Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When a desk isn't just a desk

I've been debating about posting this photo for a number of reasons, none of which are political. In the end I decided to go ahead, primarily for the history behind the desk.

The desk pictured is called The Resolute Desk, and it's in the Oval Office. The picture above does not show the desk in all it's glory; for that you need to go here. It's an incredible piece of carving and history!

The desk was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880, and there's an interesting story behind it.
In 1852, England sent a 5 ship squadron, including the HMS Resolute, to search for the missing English explorer, Sir John Franklin (of the ill-fated Franklin Polar Expedition) who had left England in 1845 to search for the Northwest Passage to Asia.

The squadron spent 2 winters trapped in the Arctic ice in the Wellington Channel. Finally one ship broke free and took on all survivors and returned to England. The following summer the ice pack broke up for the first time in 3 years and the Resolute became adrift.

The American Whaler George Henry found the Resolute adrift in an ice floe. The ship was then salvaged and sailed to New London, Connecticut which is still a major deep-water seaport and had been the base for American Naval operations in the Revolutionary War. The US Congress purchased the Resolute for $40,000 and presented it to Queen Victoria as a gesture of peace and goodwill in 1856.

When the barque-rigged Resolute was finally broken up, the British Government arranged for 2 desks to be made from the timbers. One was presented to President Hayes, and the other to the widow of Henry Grinnell who was the man responsible for lobbying the US Congress to purchase the Resolute.

My Grandmother would never allow feet on the furniture; to do so would be disrespectful to my grandmother, and no doubt mar the furniture. Once I became an adult, I always had a coffee table designed to hold feet and frosty cold drink glasses without fear, except in one house where I had a lovely antique table that I dare not set my own feet upon even barefoot.

Call me old-fashioned, but I sure wouldn't put my feet up on The Resolute Desk.

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