Saturday, February 14, 2009

Voices from Our White House: M.T. Anderson

NCBLA Board Member talks about "The House Haunts"

to the second installment of the NCBLA blog's new weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. This feature is conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit

This week we feature M.T. Anderson, whose books for children and young adults include Feed; Handel, Who Knew What He Liked; and the Octavian Nothing series. For his piece in Our White House, entitled "The House Haunts," Mr. Anderson wrote about the ghosts that some believe haunt the White House to this day. Here's an excerpt:

Some say that a British soldier killed on the White House grounds during the War of 1812 still walks the lawns with a torch in his hand. Others say that a dead doorman still welcomes visitors and that a dutiful servant, though deceased, still shuts off lights at night. Some say that Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, bustles toward the East Room, carrying a load of laundry to be dried. When gardeners tried to dig up Dolley Madison's rose garden, she returned from the grave to tell them off--so they fled, and the garden remained. Roosevelt, Truman, and Hoover all heard Lincoln knock on their bedroom door; and when Lincoln himself was alive and well, Mrs. Lincoln heard the dead Andrew Jackson tramp up and down the corridors, swearing.
We asked Mr. Anderson a few questions about his piece:

NCBLA: How did you first learn about the supposed White House ghosts? Why did you choose to write about "The House Haunts" for Our White House? Have you always had an interest in ghosts and the supernatural?
MTA: I have always been fascinated by ghosts, even though I don't believe in them. I have a whole bookshelf next to my bed filled with ghost stories from around the country (and around the world). I knew that as a kid, the first question I would have about a historical place like the White House would have been, "Is it haunted?"

NCBLA: If you could meet one of the White House ghosts, whom would you like to meet—a famous past president like Lincoln or an unknown like the British soldier who walks the grounds? What would you ask a ghost if you met one?
MTA: Excellent question! I have to admit that I really would rather not meet any ghosts at all. But if I had to meet one, I might as well meet Lincoln. At least there'd be a good story in it -- and I could say that I'd had a brush with history!

NCBLA: Who is your favorite president and why?
MTA: That's a difficult one, because I think that the compromises that come with power (and that are necessary for one to remain in power) almost always modify a president's ideals. For example, one of my favorite presidents in terms of his beliefs is Jimmy Carter -- but he was not one of our most effective presidents, because of the complications of holding office and operating in a system that demands certain compromises.

NCBLA: If you could pick any job in the White House, what would it be?
MTA: Presidential cat.

NCBLA: How do you think President Obama will change the story of the presidency? What do you think or hope people will write about him in the future? Do you think he will be visited by a White House ghost?
MTA: Well, I hope, of course, that his ideals are not compromised in the course of his presidency -- and that he takes the current crisis and uses it as an opportunity to rehaul a system which is in peril of complete collapse. What I would hope is that in the future, people write about our generation as we do about those who lived in the thirties and forties -- that this was a period of suffering where we came together. This was the moment when we went from believing that the common good will somehow, mysteriously, arise from self-interest -- to believing that if we work together to make the nation prosper, we can all reap the benefits and the security. As for a ghost to meet Obama, I think we could all use a glimpse of Warren G. Harding to keep us on the straight and narrow. ... "Theeeeese are the chaains I forrrrrged in liiiiife..."

For more information on this author, please read his NCBLA bio.

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