D.C. Trip - The White House

The White House
“No cameras or video recorders.” Along with reservation tickets for our tour of the White House, we received a long, very detailed list of prohibited items. Basically, if you can’t wear it, don’t even think you will be able to bring it in. Naturally I was really bummed with the no camera rule since I wouldn’t be able to share anything with you guys on here, but OK, it is the White House so I won’t even try to sneak my little pocket-sized hand-held in, much less my 35mm Nikon. I’m sure the Men in Black have X-ray glasses or something and they’d see right away I was an enemy of the state with the intent of taking a souvenir picture inside the White House.

After putting on the better clothes we had brought (it just didn’t feel right to visit the White House in worn jeans and a t-shirt) and eating breakfast in the hotel, we grabbed a taxi and off we went with just the clothes on our backs, our reservations, and my ancient (its 2 years old!) Blackberry cell phone which, surprisingly, was not on the list of Do Not.

Watching the Cab’s fare meter and keeping an eye on the route the middle-Eastern driver was taking to ensure he didn’t drive around the block a few times, I was pleased when he pulled up right where we were supposed to be and the meter said $9.85. Hey, that’s not bad. Then he cranked a lever on it and magically it now read$14.85. “Why did the fare change?” “More than one people,” he replied. I’m from Texas where everybody from the age of 15 up has their own car and some have several. We don’t take cabs. I wasn’t sure how having 2 1/2 people in the back seat would cost the cab more than if it was just one person, but I wasn’t going to argue, not over just $5. I gave him a $20 bill and hopped out.

I noticed right away there were a lot of police between us and the entrance to the White House. I didn’t stop to count, but trust me, there were a LOT! We showed our passes and drivers licenses (Youngest-daughter showed her passport) and were waved past the first line of defense. The next group of guys, a Secret Service Security team, were manning metal detectors and were wearing uniforms like Police SWAT teams. This guy didn’t just look at our invitations and ID’s, he studied them. Closely. He looked at our ID pictures and he looked at us. He matched our names against his list. After he passed us, we went through another check-point of metal detectors. Once beyond, we were not checked again, but the big guys in black suites wearing earplugs, sunglasses and sporting suspicious bulges under their jackets were all along the route we were allowed to take through the place. For the President, I know it has to be a pain in the neck, but on the other hand, it must be one hell of a rush to know that all of those guys would give their life to save yours and these particular ones are just the middle perimeter. Power to the nth degree!

The "Tree of Honor"
As we finally took our actual first steps into the White House, there amongst the first Christmas tree and hanging garland was a sign saying, “Welcome to the White House. As a special gift to you this holiday season, cameras will be allowed on the tour.” What?!! You think maybe you could somehow have gotten the word out before we got here? There were quiet a few people on the tour with us, nobody had a camera, and there was a whole lot of grumbling by everyone when we saw that sign. Well, being mad wasn’t going to get me my Nikon so I pulled out ye old cell phone with its old, crappy, mostly useless camera and did my best. And that, my friend, is why these pictures look so crappy.

We didn’t see the President, or the First Lady or the Vice President, nor did we see the Oval Office, but we did view some rooms we’ve heard about over the years. The interesting Christmas decoration for this year’s tours was the First Dog Bo. Every room had at least 1 Christmas tree, each decorated with a theme, and each room had Bo somewhere. Some Bo’s were easy to spot, some were rather difficult, but everyone looked for them and pointed like kids on a scavenger hunt when they found the room’s Bo . One of the Christmas trees was a Tree of Honor decorated with military medals and cards and letters from children of our military who have been killed in action. I was particularly touched by that one.

Some rooms had multiple Christmas trees.
The Entrance Hall leads into the White House and is decorated with the portraits of presidents and various artifacts. A station was set up here with stacks of post cards you could use to write a greeting to a person serving overseas in the military. The cards were collected and would be postmarked from the White House.

The East Room has served a number of purposes over the years. First Lady Abigail Adams used it as a laundry room. President Lincoln allowed it to be used as an office and bed chamber by Meriwether Lewis. President James Madison used it as his cabinet room. Jacqueline Kennedy used it as a theatre for the performing arts. This is also the room where the bodies of President Lincoln and President Kennedy laid in state.

The Green Room has been a favorite of every president since Lincoln, who used it as a dining room. It now serves primarily as a state parlor where distinguished guests and dignitaries meet and mingle. This is where President James Madison signed the country’s first declaration of war on the British in 1812. This room, along with the rest of the White House, had to be rebuilt after the British burned it in 1814. In 1862, President Lincoln held the funeral for his youngest son, William Wallace, in this room.

Finding Bo in each room was fun. Some were
difficult. This one was obvious.
The Red Room doesn’t have as much historical significance as a lot of the other rooms. Maybe its because of the small size or maybe because of its color. In 1809, Dolly Madison used the room for a weekly social gathering between the members of opposite political parties. In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt used the room to hold press conferences for female reporters because women were barred from the President’s press conferences. For the first year or so, only cooking and housekeeping topics were discussed, but gradually, the discussions began to include domestic policies.

What is now the State Dining Room was used by Thomas Jefferson as his office. A few years later, President Andrew Jackson much improved things when he moved the horse stables out from under the room’s windows and turned it into the State Dining Room where up to 40 guests could be served. In 1902, renovations were undertaken and 140 guests can now be served.

The Diplomatic Reception Room was the furnace room until the 1902 renovations. It has since been used as a gathering place for guests and diplomats prior to White House events. President Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Roosevelt held the first official reception in this room on January 8, 1903.

North lawn of the White House
The Blue Room, during our visit, had a musician in residence playing Christmas songs on a concert piano. The room is oval shaped and has a great view of the south lawn. For this reason, it is the customary place for presidents to formally greet dignitaries. It was in this room in 1886 that President Grover Cleveland became the first and only president to be married in the White House. The new First Lady, Francis Folsom, was not only 27 years younger than President Cleveland, but also became the youngest first lady in history at the tender age of 21.

It was a very interesting tour. We were never hurried along and the guides in each room were friendly and answered all questions (the men in black never said anything except with their moving eyes which said, “We’re watching you!” loud and clear). Maybe it was just me, but I swear you could literally feel the “power” in that building. I can see how it could be a very addictive drug and the upper-level politicians can soon forget their good intentions of serving the people and focus on keeping that power. I’m not saying its right by any means and I certainly rail against it, but I can understand it. If somehow I was one of those high-powered folks, I’d like to say I would be different, I would remain humble and remember why I was there. I’d like to say that, but I really can’t be sure.