With Brian’s background studying and teaching U.S. history and political science, and mine in journalism with a history minor, it’s no surprise that we love to visit Washington, D.C.
But much more than that, we both love our nation, and we relish learning about its heritage, as well as our rights and privileges as Americans.
All summer we’ve looked forward to this last week in September. We knew the best way to get ourselves inside the public tours of The White House, Pentagon, and FBI were to first contact our Congressional representatives weeks or even months in advance of our vacation.
Turns out, in this post-9/11 era, the only way for the general public to get inside those sites is with passes issued through Congressional offices.
While you can get into the Capitol without Congressional tickets, without them you won’t get a personal tour from a staff intern, complete with a tunnel ride from a Senate office building into the Capitol complex. We received our assigned appointments for all these tours, then built the rest of our itinerary around them.
We were a little surprised to learn that we had been issued credentials for all of our requests, but then, I also learned that the best months to visit D.C. to avoid crowds are September through November.
I was too excited to sleep much before we flew out early Monday morning. My number-one on the ticketed-tour list was The White House. This was my fifth trip to D.C. but only the first inside the home of every U.S. president minus George Washington.
About a White House tour, I've heard, “You don’t see much.” Others have memories of visiting as kids or on senior trips. I wonder how our tour stacks up to those from decades past – or even those prior to 9/11 when security in our nation’s capital – and our great country -- absolutely changed.
For those who might be disappointed, I don’t know what they expect – a nap in the Lincoln Bedroom? Tea poured by the First Lady on the second floor? Let’s get real. This is a home, and a real family lives here. What you’ll be seeing are about a dozen first-floor public rooms along with their priceless furnishings.
What I also know is that the current mostly self-guided tour, was much better, and included seeing more rooms, spaces, and décor than I had guessed. Rather than any disappointment, I'm surprised and delighted with all we saw, and with the fact that only for the past two years has the public been permitted and encouraged to take photos on the tour route. I'm glad we came when we did.
Not a good-hair day for me, but get a glimpse of that beautiful White House Library.
You know this woman, below. I'm stricken by how much (like, exactly) that Chelsea looks like her mom. I suppose Chelsea is about the age now that Hillary was when she stood for her official First Lady portrait.
I should have taken more photos of the first ladies, but I got a few of the official presidential portraits, below. The first ladies and presidential portraits are scattered throughout the floor. I learned that they do not remain in one spot but are rotated throughout the mansion.
The Vermeil Room was once the billiard room, now used for various functions. Portraits of a variety of recent First Ladies are displayed there along with a collection of gilded silver, or vermeil.
Here are a pair of presidential portraits from a hallway. You know these men.
Remember that a family has lived in The White House continuously since 1800 and along the way, these families make changes and leave their own touch on the property. Some things go, like the billiards room, and some stay, like The China Room designated in 1917 by Edith Wilson.
I was surprised by how small the official State Dining Room is, below.
Next to the State Dining Room is the Old Family Dining Room. Another visitor asked if we would like our photo taken there. Yes, please, below.
And now the rooms we know by color.
I took quite a few more photos but I'll close with this one. I asked a Secret Service agent stationed in the room about the stairway, below. Yes, indeed, he told me, the stairs do go to the second-floor private family quarters.
I'll be doing a Part II post on some aspect of our trip to D.C. What I really want to share with readers are some thoughts and photos from The Newseum on their 9/11 exhibit, and about the statues and other aspects of the trip that referenced people and places I know well from east-central Indiana, One or both of those topics will be in a Courier-Times column.
For now, let me ask you: Have you toured The White House? When and what were your impressions? I loved this tour and am crossing this off my bucket list. I am impressed with the security, traffic flow, and also the way guests are still ironically able to take their time touring this beautiful mansion. And, I'm delighted that photo-taking is encouraged.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on your White House experiences.
And for the record, I didn't break anything!