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    Anecdotal Observations On History & Politics

    Entries in JFK (13)


    Fidel Castro and the Exploding Sea Shell 

    Of the many CIA-devised plans to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the late 1950's and early '60's, the "Booby-trapped Sea Shell" plot was by far the most bizarre and amusing. The idea was to rig an attractive-looking sea shell with explosives so that when it was lifted it would explode. US agents would then place the armed shell on the shallow ocean floor near the beach where Castro frequently swam. Unable to resist the shell's natural beauty, the CIA presumed that the dictator would try to recover it from the ocean, thus detonating the device. 

    Of course, the CIA quickly found the half-baked plan to be impracticable and it was abandoned due to size restraints (the shell was too small to load with sufficient explosive) and transplantation issues (the submarine proposed to plant the shell had too short of a range). While the planning took place during the Kennedy administration, it is unconfirmed how many people were told of the idea.


    FDR and the Legacy of the White House Pool 

    Few Americans in the 30's and 40's knew that President Franklin Roosevelt, who suffered from polio, was a paraplegic who was unable to walk without assistance during his administration. They knew he was handicapped, but he was never shown in his wheelchair and he always projected a robust image of himself. 

    The reality of his condition was much more grievous, both physically and mentally -- his battle with polio was brilliantly depicted by Kenneth Branagh in the HBO film "Warm Springs", viewable below:

    A pool was installed in the White House in 1933 to allow the President to exercise regularly. Housed between the White House and the West Wing, the room had french doors which opened to the rose garden. Below are photos and a rare article detailing FDR's workout routine projecting him as being in prime physical shape and as an avid swimmer. 

    Subsequent presidents also used the pool, Harry Truman swam laps while wearing his eyeglasses, but JFK got more use of it than any other -- he even remodeled the room, putting up a mural of a tropical paradise along the walls, painted by Bernard LaMotte:

    Aside from swimming nearly every day at noon, author Seymour Hersh asserted that the pool was allegedly a convenient place for skinny dipping and sexual escapades with numerous women, including Marilyn Monroe. One such event that Hersh detailed was an incident when First Lady Jackie Kennedy was en route back to the White House. Her pending arrival went unannounced causing the secret service to scramble into the pool room to evacuate the President, and his guests. Upon exiting with little time to spare, JFK is said to have handed off his bloody mary to the agent, merely saying "here, take this."

    Similar claims were corrobarated by former White House intern, Mimi Alford Beardsley, in her book "Once Upon A Secret".

    Lyndon Johnson used the pool following Kennedy:

    Motivated by his distain for Kennedy, Richard Nixon paved over the pool in 1970 to create a press room in the space, which remains to this day.

    Upon taking office, Gerald Ford had an outdoor swimming pool installed, which he showed to members of the press in 1975:

    Here, Ford's daughter Susan helps her father take a dive:

    More on the outdoor pool here.


    LBJ's Dirty Mouth

    In the wake of Rahm Emmanuel's resignation at the beginning of the month, it may be appropriate to look back at politician who may have had a dirtier mouth than Rahm's. Lyndon Baines Johnson was infamous for strong arming, intimidation tactics and perhaps more graphic storytelling than was necessary for a President. See the precarious situation he describes in the below audio clip (listeners beware):


    The Political Faces of Andy Warhol

    "I've always thought that politicians and actors really summed up the American way"
    -- Andy Warhol


    Lending further credence to the saying that "politics is hollywood for ugly people," Andy Warhol's fascination with political figures extended well beyond first lady Jackie Kennedy.

    1. Ronald Reagan (a 1950's ad, painted in 1985)

    2. Maj. General Custer

    3. Teddy Kennedy

    4. Jimmy Carter

    5. Lillian Carter (President's Grandmother)

    6. Uncle Sam

    7. Louis Brandeis (Supreme Court Justice)

    8. JFK

    9. Richard Nixon