From fires to historical inaugurations, The White House has seen it all. The White House has become many things to many different people. For the early patriots, it was a symbol of American freedom, hope, and perseverance during the early years of our nation’s history. It is, however, more than just a logo. For every first family in our nation's history, with the exception of George Washington’s family, The White House is a home. For every president it is a place of work, for visitors- on average one million every year- it is a museum, and for a growing number of Americans, it is their beloved country’s capitol building.
Our White House is often associated with our nation's founding, but George Washington did not even live there! The original planner, chosen by George Washington to design the President's house in 1791, was a Frenchman named Pierre L’Enfant. He had prepared a large, castle-like building five times the blueprint's size that was eventually chosen because many people opposed such a grand house. While Washington loved the building design, many around him feared the public’s reaction to such a grand building after just escaping from the clutches of a monarchy. In 1792, Thomas Jefferson suggested that the nation should hold a design contest to determine the blueprint for the president's house. The design they chose was by James Hoban. Historians later realized that the house he designed was anything but original. He took much of his inspiration from the Dublin House of Parliament, which made sense since he was born in Ireland. At the time of the building, however, originality and creativity were not the top priority, so the first stone was laid on October 13, 1792. To this day, no one knows where precisely the first stone was placed. While no one kept a record of the workers’ ethnicities, an estimate says that at least half of the workers were born somewhere other than America, and a decent amount of the workers were either enslaved or freed African-Americans. The building's cost was $232,372 when John Adams and his wife Abigail were the first to reside in The White House.
During the War of 1812, on August 24, 1814, The White House was engulfed in a sea of fire. The White House was not the only building to be devastated by these flames of British fury. The British also burned the Capitol and other federal buildings. It is said that before setting the mansion ablaze, the British soldiers in the house sat down at the table for a meal of leftovers from The White House kitchen. Luckily James Madison, who was president at that time, had already fled from D.C to Maryland. Dolley Maddison is famous for rescuing a life-sized portrait of George Washington from The White House before the British troops could ignite the painting. After the tragic fire, the house was renamed The “Executive Mansion”, even though many Americans insisted on calling it The White House. It was not officially named The White House until 1902, when Theodore Roosevelt made it official.
American Citizens may have thought after The War of 1812 was over that their precious White House was safe, but that fire was not the only attack on The White House in our nation’s history. For example, on August 16, 1841, 27 years after the first attack, rioters hurled stones at The White House and shot guns in the air after they heard that “President John Tyler vetoed Congress’ attempt to reestablish the Bank of the United States.” On Christmas day of 1974, Marshall Fields drove his car through the white house gate and into an entrance. Guards surrounded him, and he claimed to be the messiah. Then he threatened to blow up what appeared to be a bomb on his body. He negotiated for four hours until he finally surrendered. Officials later realized that the things strapped to his body were not bombs. They were just flares! Another night the Secret Service spotted an electrician with a drug problem and a problem with the way Reagan was running the country, near the south grounds of The White House. When security agents approached him, he pulled out a sawed-off shotgun, and one of the officers quickly shot him in the arm. He was arrested and ordered to receive psychiatric treatment. On October 29, 1994, Francisco Martin Duran shot an abundance of bullets at The White House. The Secret Service managed to tackle the shooter, but one shot hit a west wing window. Luckily no one was injured. Francisco Martin Duran was tried and found guilty of the attempted assassination of a U.S. President. He is still in jail today.
While The White House has a wild past, as of now, it is pretty peaceful, and you may even consider taking a tour. First, you must request to take a public tour through your member of congress. You can submit this request anywhere from 21 days to three months before your visit. There is a limited number of spaces available, so try to book a tour as soon as possible. All tours are free, but that doesn’t mean that you will not have to spend any money to tour The White House. You are not allowed to bring certain things with you inside the house. You can store your bags at Union Station for $3-$6, depending on the size of your bag. There is also no parking near The White House, so you’ll probably have to pay for an Uber from your hotel room. After making sure your belongings are in place, you should arrive at The White House at the time and location you are told to come. Everyone who is 18 years or older is required to show a government-issued ID. If you are from another country, then you will need your passport. While you will get a tour of things like the Blue Room and The White House Rose Garden, it is essential to remember that there are no restrooms available to tourists.
Taking a tour today wouldn’t be the same as it was 100 years ago. The White House has undergone many alterations and renovations throughout the years. Each First Family has added something new to the house. The Adams added low wings to both the east and west. James Maddison added the south entrance, and Andrew Jackson added a Portico on the building's north side. In 1927 the third floor was added to The White House. Taft added a gigantic bathtub that could fit four people in it! Garfield put in The White House’s first elevator! Air conditioning was first placed in The White House in 1881 under President Garfield, who was very close to death. In the 1940s, Truman added a second floor to the North Portico. Many people objected to altering the exterior of The White House, but it was added anyway. Many presidents succeeding Truman later defended the addition, now known as the “Truman Porch.” Even though most later presidents seemed to like it, it did cause trouble for the U.S. mint because The White House on the twenty-dollar-bill had to be changed.
When we think of The White House, we think of bills becoming laws, but 44 first families have called it home. The mansion must constantly be in good condition, since the families are often entertaining foreign guests. To keep up with all of the work, The White House currently employs “ten engineers, four carpenters, six electricians, two plumbers, two storekeepers, two painters, and five florists.” Some people are hired for special events such as weddings. Many of the President's children, and one president himself, were married at The White House! One wedding to take place in The White House was that of Lucy Payne Washington. She was James Madison’s widowed sister-in-law. President Grant's daughter, Ellen, was married at The White House. Jessie Roosevelt also chose to have a White House wedding. The newspapers were desperate to get a sneak peek at her dress, so they kept it tightly secure and locked away. Usher West later recalled the security, and he said that there was “tighter security than there had been during the Cuban missile crisis.” On June 2, 1886, Grover Cleveland became the first and only president to be married at The White House.
With such a historical past, it is rumored that The White House is not only home to the first family but to a ghost as well. It is said that President Lincoln's spirit still lingers in his bedroom, and many first families say that they have felt a presence pushing them to do their best. Maureen Reagan and her husband claimed to have seen a strange reddish-orangish Aura in the Lincoln room. They are not the only ones who feel it. Ronald Reagan’s dog had sensed something as well because every time he went past the Lincoln bedroom, he would bark but refuse to enter. Is it possible that our beloved 16th president still lingers through The White House?
America is one of the most populated countries in the world. Our citizens often disagree and argue, but the two things that bring us together are patriotism and The White House. Even though I have never seen The White House in person, when looking at pictures, I am overwhelmed with awe, and I can’t help but swell with pride for my country’s capitol building.