Yes, Milk and Cookies Are Served: A Look Inside Governors' Mansions


By Cathy Keating

Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

376 pp., $60

Who hasn't been to a governor's mansion?

It's practically a required stop for every elementary school when it takes the class trip to the state capital.

Everyone piles out of the bus to get the tour, usually of the "historical rooms" where prior governors, their counselors, and maybe a celebrity made some history. The governor's wife - the first lady of the state - may even serve them milk (from an in-state dairy) and cookies.

Cathy Keating, the first lady of Oklahoma, serves up the editorial equivalent of milk and cookies in "Our Governors' Mansions," a book that looks at the governors' mansions in the 44 states that have permanent lodging for their governors. (Six states - Massachusetts, California, Vermont, Idaho, Rhode Island, and Arizona - make their governors find their own quarters.)

Ms. Keating got the idea for the book four years ago when she and her husband, Frank, moved into the governor's mansion and discovered there were only 10 permanent pieces of furniture and the structure needed major renovation.

She went to the library to try to find a book to see what other governors' mansions looked like. To her surprise, there were no books. "I decided after the building was restored, I would take charge," she says, during a recent interview in New York.

Keating, in her descriptions of the various mansions, sticks to the official histories, art work, furnishings, and renovations.

Most of the information was supplied by the other spouses (including New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's husband). The book will be used for fund-raising purposes by Oklahoma and other states this Mother's Day.

Keating started the book project expecting to find lots of examples of Federal architecture. To her surprise, only the Virginia mansion had a Federal design. Instead, there is a ranch (North Dakota), territorial style (New Mexico), and even a French chateau (Utah). This large, coffee-table-size book is not a pure journalistic effort. Keating, who keeps a busy schedule in Oklahoma City with her husband, Frank, visited only six of the residences.

There aren't many signs of interviews with historians, preservationists, or former residents. When there are anecdotes, however, they are often amusing.

A former employee was taking a tour of the restored Utah mansion; as she watched a woman pull cookies out of the oven, she asked, "Do they treat you good here, dearie?" First lady Norma Matheson turned around and said, "They certainly did."

What's next for Keating? Her husband is up for reelection this year. She says, however, he has received calls from other people asking him to consider a run for the presidency.

If he does run, it will mean a lot of travel. And one thing is sure, Keating will know the history of the governors' mansions on the campaign trail.

She may even get treated to some milk and cookies.

* Ron Scherer is a New York based correspondent for the Monitor.

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