennsylvania Avenue pajama party, it’s the big room. When she stayed there in 1993, singer Judy Collins couldn’t wait to pick up the phone. “Mom,” she gushed. “You’ll never guess where I am!”
With as many as 938 overnight guests staying at the White House—many of them big Democratic contributors—some pundits have accused President Clinton of turning the place into Motel 1600. But, apart from accusations and investigations, there are other things you get at the White House you don’t get at Motel 6. There are free phone calls and a pass that allows you to wander the White House in the wee hours. That may also entail a nocturnal visit from Bill Clinton and being subjected, as Maureen Dowd of The New York Times put it, to his “tracing maps of Bosnia on the bedspread and conducting tutorials on the Chilean social security system.”
But the lucky guest who spends the night in the Lincoln Bedroom beds down amid powerful ghosts—in fact, Abraham Lincoln is said to haunt the premises. In 1863 he signed the Emancipation Proclamation there. In 1865, after being embalmed, he was laid out on the bed that now dominates the room. Kings, princes and prime ministers have slept in the Lincoln Bedroom. So have Richard Dreyfuss, Billy Graham and Steven Spielberg.
The recent influx of showbiz and political canaille is what annoys traditionalists like Letitia Baldrige, the Kennedys’ former White House social secretary. “When an actor can go on TV and say to a talk show host, ‘I can get you a place in the Lincoln Bedroom,’ that’s just not right,” sniffs Baldrige. Others aren’t so shocked. “When you’re the President and you have important people over to the White House,” counters historian Allida Black, author of Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism, “of course you’re going to invite them to some of the nicer accommodations.”
Lincoln never sacked out in the room that bears his name; he used it as an office and covered its walls with Civil War maps. Nor did he sleep in the 8-foot-by-6-foot carved rosewood bed, bought in 1861 by his wife, Mary Todd. Lincoln detested her extravagance. “This will stink in the nostrils of the American people,” he thundered. “Our soldiers need blankets.” The room became a bedroom only in 1902 and was named after Lincoln in 1945 after the Trumans moved in the bed and other furniture.
Today there’s a portrait of Andrew Jackson to the left of the bed and one of Mary Todd Lincoln on the right. On the desk is a copy of the Gettysburg Address; a rocking chair near the window is a replica of the one Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot.
And, for the guest who requests them, a TV and VCR are instantly available. So if wandering the halls wears thin, you can always get cable.