One True Thing

In every one of my novels–whether they are mysteries, fantasy, literary, or young adult—I draw upon reality. This may be in the form of location, items in a scene, laws, or investigative procedure.

In Attack on Freedom, my upcoming thriller, some of the reality that I inject into the story utilizes history and historic objects. One such object is the presidential desk known as the Resolute Desk that is currently in the Oval Office. This double pedestal, partner’s desk was commissioned by Queen Victoria and made from the oak timbers of the HMS Resolute, an Arctic exploration ship that was rescued by an American ship. After getting the ship safely to dock, it was returned to England as a gesture of goodwill and friendship during a time of tension between England and America.

After being returned, the British ship remained in service for an additional 23 years at which time it was decommissioned and salvaged. Queen Victoria commissioned William Evenden at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, England to use the best oak timbers from the ship to design and build what would become known as the Resolute Desk. In 1880, Queen Victoria sent the desk to President Rutherford B. Hayes as a gesture of goodwill between the two countries. The original design did not include the front panel. President Franklin Roosevelt had the front hinged panel designed as a way to hide his leg braces from view. Roosevelt did not live to see the panel installed. It was installed in 1945 under the direction of President Truman, who liked the eagle motif.

The Presidential Seal on the front panel shows the eagle with its head turned to the left toward the arrows of war. This positioning of the eagle’s head toward the 13 arrows is only found on three of the ninety-seven Presidential Seals in the White House. President Truman re-designed the Presidential Seal to have the eagle’s head turned to the right toward the olive branch that has 13 leaves. The now-official seal is the one designed by President Truman.

February 4, 1961, Jackie Kennedy discovered the Resolute Desk in the broadcast room of the White House. She had it brought to the Oval Office for the first time to honor President John F. Kennedy’s love of the sea and love of naval history.

After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, President Johnson had a larger, plainer desk built for his use to accommodate his size. At that time, he allowed the Resolute Desk to go on a traveling exhibition with Kennedy’s Presidential Library. After the exhibition ended, the desk was displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. This was the only time the Resolute Desk was removed from the White House.

President Jimmy Carter brought the Resolute Desk back to the Oval Office in 1977. He used it from 1977 through 1981. Not every president wanted to use the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. The presidents who did use the desk in the Oval Office were: President Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1989; President Bill Clinton 1993 through 2001; President George W. #Bush from 2001 through 2009. President Barack #Obama has used the Resolute Desk since arriving in the White House in 2009.

President Obama found himself in the middle of controversy when he was photographed with his feet up on the Resolute Desk while having a discussion. Some people railed that he was disrespectful and immature. What they seemed to forget, or perhaps never knew, was that President George W. Bush also propped his feet up on the Resolute Desk while having various discussions. President John F. Kennedy’s children often played beneath the Resolute Desk, opening the front panel as if they hid inside a fort.

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It is interesting to note that President Bush has his feet propped up and pointing to the right while President Obama has his feet propped up and pointed to the left. I wonder if it is due to President Obama being left-handed and President Bush being right-handed?

What these men recognized was very simple: Though a beautiful piece of furniture with historic significance, the Resolute Desk still remains a piece of furniture. It was built to be used; not to be honored. Showing respect during our interactions with other people, with animals, and with our environment is much more important than worrying about someone putting their feet up on a desk during a hard day at the office.

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