Wilson’s driver took what was described by a newspaper report as “a zigzag pattern through the dark streets” at high speed. Chief White House Usher Ike Hoover was in the Secret Service car just behind Wilson’s vehicle. “For a while the pursuing cars managed to keep up in the face of the tremendous speed at which the president’s machine was traveling, but they dropped off one by one and gave up the chase,” Hoover wrote in his book Forty-Two Years in the White House. “After twelve or fifteen miles all the rest had been shaken off.”
Not even the crew of the train that was to meet the couple and their security detail in Alexandria had been told their destination. Once Wilson and his new wife arrived, the president “ordered the cars parked back in the shadows until the approach of the train from Washington,” recalls Hoover in his book. Only at the last moment was the engineer told to pull into a siding at the edge of the freight yards in Alexandria. Then the darkness was pierced three times by agent Starling’s flashlight: It was the signal for the president to board the train. It was also when Starling informed the engineer of the couple’s honeymoon destination—the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia.
The Wilsons’ suite looked out on the historic resort’s golf course and the snow-capped Allegheny Mountains, and the honeymooners enjoyed solitude—until word of their arrival got out. Within a couple of days, 100 guests had checked in; within a week, it was 500, many of them reporters. The Secret Service continued to enforce its total ban on photographs, nabbing one particularly resourceful lensman “concealed under the floor of an old summer house busily turning the crank of his machine. They ejected him from his hiding place, however, before the presidential party had gotten close enough to appear in the film,” The Washington Post reported.
Journalists did their best to describe what the president and his bride were doing, but their stories reflect the Secret Service’s successful efforts to keep them at arm’s length. They offer few details about the couple’s activities, which reportedly included long walks, golf, mountain climbing, and the celebration of Wilson’s 59th birthday.
In the end, the WHCA and the correspondents it represented lost the fight; the writer who penned the most sensational story, and revealed the most thrilling details about the couple’s private time together, was Edith Bolling Galt herself. In her 1938 book, My Memoir, she describes a day trip she and Wilson took to White Sulphur Springs, a 40-mile drive over the mountains, on roads with hairpin curves, past 13 streams that had to be forded because there were no bridges.
At one point, they reached a stream “so swollen that the chauffeur said he was afraid the water would overflow the car,” Galt writes. Rather than turn back, they decided “to get out and let him try it, and if he could make it we would cross on a tree which had fallen across the stream. If he could not, we would return in the Secret Service car and send him help.” She continues: “We stood in the road and watched the big Pierce Arrow lunge and plunge in the current but finally emerge triumphantly on the other side. Then came our turn, for the old tree which was to form a bridge for us was slippery and wet, and very rotten in places.” The Wilsons were undeterred, Galt reports. “By forming a sort of human chain—the five Secret Service men, the two chauffeurs and ourselves—we steadied one another and with a real thrill of adventure reached safety.”
Even a century later, it is hard not to regret that the moment was not witnessed by any reporter, nor captured by a photographer—even a local one.