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January 25, 2017

Last Friday President Obama boarded a helicopter and left town before President Trump sat down for lunch.  This is customary.  Before there was air travel the President leaving office would catch the train.  He might be invited to lunch, but everyone would expect him to decline.  Apparently, not everyone always gets the memo on this.

On Inauguration Day 1913 departing President Taft rode back to the White House with newly inaugurated President Wilson.  Rather than abruptly leave Taft in the vestibule, Wilson invited him to lunch.  At this point Taft was supposed to decline.  Instead, he accepted.

Taft’s secretary Charles Hilles feared this would happen, and he was ready with a suggestion: there would not be enough time to attend the luncheon without missing the train.  This was not true, but at least it would give Taft an excuse to leave.  But Taft did not want to leave, and he gained everyone’s sympathy against their better judgment.

According to Ike Hoover, when Wilson entered the luncheon “all tried to reach him for a handshake,” but regarding Taft he wrote: “No one seemed to pay any attention to him.”

The chief usher concluded by saying: “The episode was an embarrassing and painful one.  I don’t believe it had ever occurred before, and may it never happen again!  After his successor is inaugurated, the retiring President should make himself scarce just as soon as possible.”

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