It’s a Nice Day for a White (House) Wedding

It is a rare event for a wedding to be held at the home of the President of the United States, but on November 19, 2022, the 19th documented wedding will take place at the White House, when Naomi Biden, the granddaughter of President Joe Biden, and Peter Neal get married on the South Lawn. While the venue may sound extravagant and even glamorous, the 18 weddings that came before were not always grand affairs. They run the gamut from simple intimate ceremonies to lavish celebrations with outsized guest lists. 

Detail of a newspaper article with the headline: Will the New Administration Bring Another White House Bride? Featured are images of a scene of a wedding inside the White House (top left), a full portrait of Alice Roosevelt in her wedding dress (center), and three portraits of brides who married at the White House.

The Evening Standard (Ogden City, UT), December 6, 1912.

There are few details about the first few weddings that took place at the Executive Mansion (it wouldn’t be officially named “The White House” until 1901). In the early 1800s, weddings tended to be private, intimate affairs with only immediate relatives in attendance at the ceremony and they normally did not include a reception or fancy dinner. Music and dancing was often precluded from weddings as they were considered solemn occasions. Oftentimes they took place at a private home and in these cases, the President’s!

Detail from a newspaper featuring images of three rooms within the White House. From left to right: the East Room, Grand Staircase, and the Blue Room.

Scenes from inside the White House of the East Room, the grand staircase, and the Blue Room. The Sun (New York, NY), July 20, 1913.

Wedding no. 1: March 29, 1812
James Madison Administration

The first wedding on March 29, 1812, was the marriage of Lucy Payne Washington, the sister of First Lady Dolley Madison, to Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Todd. The wedding took place on the State Floor of the White House, likely in the Blue Room. This was Lucy’s second marriage. She had eloped with George Steptoe Washington, nephew of George Washington, in 1793 when she was only 15 years old. When her first husband died of consumption in 1809, Lucy, a widow, became a popular belle in Washington while she lived with the Madisons in the White House, and where she met Todd. To some, their wedding seemed spontaneous. In letters to family, Dolley described that despite the wedding being “sudden,” she thought Todd was of “estimable character, best principles, & high talents.” 

Detail from a newspaper announcing the marriage of Lucy Payne Washington and Thomas Todd.

Marriage announcement of Lucy Payne Washington and Thomas Todd. Virginia Argus (Richmond, VA), April 6, 1812.

Image of handwritten letter from March 20, 1812 from Dolley Payne Madison to Anna Cutts.

From Dolley Payne Madison to Anna Cutts, 20 March 1812. Property of Mr. and Mrs. George B. Cutts, Brookline, MA, (1982). Accessed from The Dolley Madison Project on October 13, 2022.

Wedding no. 2: March 9, 1820
James Monroe Administration

Maria Hester Monroe, the daughter of President James Monroe and First Lady Elizabeth Monroe, married Samuel L. Gouverneur, who was Mrs. Monroe’s nephew and private secretary to President Monroe. There is some debate about where in the White House this wedding took place, but historians tend to believe it was in the “Elliptical Saloon,” later known as the “Blue Room.” It is said that after the ceremony, all 42 guests retired to the State Dining Room for a feast. 

Detail from a newspaper announcing the marriage of Maria Hester Monroe and Samuel L. Gouverneur. The headline reads: Married.

Marriage announcement of Maria Hester Monroe and Samuel L. Gouverneur. Essex Register (Salem, MA), March 18, 1820, p. 3.

Wedding no. 3: February 25, 1828
John Quincy Adams Administration

John Adams II, second son of President John Quincy Adams and First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams, married Mary Catherine Hellen, Mrs. Adams’ niece. Few details are known about the wedding, but what is known is that neither of John Adams II’s two brothers, George or Charles, were in attendance, likely because the bride had been courted by both before she had taken up with John. Although Louisa Adams did not approve of the match, she was concerned about the chastity of the couple and quickly arranged a small wedding at the Executive Mansion. In a letter written by Louisa to Charles, she described the wedding and revealed her dislike of her daughter-in-law: “Madame is cool, easy, and indifferent as ever.” Nine months and seven days after the wedding, Mary Catherine gave birth to a daughter in the family quarters of the White House.   

