Julie Nixon Eisenhower, whose father found solitude there, calls Camp David "enchanting." Susan Ford Vance remembers "special moments," although her father preferred relaxing on the golf course, and Lynda Johnson Robb calls the retreat "a place of rest" -- something her beleaguered father rarely found.
And Nancy Reagan says that the second best-known presidential address, six miles west of little Thurmont, Md., and 57 miles from the White House, is "very rustic -- not elaborate or fancy at all."
But 143-acre Camp David, which began as a little Civilian Conservation Corps camp called High Catoctin in the middle of Catoctin National Forest, is almost unknown to outsiders. And that, of course, is the way it's supposed to be, a private place where presidents of nine administrations and their families could unwind in a secure, scenic environment.
Friday, both Maryland Public Television stations and WETA air "Camp David," hosted by Ann Compton and full of White House film footage and stills and interviews, including one with the Reagans, who visit Aspen often.
Aspen, the presidential quarters, is equipped with a fish pond at the front door, a heated outdoor swimming pool at the rear, a one-hole golf course (built for President Dwight David Eisenhower) and a splendid mountain view of the Maryland countryside. The complex, with a conference center lodge and assorted smaller cabins, includes tennis courts, a bowling alley and movie theater, trails, streams and paths with small lights that trip on when a stroller passes by.
Camp David is also a place of serenity where presidents have accomplished memorable tasks. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who first seized upon the woodsy hideaway and called it "my Shangri-La," met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to plan the invasions of Normandy and of North Africa.
Harry S Truman did not use "Shangri-La" much, but Eisenhower did, renaming it after his grandson, upgrading its facilities, and meeting with Charles DeGaulle of France, Harold MacMillan of Great Britain and Nikita Khrushchev, with whom he planned a 1960 summit -- plans shattered by the downing of a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union.
John F. Kennedy often relaxed with his family -- films show him playing with young John and Caroline, who rode her pony. But he also consulted there with Eisenhower, who lived in nearby Gettysburg, in 1961 before the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion. Lyndon Johnson's wife and daughters used Camp David more than he did, but he once entertained the prime minister of Australia there. Richard Nixon liked Camp David so much that he had the retreat refurbished and communications equipment installed. He met there with Leonid Breshnev.
Jimmy Carter at first wanted to do away with the mountain fortress, believing that his electorate would not approve, but came to enjoy Camp David and chose it for his historic meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. There, the three of them forged the Camp David Accord.
Ronald Reagan has spent more time at the retreat than any other president, and met there with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. In Compton's closing interview with the Reagans, he notes, it's good to get away when you "live over the store."