BETHESDA – Each has a unique story to tell of its history, past occupants and famous visitors. But until now, the nation’s executive residences have not had a voice.
Oklahoma First Lady Cathy Keating, with the help of first ladies across the nation, spent 15 months compiling pictures and unusual stories about the official mansions currently in use.
The result — “Our Governors’ Mansions” — is the most comprehensive book of its kind, with 375 pages of anecdotes, color pictures, and historical perspective.
But even after her research, Keating doesn’t have a favorite. “There is not one house that stands out above the rest,” she said Wednesday at Barnes and Noble, where she stopped as part of a 12-city book tour. “There is something truly unique and wonderful about each house.”
Joining Keating at the book signing was Maryland First Lady Frances Hughes Glendening.
She had already been thinking about writing a book on how Government House had evolved from a private home to the official state residence when Keating contacted her for assistance.
“I am a big supporter of creating record in history and the book dovetailed with the efforts I was already involved in,” Glendening said.
Glendening found that Government house, built in 1869, was at first a Victorian structure. But in the mid 1930s, the house was in serious disrepair and its occupants were forced to move out. It was then transformed into its current Georgian country style.
“Since the old house is enveloped in the new one, it as if the old house still really exists,” Glendening said. “You can even see the Victorian influence in some of the rooms inside.”
In the book’s introduction, Keating says the homes “really belong to the people of the states they symbolize.” Therefore, she said Wednesday, it is a shame that a majority of people never visit them. “These are our little White Houses,” she said.
It’s a philosophy the Glendenings appear to share. In the three years since her husband, Parris, has been in office, Glendening said more than 40,000 people have been in Government House.
“The house is the focus of a lot of entertainment and a source of rich history,” she said. “We are thrilled that we can be there, but it is not just a home for us.”
Glendening said she has always seen the governors’ mansions as the culture and history of the states, adding that with Keating’s book, groundwork is laid for further study.
“The book serves as a catalyst to start people thinking about change, history, how [the homes have] been used and the roles of the people in the house,” she said.
Among those seeking the first ladies’ signatures was Christine Price, account executive at Hayes-Domenici Associates in McLean, Va. Price is involved in the June opening of the First Ladies’ Library in Canton, Ohio, and bought a copy of the book because “it was in the realm of our project.”
That — creation of a historical record — is in keeping with Keating’s goal for the book. But Keating said she envisions people who love architecture, history, gardens and homes as the ideal reader.
Rachel Goodrich of Chevy Chase hopes that description fits her mother, for whom she bought the book as a Christmas gift. “She loves old homes, and when she took a tour of the South, she especially loved the architecture,” Goodrich said.
“Our Governors’ Mansions,” has a foreword by the late Charles Kuralt and is now in bookstores for $60.