Detail from a newspaper announcing the marriage of John Adams II and Mary Catherine Hellen. The headline reads: Married.

Marriage announcement of John Adams II and Mary Catherine Hellen. Daily National Journal (Washington, DC), February 27, 1828, p. 3.

Detail from a newspaper featuring a drawn portrait of Mary Hellen Adams wearing a high collar with her hair pulled back.

“Mary Hellen Adams,” The Sun (New York, NY), July 20, 1913.

Wedding no. 4: April 10, 1832
Andrew Jackson Administration

Mary Ann Eastin, grandniece of Rachel Jackson (Andrew Jackson’s first wife), married politician and Tennessee planter Lucius J. Polk. The wedding took place in the East Room, but aside from this detail, very little is known about the wedding. Rachel had died at the age of 37, a month before Jackson became President. The couple had no children of their own, but President Jackson was the legal guardian of a number of children. Two of Rachel’s most favorite wards at the Jackson home, The Hermitage, were Mary Eastin and Mary Anne Lewis. He decided both should have White House weddings.

Lucius J. Polk, who had known Mary Eastin from childhood, had tried unsuccessfully several times to win her heart. Polk was in Tennessee when he received word that Mary was set to marry Lieutenant Bolton Finch, an officer in the U.S. Navy. It is said that Polk expeditiously travelled to Washington, DC and appealed to President Jackson, renewing his intentions for Mary. The president spoke with Mary and is believed to have said, “Take care my dear, marriage with love is heaven; without it, it is hell.” Just days before her set wedding date to marry the lieutenant, Mary had her marriage cards recalled and married Polk instead. 

Detail from a newspaper announcing the marriage of Mary Eastin and Lucius J. Polk. The headlines reads: Married.

Marriage announcement of Mary Eastin and Lucius J. Polk. New York American (New York, NY), April 16, 1832, p. 2.

Photograph portrait of Lucius Polk dressed in a suit and holdings a cane.

Lucius Junius Polk (1802-1870), holding hat in left hand and cane in right hand (1869). Accessed from the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Wedding no. 5: November 29, 1832
Andrew Jackson Administration

Mary Anne Lewis, daughter of a close friend of Andrew Jackson, Major William B. Lewis, married French diplomat Alphonse Pageot in the East Room. It is the first and only Roman Catholic wedding ever held in the White House. The President’s cabinet was in attendance. The father of the bride gave the young couple a fully furnished mansion in Washington, DC as a wedding gift.

Detail from a newspaper announcing the marriage of Alphonse Pageot and Mary Ann Lewis. The headline reads: Marriages.

Marriage announcement of Alphonse Pageot and Mary Ann Lewis. Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, MA), December 7, 1832, p. 3.

Wedding no. 6: January 31, 1842
John Tyler Administration

Elizabeth Tyler, daughter of President John Tyler and First Lady Letitia Tyler, married William Waller, an attorney and family friend from Williamsburg, Virginia, in the East Room. She was 19-years-old and the second daughter of a President to be married at the White House. The guests included members of the Cabinet, diplomats and their wives, family and friends, including former First Lady Dolley Madison. Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur, who had been the first presidential child to marry at the White House 22 years earlier, wrote the newlyweds a poem. The mother of the bride, Letitia Tyler, who had suffered a paralytic stroke in 1839 that had left her an invalid, made her only public White House appearance at her daughter’s wedding.

Detail from a newspaper announcing the marriage of Elizabeth Tyler and William Waller.. The headline reads: Another 'Per Se' Operation.

Marriage announcement of Elizabeth Tyler and William Waller. The Mississippi Creole (Canton, MS), February 26, 1842.

Detail from a newspaper featuring a drawn portrait of Elizabeth Tyler with curled hair and wearing a ruffled collar.

“Mrs. William Waller–Elizabeth Tyler,” The Evening Standard (Ogden City, UT), December 6, 1912.

 

Detail from a newspaper of a drawn image of the inside of the East Room in the White House.

