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Early home movies capture White House life in color

May 1, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, recently unveiled home movies shed colorful new light on President Herbert Hoover's White House. An archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum discovered that the home movies taken by the first lady weren't black and white as previously thought.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The business practices and decisions made by Instagram and, much more broadly, by Facebook are increasingly under scrutiny. We will have a closer look at that issue later this week.

Now to our NewsHour Shares, something that caught our eye that may be of interest to you, too.

Herbert Hoover may be best remembered as a rigid Republican whose presidency saw the start of the Great Depression. But newly discovered reels of film reveal a softer, more human side of the man and his family.

The NewsHour’s Julia Griffin explains.

JULIA GRIFFIN: Herbert Clark Hoover, engineer, humanitarian, and 31st president of the United States, he’s forever imprinted in our history books in Depression-era black and white — or maybe not. Seven recently unveiled home movies now place his White House in a colorful new light.

LYNN SMITH, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum: You get used to seeing the ’20 and ’30s in black and white only, so, to see them in color is kind of like going through a time machine.

JULIA GRIFFIN: Lynn Smith is the audio-visual archivist at Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum. In 2014, she discovered the films weren’t black and white, but rather Kodacolor, a short-lived product that requires a special projection lens to reveal colored hues.

LYNN SMITH: It’s nice to have old color film, but White House color films, there’s only one first, and I think we may have it.

JULIA GRIFFIN: The camera belonged to Hoover’s wife, Lou, an early home movie technophile.

Now restored, the films show unguarded moments of first family life, a 1929 fishing trip, in which then president-elect Hoover catches a barracuda, or a game of fetch on the White House lawn between first lady Lou and first dogs Pat and Weejie.

One even features Alonzo Fields, who served 20 years as the chief White House butler. Here, he stands in the 1930 Rose Garden.

But the longest clip offers a rare glimpse of the president’s favorite physical activity: a morning match of catch the press dubbed Hoover Ball.

LYNN SMITH: It was a 6-pound leather ball that was filled with stuffing, and they’d have Cabinet members, some members of the Supreme Court out every morning, six days a week. And they would toss and catch thing. They would score it similar to volleyball or something like that.

JULIA GRIFFIN: The videos show the Hoover family’s lighter side.

LYNN SMITH: He wasn’t just the dour, stone-faced man that was president during the Depression. He did have a heart and soul.

JULIA GRIFFIN: Smith is busy scouring the museum’s archives for more shots like this.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Julia Griffin.