A King in His Castle: How Donald Trump Lives, From His Longtime Butler


Donald J. Trump comes to his estate in Palm Beach, Fla., to escape and entertain, and the people who work there know his demands and desires well.

Everything seemed to sparkle at the Mar-a-Lago estate here on a recent afternoon. The sun glinted off the pool and the black Secret Service S.U.V.s in the circular driveway. Palm trees rustled in a warm breeze, croquet balls clicked and a security guard stood at the entrance to Donald J. Trump’s private living quarters.

“You can always tell when the king is here,” Mr. Trump’s longtime butler here, Anthony Senecal, said of the master of the house and Republican presidential candidate.

The king was returning that day to his Versailles, a 118-room snowbird’s paradise that will become a winter White House if he is elected president. Mar-a-Lago is where Mr. Trump comes to escape, entertain and luxuriate in a Mediterranean-style manse, built 90 years ago by the cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Few people here can anticipate Mr. Trump’s demands and desires better than Mr. Senecal, 74, who has worked at the property for nearly 60 years, and for Mr. Trump for nearly 30 of them.

He understands Mr. Trump’s sleeping patterns and how he likes his steak (“It would rock on the plate, it was so well done”), and how Mr. Trump insists — despite the hair salon on the premises — on doing his own hair.

Mr. Senecal knows how to stroke his ego and lift his spirits, like the time years ago he received an urgent warning from Mr. Trump’s soon-to-land plane that the mogul was in a sour mood. Mr. Senecal quickly hired a bugler to play “Hail to the Chief” as Mr. Trump stepped out of his limousine to enter Mar-a-Lago.


Anthony Senecal, a longtime butler to Donald J. Trump, at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., this month.


was white, the staff noticed, the boss was in a good mood. If it was red, it was best to stay away.

On Sundays, Mr. Trump would drive himself to his nearby golf course, alternating each year between his black Bentley and his white Bentley.

Mr. Senecal tried to retire in 2009, but Mr. Trump decided he was irreplaceable, so while Mr. Senecal was relieved of his butler duties, he has been kept around as a kind of unofficial historian at Mar-a-Lago. “Tony, to retire is to expire,” Mr. Trump told him. “I’ll see you next season.”

Mr. Senecal, with horn-rimmed glasses, a walrus mustache and a white pocket kerchief in his black jacket, seems to reflect his boss’s worldview: He worries about attacks by Islamic terrorists and is critical of Mr. Trump’s ex-wives.

And like Mr. Trump, he is at ease among the celebrities who visit the estate. But these days, instead of admiring Dixie Carter as she sips crème de menthe by the fireplace and recites soliloquies from the television show “Designing Women,” Mr. Senecal encounters Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey lounging on a couch under the living room’s 21-foot gold-leafed ceiling, or chatting with Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as he exits the luxurious Spanish Room.

The butler’s up-close observations of Mr. Trump over the years have revealed not only the mogul’s quirks — Mr. Trump rarely appears in bathing trunks, for example, and does not like to swim — but also his habitual, self-soothing exaggerations.


In the early years, Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka slept in the same children’s suite that Dina Merrill, an actress and a daughter of Mrs. Post, occupied in the 1930s. Mr. Trump liked to tell guests that the nursery rhyme-themed tiles in the room were made by a young Walt Disney.

“You don’t like that, do you?” Mr. Trump would say when he caught Mr. Senecal rolling his eyes. The house historian would protest that it was not true.

“Who cares?” Mr. Trump would respond with a laugh.

Mr. Trump is abundantly proud of his ability to drive a golf ball, once asking rhetorically during a news conference: “Do I hit it long? Is Trump strong?”

Mr. Senecal suggested that Mr. Trump was perhaps not quite as strong as he imagined, remembering times they would hit balls together from the Mar-a-Lago property into the Intracoastal Waterway.


According to Mar-a-Lago lore, Mrs. Post, who was once the wealthiest woman in the United States, scoped out the property that would become the estate in the 1920s by crawling through the junglelike brush between Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean. She imported stone from Genoa, Italy, and 16th-century Flemish tapestries that she protected by drawing the drapes in the brightest hours. (They faded after Mr. Trump bought the place and blasted the living room with sunlight.)

When she died in 1973, Mrs. Post left the house to the United States government with the intent that it would become a presidential retreat. But the upkeep proved too expensive, and ownership was transferred back to Mrs. Post’s daughters, who unloaded it to Mr. Trump for less than $10 million in 1985. He turned it into a private club a decade later.

These days, what really seems to bug Mr. Trump is the sound of planes over the property. Whereas Mrs. Post ensured that the nearby airport would divert flights away from the estate during her stays, the same courtesy has not been extended to Mr. Trump, and the constant roar of engines “drives him nuts,” Mr. Senecal said.

“Tony,” Mr. Trump would often shout. “Call the tower!”

The candidate is suing the county-run airport. He has also sued the town in a dispute over the size of his estate’s flagpole; the size of the banquet hall he added to the property; and the size of the club, which, to frighten the local gentry, he once threatened to sell to followers of theRev. Sun Myung Moon.

More recently, Mar-a-Lago has set off controversy in the Republican primary, as Mr. Trump has been criticized by rivals forhiring employees from abroad to staff the club rather than relying on the local work force.

“There are a lot of Romanians, there’s a lot of South Africans, we have one Irishman,” Mr. Senecal said of the staff, before echoing Mr. Trump’s defense that locals shunned the short-term seasonal work. But he also added of the foreigners: “They’re so good. They are so professional. These local people,” he trailed off, making a disapproving face.

Over the decades, he has grown close to the Trump family. He recalled how Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, once stepped out of his limo on the club’s gravel driveway and remarked to Mr. Senecal, “Somebody better get that coin.” The butler went on his hands and knees and after a few minutes found a crusty penny.


Mr. Senecal returned in 1992, and took up his old residence in the butler’s room, but was soon asked to move out after Mr. Trump married Marla Maples, who “really didn’t belong here,” Mr. Senecal said. Also, Mr. Trump wanted to rent the room out to members.

A decade later, Mr. Trump decided to put his own imprint on Mar-a-Lago by building the 20,000-square-foot Donald J. Trump Ballroom. The venue made its big debut with the 2005 wedding of Mr. Trump to Melania Trump, whom Mr. Senecal described as exceptionally compassionate. Tony Bennett, whose paintings hang in the mansion, sang. Mr. Senecal greeted guests at the door, including Hillary Clinton. (In the interview, he offered a profane description for Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race.)

The ballroom later hosted an 80th birthday party for Maya Angelou, thrown by Oprah Winfrey, during which part of the hall was set aside for a “religious ceremony with the hooting and the hollering,” Mr. Senecal recalled. “Mr. Trump was right on into it. It was so great. He was clapping.”

Mr. Senecal’s admiration for his longtime boss seems to know few limits. On March 6, as Mr. Trump made his way through the living room on his way to the golf course, Mr. Senecal called out “All rise!” to the club members and staff. They rose.

Mr. Trump was wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. It was white, not red. He seemed in a good mood.

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A King in His Castle: How Donald Trump Lives, From His Longtime Butler Reviewed by on .

Everything seemed to sparkle at the Mar-a-Lago estate here on a recent afternoon. The sun glinted off the pool and the black Secret Service S.U.V.s in the circular driveway. Palm trees rustled in a warm breeze, croquet balls clicked and a security guard stood at the entrance to Donald J. Trump’s private living quarters. “You can


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