“Magnificent East Room at the White House,” The Holy County Sentinel (Oregon, MO), February 23, 1906.

By the mid-19th century, there began a shift to more formal, public, and elaborate wedding celebrations among the upper-class. This is often attributed to Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840, which broke from earlier wedding customs. The Queen’s choice of a white wedding gown, for example, fundamentally changed wedding fashion and wearing white became a bridal tradition that continues today. Although engagement rings were not yet in vogue, by the 1840s, wedding rings were in fashion. Invitations were sent to esteemed guests about a week before the wedding and wedding vendors were on the rise. Receptions with beautiful music and gourmet food were added.

There was a 32-year gap between White House wedding no. 6 in 1842 and wedding no. 7 in 1874, and the grandeur of the latter illustrates the changes in wedding trends of the era.

Wedding no. 7: May 21, 1874
Ulysses S. Grant Administration

Nellie Grant, daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia Grant, married Algernon Sartoris, a British attaché, in the East Room. It is considered the first truly grand White House wedding. The black crepe that had draped the interior of the White House in mourning for former President Millard Fillmore had been replaced with beautiful flowers that covered the walls and staircases, and dripped from chandeliers. Orange blossoms had been specially transported from Florida. The Marine Band played the Wedding March while President Grant escorted Nellie to the East Room that was filled with 250 guests. Nellie wore a six foot train and a wedding dress trimmed in Brussel pointed lace that was said to have cost thousands of dollars. A reception was held in the state rooms and guests received pieces of the wedding cake in small boxes as gifts. After the wedding, the newlyweds traveled by train to New York in a luxurious Pullman palace car that had been specially made for the Vienna Exposition before sailing to England for their honeymoon. 

Detail from a newspaper of a photograph of Algernon Sartoris (standing, right) and Nellie Grant (seated, left).

“Algernon Sartoris and Nellie Grant about the time of their wedding,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), January 12, 1930.

Detail from a newspaper of a drawn image of Nellie Grant in her wedding dress with veil.

Depiction of Nellie Grant in her wedding dress. The Evening World (New York, NY), February 17, 1906.

Wedding no. 8: June 19, 1878
Rutherford B. Hayes Administration

Emily Platt, niece of President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy Hayes, married General Russell Hastings in the Blue Room. Emily had been like a daughter to the Hayes’ and she had lived with them at the White House from the time they had moved in up until her marriage. Hastings had served with President Hayes during the American Civil War. The wedding is said to have been a quiet, yet elegant affair. Guests included relatives of the bride and groom, Cabinet members and their wives, and a few members of Congress, among them Ohio Representative (and future U.S. president) William McKinley, who Hastings had known during the war. The Blue Room and first floor of the mansion were draped in floral decorations of white and fuchsia geraniums and roses. The bride wore a dress of ivory tinted brocade (woven fabric having a raised floral design) and a veil made of tulle. After an elaborate dinner held in the Family Dining Room, the couple were driven in the President’s carriage to the train depot to depart for New York. 

Detail of a newspaper article with the headline: Wedding at the White House.

“Wedding at the White House,” The Portland Daily Press (Portland, ME), June 20, 1878.

Wedding no. 9: June 2, 1886
Grover Cleveland Administration

President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom, the daughter of his law partner and long-time friend. Cleveland is the only president to have married inside the White House. Still a bachelor when he took office in March 1885, President Cleveland had developed romantic feelings for Frances, a celebrated beauty and student at Wells College in New York. With her mother’s permission, he sent her letters and filled her dormitory room with flowers. Cleveland proposed in writing in August that year, shortly after Frances graduated, but they kept their engagement secret until five days before the wedding. Frances returned from to trip to Europe the day before the official wedding announcement with a wedding gown made by a Parisian designer. The New York Times (May 30, 1886, p. 3) described how orange blossoms (a bridal accessory popularized by Queen Victoria) were attached to points on the hem and flowers were intertwined in the veil. The wedding was held in the Blue Room and was attended by only 28 guests, which included relatives, close friends, and members of the Cabinet with their wives. As First Lady, Frances Cleveland’s youth and beauty made her quite popular and she was constantly reported about in newspapers. She is considered the “first national celebrity first lady.”

