Calhoun native Jim Lay recalls a night in the White House
“There are three things I like to talk about,” said Calhoun native Jim Lay, “And those are Calhoun, Turkey and when I slept in the White House.”
Lay, who has lived in Calhoun for a majority of his life and is very involved in his local community, was recently featured in a series discussing what it was like to grow up in Calhoun in the 1940s. And following some time away, Lay came back to his hometown to work for Calhoun City Schools and serve on the board of the Gordon County Historical Society.
But one of the stories he shared with the Calhoun Times during his interview depicted an experience that not many people can say they’ve had: spending the night in the White House. More specifically, sleeping in President Lincoln’s bed.
“I sat at the president’s desk in the Oval Office, we went swimming in the pool and I literally sat in every chair in the White House just to say that I did,” he said.
When asked how he was able to do this, Lay explained how President Jimmy Carter came to Calhoun during his presidency with his family, including his son Jack and daughter-in-law Judy. In fact, the Carters attended Sunday school at First Baptist Church on Easter Sunday in 1977.
Lay recalls how members had to have tickets to get into church on that day and secret service men followed the presidential family wherever they went. During the Carters’ visit to town, Lay was able to talk with Edna Langford, Judy’s mother, about potentially visiting the White House.
And the next time Langford made a trip to Washington, D.C., for a party, she invited Lay to tag along. Lay invited two of his sisters and they drove up together.
“We pulled in front of the White House and the guard opened the door and said, ‘We’re so glad you’re here Mr. Lay, we’ve been expecting you,’” Lay said. “I was just an old country boy. I couldn’t believe I was able to do this.”
During his stay, Lay was able to talk to the butlers who served dinner and asked them to tell stories about previous presidents and the Carters.
One of the butlers ex - plained that the dishes they were using belonged to President Truman.
“Hoover built a sunroof on the top of the White House, it has windows all around it, and you can’t see it from the outside,” Lay said. “But anyway I stood there with a Budweiser and walked all around the outside of the building at night. There were 16 acres and it was quiet as can be, just magnificent.”
This visit to the U.S. capital is one of Lay’s most cherished memories, especially since he was able to make phone calls from Lincoln’s bedroom. And while tours of the White House are available to the general public today, not many can say they’ve slept in President Lincoln’s bed or drank a beer under Hoover’s sunroof.
After years of serving city schools and the historical society, Lay rarely utters a negative word about being in Calhoun for almost his entire life, instead choosing positive outlooks on his experiences. But he does boast about this special trip he made with a relative of President Carter and his own sisters — to stay in the White House for a night.