Yacht Preserves U.S. History
The Associated Press, Mon 12 Aug 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) — Franklin Roosevelt
installed a hand-operated elevator. Lyndon Johnson had it converted into
a bar. Winston Churchill found the deck chairs uncomfortable. John F. Kennedy
celebrated his last birthday in the salon.
After 77 years afloat, the yacht Sequoia
has stories to tell, even though it hasn't been a presidential cruiser
since Jimmy Carter sold it in 1977 as an unwanted symbol of the imperial
According to legend, the fish deck
of the Sequoia, an isolated perch at the stern of the boat, was one of
the few places in Washington where Richard Nixon felt comfortable.
Nixon cruised on the Sequoia 88 times
during his presidency, discussed Vietnam policy with Henry Kissinger there,
negotiated a Cold War arms agreement with Leonid Brezhnev on its top deck
and, as Watergate grew to gigantic proportions, decided he must resign
There is a story, says Gary Silversmith,
the current private owner of the Sequoia, that on one of his last visits,
when a steward poured his customary second scotch, Nixon unexpectedly,
and for the first time, asked him to leave the bottle.
``If the president wants you to leave
the bottle, you leave the bottle,'' the captain reportedly responded when
the steward reported what had happened.
Silversmith, 46, a lawyer and collector
of presidential memorabilia, bought Sequoia for a reported $1.9 million.
He has berthed the boat on the Washington waterfront and charters it for
$10,000 a cruise. He says the yacht has been used for political fund-raisers
for both Republican and Democratic candidates and has proved popular enough
that it has paid its own expenses.
On a recent tour the Sequoia was flooded
with sunlight, its teak and mahogany cabins hung with framed photographs
of presidents and their guests, its wheelhouse fitted with a brass plaque
listing the Navy officers who served as skipper from 1933 to 1977.
Silversmith says the vessel, a designated
national historic site, is almost certainly the most important piece of
presidential history in private hands.
Built in 1925, the 104-foot, 150-ton
Sequoia has a presidential suite, captain's quarters and two guest cabins.
President Kennedy had a slot built into the transom above the door to his
quarters so he could receive official papers while preserving his privacy.
According to Silversmith, it was taken out of naval service to avoid the
rule of no alcohol aboard a Navy ship.
There's some irony there because the
Sequoia first saw government service as part of the effort to enforce prohibition.
The yacht was recruited for presidential
service by Herbert Hoover, who played medicine ball on its top deck and
used it for a Florida vacation. A photograph of the yacht is the centerpiece
of his 1932 White House Christmas card.
A reproduction of the card hangs in
the yacht's salon with this inscription: ``Some public opinion felt that
Hoover's promotion of the Sequoia was an indication of his inability to
grasp the suffering caused by the depression.''
That didn't cause Franklin Roosevelt,
Hoover's successor, to use the boat any less. There are photographs of
FDR happily catching a fish on the Fish Deck.
Roosevelt and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
discussed plans for D-Day on the Sequoia.
Harry Truman is said to have pondered
his decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan while in seclusion on the
Sequoia. Years later, President Ford used the yacht to entertain Emperor
Truman installed a piano that both
he and Nixon played. Truman also used the boat to play poker with friends.
There's a Sequoia legend that during one tense game he slammed the 20-foot
dining table, leaving a scar.
FDR, who used a wheelchair because
of polio, had a hand-operated elevator installed so he could more easily
move from his cabin to the main deck. Silversmith said that made Sequoia
about the first handicapped-accessible boat in U.S. waters.
Johnson converted Roosevelt's elevator
into a service bar and had the shower in the presidential stateroom lowered
to better fit his tall frame.
Nixon embarked his family on Sequoia
to tell them of his decision to resign the presidency, but the trip was
not the quiet time he had hoped for.
Photographers lined the bridges along
the Potomac River, peering down as the boat passed beneath.
``We were the subject of a death watch,''
daughter Julie said later. ``Being on the Sequoia was like bobbing along
in a glass bottle.''
EDITOR'S NOTE — Lawrence L. Knutson
has reported on Congress, the White House and Washington's history for
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