Detail from a newspaper featuring drawn portraits of President Cleveland (left) and Frances Folsom (right). Below the portraits reads: Hear the mellow wedding bells. Golden Bells.

President Cleveland and Frances Folsom. Yorkville Enquirer (Yorkville, SC), June 10, 1886.

Detail from a newspaper of a sketch of a scene from the White House wedding of President Cleveland and Frances Folsom. The bridal couple is featuring right, hand in hand and they are surrounded by guests watching them take their vows.

Scene from the wedding of President Cleveland and Frances Folsom. Evening Star (Washington, DC), January 12, 1930.

Wedding no. 10: February 17, 1906
Theodore Roosevelt Administration

Alice Lee Roosevelt, eldest daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, married Ohio Representative Nicholas Longworth in the East Room. Newspapers reported that the wedding was a grand affair with a guest list that numbered 1,000 made up of family and friends, as well as politicians and diplomats from around the world. The Washington Times entitled a pictorial page of the pair “The Nation’s Bridal Couple and Center of Interest Today and Throughout the Earth.” By the time of their wedding, Alice Roosevelt had been an international celebrity for several years, mostly for her wild antics, such as carrying a pet snake around in her purse and smoking on the roof of the White House. She famously cut through her wedding cake with a ceremonial sword she took from one of her father’s military aides. 

Detail of a newspaper article featuring portraits of Nicholas Longworth (left) and Alice Roosevelt (right), both pictures bordered in a heart respectively. The headline reads: The White House Wedding.

Representative Nicholas Longworth and Miss Alice Roosevelt. Five Mile Beach Journal (Wildwood, NJ), February 14, 1906.

Detail of half a newspaper page with the headline: Alice Lee Roosevelt Becomes the Bride of Representative Nicholas Longworth. Below the headline featured a half-drawn, half photograph of the bridal couple (center) at the alter while surrounded by guests at their wedding ceremony.

The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), February 18, 1906.

Wedding no. 11: November 25, 1913
Woodrow Wilson Administration

Jessie Woodrow Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Ellen Wilson, married Frances Bowes Sayre in the East Room. The bride wore an ivory satin dress trimmed with lace. The wedding was described as “intimate” with a guest list limited to 400. The San Francisco Call reported that the bride had “obey” omitted from the vows. 

Detail from a newspaper featuring images of Jessie Wilson (right) and Francis Bowes Sayre (left) and in between, a photograph of their home. The headline reads: Jessie Woodrow Wilson Becomes Bride of Francis Bowes Sayre.

“Jessie Woodrow Wilson Becomes Bride of Francis Bowes Sayre,” The Kenna Record (Kenna, NM), November 28, 1913.

Detail from a newspaper of a photograph of the Wilson-Sayre wedding party (8 male figures standing across the top row with 1 female figure center of the row). President Wilson and the First Lady (center, standing). There are 6 female figures seated in the front row wearing crowns and holding bouquets. The bride is seated 3rd from the right.

The wedding party of the Wilson-Sayre wedding. Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 26, 1913.

Wedding no. 12: May 7, 1914
Woodrow Wilson Administration

Eleanor “Nellie” Randolph Wilson, the youngest daughter of President Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Ellen Wilson, married Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo in the Blue Room. It was less extravagant than Jessie Wilson’s White House wedding, and was a much more private affair. By the time Woodrow Wilson became president, McAdoo was already pursuing Nellie’s affections. No one suspected this, including the father of the bride. At the time, McAdoo was a 50-year-old grandfather and widower with six children. Nellie was 23 and had been secretly engaged to a mysterious man she met on a trip to Mexico several months earlier. It is said that at Jessie’s wedding, Nellie pulled McAdoo into the Blue Room to teach him to dance the Fox Trot. Things continued to get serious after that and McAdoo proposed in January 1914, which Nellie rejected. Undaunted, he proposed a second time later that same year and she said yes. 

