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5 Memorable White House Weddings

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When First Twin Jenna Bush is married this weekend in Crawford, Texas, she'll be the first presidential child since 1992 to tie the knot while Dad's in office. That year, Jenna's aunt, Dorothy Walker Bush—younger sister of George W. and youngest child of George H.W.—married Robert B. Koch, in a quiet ceremony at Camp David.


Jenna's betrothed, Henry Hager, is described as "a former aide to the president." According to Doug Wead, author of All the Presidents' Children, in her choice of spouses, "Jenna Bush is following a long line of presidential children before her. Like the rest of us, they marry whoever is around."

It's 37 years and counting since a son or daughter of the president was married at the White House (during the Age of Nixon). Historians reckon there have been about 30 major weddings at the White House. And of the 23 presidential offspring married while their father was in office (Jenna included), nine tied the knot at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

If I could pick five White House weddings to attend and report back to mental_floss—for their historical interest if not for the open bar—it would be these:

Maria Hester Monroe—March 9, 1820

This first wedding of a presidential child seems to have put a damper on President James Monroe's Era of Good Feeling. Seventeen-year-old Maria was engaged to 21-year-old Samuel L. Gouverneur, her first cousin and a White House staffer.

The wedding took place in the East Room or the Blue Room (historians aren't sure), just three years after the presidential mansion was rebuilt following its burning in the War of 1812. Maria's older sister had taken charge of the wedding plans with the cool efficiency of Martha Stewart, and by inviting just 42 family members and close friends, she antagonized Washington society and the diplomatic corps.

The couple tried to make amends by scheduling a round of balls. The first was nine days after the wedding, at the home of naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur. During the festivities, Decatur quietly accepted a challenge to a duel. The following Wednesday he was shot and killed on the field of honor. The news shocked the country and plunged the capital into mourning, forcing the cancellation of all celebrations, including those of Mr. and Mrs. Gouverneur.

John Adams II—February 5, 1828

Louisa Adams, wife of Monroe's secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, had noted in her diary how much bad feeling the Monroe wedding had generated. Yet after Adams succeeded Monroe, the White House wedding of son John Adams II—the only presidential son married in the White House—proceeded in much the same way.

Mary Catherine Hellen was close not only to John II, but to the entire Adams family. After her parents died, John Quincy and Louisa Adams raised Mary and her siblings. As a teenager Mary became the object of affection—if not obsession—of the three Adams sons. She had already enthralled one brother and been engaged to another when, at age 17, Mary wed the youngest Adams in a small, quiet ceremony.

John II died of alcoholism at age 31, and Mary went back to live with John Quincy and Louisa, running their household until their deaths. She outlived her own children and died in 1870.

Grover Cleveland—June 2, 1886

cleveland-wedding.jpgThe only president to serve two non-consecutive terms was also the only president married in a White House ceremony. Grover Cleveland was 49 and a little more than a year into his first term when he married 21-year-old Frances Folsom. The wedding was a simple affair—attended by close friends, family, and cabinet members and their wives. Apparently Washington was getting used to small ceremonies. But the occasion was far from quiet—John Philip Sousa led the Marine Band.


After the ceremony, "[T]he ladies kissed the bride to their hearts content," The New York Times reported, "but the gentlemen followed the example of the groom and refrained." There was a 20-pound salmon to sup on and a 25-pound wedding cake.


Cleveland had known his bride her whole life. Her father was a close friend of the future president, and Cleveland bought the infant Frances a baby carriage as a gift. When her father died leaving no will, the court appointed Cleveland to administer the estate.

Two other presidents married while in office. John Tyler married his second wife, Julia Gardiner, in 1844, in New York City. And Woodrow Wilson married his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, in 1915, at her home in Washington, DC.

Alice Lee Roosevelt—February 17, 1906

alice-roosevelt.jpgOf all the presidential children, Theodore Roosevelt's eldest child had a reputation that most closely resembles Jenna Bush's. Princess Alice, as she was known, was a late-Victorian version of a celebrity, whose wild exploits were catnip for the press—smoking in public, driving her own car, chewing gum, and flirting with men—without a chaperone.


One of her many suitors was Nicholas Longworth, 35, an ambitious Republican congressman from Ohio. And if previous White House weddings were simple, private affairs, the Roosevelt-Longworth wedding was the Must-See Event of the year. The House of Representatives adjourned for the day, and 1,000 guests fought for both parking spots and a view of the bride from one of the White House's state rooms.


Alice refused to have bridesmaids, who might have detracted attention from the 22-year-old bride and her wedding dress with its 18-foot-long train of silver brocade. She walked toward the East Room on the arm of her father and managed to do the impossible—she upstaged Theodore Roosevelt.

Nicholas Longworth went on to become speaker of the House. He already was a drinker and womanizer, two activities that cooled their marriage quickly. When Alice had a daughter, the father reputedly was Sen. William Borah of Idaho.

Tricia Nixon—June 12, 1971

nixon-wedding.jpgThe "˜60s had seen the weddings of President Lyndon Johnson's two daughters and President-elect Richard Nixon's younger daughter. The wedding of elder daughter Tricia Nixon to Edward Cox, a 24-year-old law student with a liberal bent, was the most sumptuous and last White House wedding to date.


It was also the first outdoor White House wedding, held in the Rose Garden between rain showers and broadcast live on television. At the reception, which followed in the East Room, the 25-year-old bride danced with her father to "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." The 400 wedding invitations, Time magazine reported, included one to "Eddie's friend Ralph Nader."


According to The Hill, "[Tricia's] dress made its way [from Boston] to the White House under the watch of designer Priscilla Kidder and a phalanx of armed Secret Service agents. A cover story in Life magazine reported that the group purchased a first-class seat for the dress to ensure its safe passage to Washington." Also in attendance was Alice Roosevelt Longworth, whose own White House wedding was 65 years earlier.

David Holzel enjoys this kind of presidential trivia, and edits The Franklin Pierce Pages just to prove it.

See also...

"¢ A Brief History of Celebrity Political Endorsements
"¢ The Stories Behind 10 Famous Product Placements
"¢ Trailer Parks, Video Games & Amway: How Sports Owners Made Their Money
"¢ Paging Dr. Freud: Unusual Mental Illnesses
"¢ On The Money: A Presidential Currency Quiz
"¢ Name the Presidents in 8 Minutes
"¢ Quiz: The Lives of Former Presidents

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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