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The Ghost Pool in the White House

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The press room of the White House has a secret.

white house press room

Photo credit: WikiUser Kellerbn

You’ve probably seen the Press Room of the White House a thousand times–the place where the President stands behind a podium, addressing a roomful of reporters clamoring to ask uncomfortable questions.

What you probably don’t know is that the Press Room has a secret. A secret buried for more than 40 years. If one day the floor gave way beneath the president, the leader of the free world would wind up landing in, of all things, the deep end of an empty indoor swimming pool.

press-briefing-room-pool-1940s

Photo credit: White House Museum

To understand why, you have to look back 80 years, to when Franklin Roosevelt was president of the United States. The then president had afflicted with polio just before the age of 40, and was completely paralyzed from the waist down–the extent of his paralysis was carefully hidden from the public through the use of leg braces and a cane during speeches and photo opportunities.

In the early years of his recovery, Roosevelt found that swimming was an ideal means of exercising his body, including his emaciated legs. So a swimming pool was installed in what had been a basement laundry. The pool was cutting edge, “featuring underwater lighting, sterilizers and the latest gadgets.” It continued to be used in the presidencies to follow–JFK’s father even commissioned a Caribbean mural that covered three of the four walls in the pool room.

white-house-swimming-pool-mural

Photo credit: White House Museum

Unfortunately, the need to more easily communicate with the modern world doomed the privacy of the pool. In the early years of Richard Nixon’s presidency, a floor was laid over the pool, and was remodeled into what is the now-familiar James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. While hidden from view, the pool still exists, albeit filled with thousands of feet of cable running to lighting and various computer servers and other bits of technology. Celebrities who get the full uncensored tour of the White House have taken to signing the hidden tile walls of the waterless swimming pool.

Perhaps one day it will see the light again.

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