Detail from a newspaper featuring photographs of William Gibbs McAdoo (portrait left) and Nellie Wilson (pictured in wedding dress, right).

“Another White House Wedding,” The Liberal Democrat (Liberal, KS), May 22, 1914.

Wedding no. 13: August 7, 1918
Woodrow Wilson Administration

Alice Wilson, niece of President Woodrow Wilson, married Reverend Isaac Stuart McElroy Jr. The ceremony was performed in front of the long windows in the Blue Room. The decorations were humble owing to it being wartime during WWI. There were only 16 guests in attendance in keeping with the simplicity of the wedding. The New York Times (Aug. 8, 1918, p. 11) reported that, “The bride wore a gown of white georgette crepe embroidered in beads and silk threads made over satin,” and noted that her tulle veil featured old lace loaned to her by First Lady Ellen Wilson and orange blossoms that had been worn by the sisters of the groom at their weddings. After the dinner party, the couple departed for a short honeymoon in the mountains of Virginia. 

Detail from a newspaper of a photograph of Alice Wilson in her wedding dress holdings a bouquet.

Bridal portrait of Alice Wilson. The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 8, 1918.

Wedding no. 14: July 30, 1942
Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration

Harry Hopkins, administrator and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, married Louise Gill Macy in the Second Floor Oval Room (the Roosevelt’s private study). The press was fired up about this White House wedding as it was the first after a 24-year gap. Although the wedding was “one of the biggest events in the capital’s social season” reported the Detroit Evening Times, there was little fanfare because it was wartime during WWII. Even the wedding march was omitted. Only a small group of family members and the President and First Lady were in attendance. After vows were exchanged, there was a luncheon in the White House dining rooms, but no reception. 

Detail from a newspaper of a photograph of Louise Gill Macy (left) and Harry Hopkins (right). The headline reads: White House Romancers.

Detroit Evening Times (Detroit, MI), July 30, 1942.

Wedding no. 15: December 9, 1967
Lyndon B. Johnson Administration 

Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, married Captain Charles S. Robb (future Governor of Virginia and U.S. Senator) in the East Room. There were 500 guests in attendance ranging from family, friends, and classmates of the bridal couple, to the notable–politicians, diplomats, Supreme Court justices, actors and singers. The Chicago Tribune reported that among the guests, “were several people with whom the newlyweds had been linked romantically in the past,” including Navy officer Bernard Rosenbach, to whom Lynda was once engaged, and Judy Newman, a flight attendant the groom had dated. 

“Lynda Wed in White House,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), December 10, 1967, p. 1.

Wedding no. 16: June 12, 1971
Richard Nixon Administration 

Tricia Nixon, daughter of President Richard Nixon and First Lady Patricia Nixon, married Edward Finch Cox in the Rose Garden, the first such outdoor ceremony to take place at the White House. Four hundred guests were in attendance, including 87-year-old Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who had her own White House wedding 65 years earlier.  A reception was held in the East Room. The couple famously had a six-tier wedding cake that is said to have stood 6’10” tall and consisted of six layers, including a 64” diameter base. It took the White House Pastry Chef several days to bake and decorate it. The White House shared the recipe in a press release. The bride was featured in her wedding dress on the cover of LIFE, June 18, 1971.  

Detail of a newspaper article featuring a photograph of the bridal couple, Tricia Nixon (left) arm in arm with Edward Finch (right), with the headline: Tricia is Married in Garden.

“Tricia is Married in Garden,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), June 13, 1971, p. 1.

Detail of a photograph from a newspaper featuring President Nixon (right) giving the OK sign with his hand and First Lady Patricia Nixon (left) who is arm in arm with the President, looking at him.

“President Nixon signals all is well as he escorts his wife from the Rose Garden,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), June 13, 1971, p. 1.

Wedding no. 17: May 28, 1994
Bill Clinton Administration 

Anthony “Tony” Rodham, the younger brother of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, married Nicole Boxer, the daughter of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. Following in the style of last White House wedding, the ceremony took place in the Rose Garden, which was decorated in pink and white roses and geraniums. Roughly 250 guests were in attendance. After the 40-minute ceremony, which included scripture, poetry, and violin music, guests moved to the state rooms for a buffet dinner and reception. 

