At 11:12 a.m. yesterday, Fred Mayfield, a White House doorman for 15 years, stood on the North Portico and shook hands for the last time with President Ford. At 3:47 p.m., Mayfield nodded hello to his new boss, President Carter. Mayfield had little comment about his small piece of history. "I'm just a working man," he said.
In the morning President Ford met with the old cabinet. In the afternoon, Carter met with the new one.
In the morning, a man named Ron Nessen was sought after by the them the minutia so seemingly vital to the moment - what time the President got up, what he ate for breakfast, whether he cried when he said goodbye, when he took his final swim, could they photograph the bed being removed from the White House, what papers did Ford last sign.
Alas, those very last papers were not the stuff of which exhilarating historical footnotes are made; a proclamation, for example, on the import limitation on dried milk mixtures.
At three minutes past noon, two new press aides - unfamiliar, introducing themselves to White House guards and press members - sat in what had bene Nessen's office at noon. On three television sets they saw their man, president Carter, lift his right hand and place his left on a worn Bible. On turned to the other, "Okay, Walter," he said, "you are now gainfully employed."
By 4 p.m. Jody Powell, Carter's press secretary, sat at Nessen's former desk, fighting out how to work the White house phone padding around with his shoes off, lighting his own fire in the fireplace. "That was the one thing I knew I could do," said Powell, who will soon learn to leave such details to the White House staff. They the people around the President as well as the President.
Ford's people were long gone except for a few stragglers much as press aid Bill Roberts, who left a dimenstore American flag on his desk and typed furiously at last-minute memos rather than look at the telvision as his President's power disappeared.
Less than 15 minutes after Carter was sworn in, a swarm of Carter transition people marched up the White House driveway.In the executive staff suites, the artifacts of yesterday's power were quickly being removed.
All that was left of Philip W. Buchen, counsel to President Ford, were two boxes with an insistent scrawl on top: "Do Not Remove PLEASE," A secretary for Carter's counsel, Robert Lipshutz, was at the desk.
In the old office of Robert T. Hartmann, counselor to President Ford, someone has hastily tacked up a vividly colored poster of Ford, where a painting used to be. On the wall behind the desk, someone had also typed for posterity the previous occupants of that room: FDR's Sam Roseman; Harry Truman's Clark Clifford and Harry Vaughn: Kennedy's led Sorensen; Johnson's Bill Moyers and Sorensen again, and the man from the past and of the future, Joseph Califano; Nixon's Bryce Harlow, Clark McGregor, William Timmons. The office now belongs to Vice President Mondale.
Seconds after the oath of office, the secretary of Zbigniew Brzesinki, assistant to the president for national security affairs, was working out of what had once been Henry A. Kissinger's office. Brezezinski's papers had been swept from a transition desk and redeposited on the desk.
The rose and yellow Oval Office was ready, but a bit bare, for President Carter's first visit yesterday afternoon. A secretary hastily stuck five books on one day corner, "to make it look a bit better" - Woodrow Wilson's "Life and Letters," "The Papers of Alexander Hamilton," vols. V. through VII.
Midge Costanza, assistant to the President, whose office is next to President Carter's, was showing it off to friends and joking, "I asked Jimmy to trade offices, and you know what? He refused.
Inauguration Day for the keepers of the White House is, as they invariably says, a "strange" time. From their windows they get but glimpses of history - the back of parade bleachers, the muffled sound of drums. For a few hours every four years this place for which men fight and strive is detached from it all, as empty and idle as it will ever be.
Telephone operators are placing no worldwide calls. Henry Haller, the chef, had only dinner to prepare and that was done, so he watched review Fords? In two years they never complained about a meal,"
After breakfast yesterday, Betty Ford said good-bye to staff in the state dining room. By 1:15 p.m., 14 women from the Garden Club Georgia had invaded that room and the East Room and the Blue Room the Green Room, and the Red Room with four planeloads and a truckload of camelias, tulips, snapdragons and the like.
It was Rosalynn Carter's idea that the woman would decorate the White House for today, and tomorrow's receptions.
"Jimmy and Rosalynn live on our street," said Ann Dodson of Plains, Ga., as she bustled from room to room.
It was a slow moment for news and so the national press solemnly took down all that Mrs. Roy A. Bell, from Cairo, Ga., was saying:
"Gopher wood was used in the building of the ark, and since the President is such a good Christian I just couldn't resist using gopher wood in my display." Mrs. Bell's husband is a cousin of the controversial Attorney General-designate Griffin Bell and she thinks the criticism of him is "unfair - honesty and integrity runs in my husband's family."
And to prove that the Garden Club of Georgia is thicker than politics, there stood Virginia Callaway of Hamilton, Ga., in the Red Room, wearing an apron that said, "Over 40 But Feeling Foxy." She is the mother of Howard H. (Bo) Callaway, Ford's long-ago campaign director. Who did she vote for? Twirling a twig she smiled coyly: "I voted for both."
Standing by dining room chairs covered with dust cloths, John Ficklin, maitre'd for 31 years, watched it all dispassionately. "I've seen the last seven or eight of 'em come and go," he said. "I didn't ever see a First Lady leave out of here yet with dry eyes. We feel the same way." The pause was but fleeting and then he said, "But we soon got over it."
Soon, indeed, The President is Gone - Long Live the President.