on March 29, 2013
Sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue is perhaps one of the most famous addresses in the world. The White House has stood as the home to all US presidents except George Washington. It has had a long history from the time it was burned by the British in 1814 and, shortly thereafter, rebuilt with continuing renovations and decorating whenever a new president occupies its halls. The White House is the symbol of the power and prestige of the chief executive. Although only a small percentage of people are able to work closely enough to the president to be within its walls, the White House is open to ordinary citizens to tour and be a part of its rich history. White House Tours are run by the National Park Service along with assistance by the Secret Service. The White House has to be one the most difficult places to get tickets. In the wake of 9/11, all tickets to the White House must be requested through your congressional leaders up to six months in advance. There is no admission fee to tour the White House. Tours are only conducted on Tuesday-Saturday from 7:30-12:30. Each individual who is 14 years or older must submit their name, date of birth, social security number, and country of residence in order for the Secret Service to complete a background check. All individuals 15 years and older must have a picture identification card. In order to make your visit more enjoyable and not disappointing, bring as little with you as possible, since there is not much you can bring inside. There are no purses, cameras, strollers, video cameras, or grooming items allowed in the White House. A word of advice is to bring just a wallet with your identification card. An umbrella, cell phones, and car keys are allowed if you must bring them. All tours of the White House are self-guided with Secret Service agents in each room to answer any questions. Before 9/11, tours were guided with a detailed synopsis of each room. Based on how many questions you want to ask, a tour will normally last about 20-30 minutes. A visit to the White House begins with a security check by the Secret Service. You then enter the Visitor Entrance which guides you down a hallway to three rooms which are roped off. The first room is the Library which contains volumes of history, biographies, and science books by American authors. The Vermeil Room is used for a variety of functions and contains portraits of First Ladies adorning the walls. The last room on the floor is the China Room created by Edith Wilson to display the president’s china. The tour continues up a staircase to the East Room, the largest room in the White House. The room is used for receptions, press conferences, and state dinners. The room resembles that of a large ballroom and in the corner is a concert piano given to the White House by the Steinway Company in 1938. To the right of the fireplace, on the wall, stands a portrait of George Washington. It was painted in 1797 and was it was saved by Dolly Madison when the White House was burned. The next three rooms, the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room, are easily named due to the color of its walls and rugs. The Green Room gets its name primarily from the silk wall coverings. It was once used as a dining room by Thomas Jefferson. It is now used today as a reception room. Most of the furniture dates back to 1810. Do not forget to look at the coffee urn used by John Adams and which is flanked by French candlesticks used by James Madison. The Blue Room gets its name more from the rugs and furniture than by the wall coverings and the color was first used by President Martin Van Buren. All of the furniture in the room was purchased by James Monroe after the White House was rebuilt. The room is oval shaped and is used to receive guests. During the holidays, it is the room where the Christmas tree is placed. This room is unique because it was the setting of a wedding when Grover Cleveland, the only President to be married in the White House, married Frances Folsom in 1886. The last of the colored rooms is the Red Room. This room is used by First Ladies to receive guests. Rutherford Hayes took the oath of office in this room. All of the furniture dates back to 1810-1830.The last room on the tour is the State Dining Room. A large room that can accommodate up to 140 people and in a way can be called the Yellow Room. Long yellow draperies adorn the windows and beautiful yellow chairs surround the dining table. Most of the furniture was furnished by Theodore Roosevelt including the massive chandelier that hangs directly over the dining table. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln rests above the fireplace. As you leave, you walk through the cross halls which connect the dining room to the East Room. A long red rug stretches the length of the hallway. The hallway leads you to the front entrance of the White House where the tour ends. As you walk out the front door, take a glance back and above the door leading to the Blue Room is the great Presidential Seal making you realize that you are standing in the building that the president calls home. The second and third floors are closed to the public and are used by the President’s family.If you never get the chance to tour the White House, www.WhiteHouse.gov allows you to take an online tour of each room. However, if you ever get the opportunity to tour the White House, do not pass it up. Many people never get a chance to enter this greatest of American symbols, but with a little diligence and planning, you can be a part of the select few.Located just across the street from the White House, I noticed a woman sitting inside a tent. There were signs surrounding the tent informing the public of the dangers of nuclear war and the need for reduction of nuclear arms. Later I discovered that this is the White House Peace Vigil. It is the longest running peace vigil in US history urging the US and other countries to dismantle all of their nuclear weapons. It was started in 1981 and although the original founder has since died, it continues to be maintained 24 hours a day by Concepcion Picciotto, a co-founder and other volunteers. There is a visitor center for the White House located in the north end of the Herbert Hoover Department of Commerce Building. For those unable to take a tour of the White House, the visitor center offers exhibits on the residence as well as a bookstore and gift shop.
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