Detail of a newspaper article with the headline: First lady's brother, senator's daughter tie the knot.

“First lady’s brother, senator’s daughter tie the knot,” The Sun (Baltimore, MD), May 29, 1994, p. 3A.

Wedding no. 18: October 19, 2013
Barack Obama Administration 

Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza married Patti Lease in a small, intimate ceremony in the Rose Garden. Roughly 35 guests were in attendance. In his official capacity, Souza had often travelled with President Obama and documented the happenings at the Executive Mansion, capturing some of the most poignant moments of Obama’s time in office. The wedded couple kept a low profile about the event; they confirmed the occasion without comment. No official photographs of the wedding were ever released. 

Detail of a newspaper article with the headline: Wedded at work; in the Rose Garden. Above the headline is a photograph of Pete Souza holding a camera.

“Wedded at work, in the Rose Garden,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), October 22, 2013, p. 3.

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Honorable mentions

There have been four documented weddings that took place elsewhere, but the wedding receptions afterwards were hosted at the White House:

Reception no. 1: December 1, 1831

Andrew Jackson Jr., adopted son of President Andrew Jackson, and Sarah Yorke were married in Philadelphia on Nov. 24, 1831. While President Jackson did not attend the ceremony, he did host the newlyweds for a reception at the White House a week later.

Detail from a newspaper of a portrait painting of Andrew Jackson, Jr.

Portrait of Andrew Jackson Jr. The Omaha Guide (Lincoln, NE), December 30, 1939.

Detail of a portrait painting of Sarah Yorke Jackson.

Portrait of Sarah Yorke Jackson by artist Mayna Treanor Avent (1921). Image accessed from the White House Historical Association.

Reception no. 2: June 29, 1844

President John Tyler and First Lady Julia Gardiner Tyler were married in New York at The Church of the Ascension on June 26, 1844. The couple had eloped, using the Gardiner family’s mourning of the recent passing of Julia’s father as the reason. There were only 12 guests, including the President’s son John. After the ceremony, there was a wedding breakfast in the Gardiner home, followed by a ferryboat cruise, with various naval salutes in New York Harbor. The wedding party traveled back to Washington, DC and, according to newspapers, hosted a two-hour reception celebrating their marriage that Saturday, with a wedding cake displayed in the Blue Room, and served with wine.

Detail from a newspaper of a sketch portrait of President John Tyler.

Portrait of President John Tyler. Evening Star (Washington, DC), February 5, 1961.

Detail from a newspaper of a sketch portrait of Julia Gardiner Tyler.

Portrait of Julia Gardiner Tyler. The Sun (New York, NY), February 11, 1906.

Reception no. 3: August 6, 1966

Luci Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, married Patrick Nugent at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, and the couple held their wedding reception at the White House that evening. When Luci tossed her bouquet at the reception, her sister Lynda caught it. Lynda was married a year later in the White House to Charles Robb.

Detail from a newspaper featuring two photographs from the wedding of Luci Johnson Marries Patrick Nugent. Photo left: the bridal couple walking arm in arm as the Maid of Honor holds the bride's long train. Photo right: the bride walks arm in arm with President Johnson down the aisle.

“Luci Johnson Marries Patrick Nugent in Regal Washington Ceremony,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), August 7, 1966, p. 14.

Reception no. 4: June 21, 2008 

Jenna Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, married Henry Hager on May 10, 2008, in Crawford, Texas. The president and first lady hosted a White House reception to celebrate the marriage the following month. 

Detail from a newspaper of a photograph of Jenna Bush and her fiancé, Henry Hager seated at a table looking out at guests. Two lit tall candles are situated center.

“Jenna Bush and her fiancé, Henry Hager…” New York Times (New York, NY), April 20, 2008, p. ST12.

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One Comment

  1. Corinne Elaine Cronkite/Ouellette
    November 19, 2022 at 11:19 am

    I’m a distant relative of Walter L. Cronkite. He covered the Water Gate scandal during the Nixon administration.

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