It’s known as the “Peoples’ House”, yet no one ever invited me to spend a night. Michelle and Barack: You have just a short time to send me an invite! Figuring they won’t, I visited their digs with the PBS documentary “The White House: Inside Story.” It took me on an intimate behind-the-scenes historical tour told through the first-person stories of First Family members, former employees, historians members of the press and a rare informal interview with President Obama inside the Oval Office.
Through current-day filming combined with stock footage and still photos of past presidents, their families and staff, viewers will experience the precision with which the Executive Mansion operates—as a private home and a workplace where military and economic decisions shape and affect history.
Those who missed the show can nab it on DVD; the program will also be available for digital download.
In addition to President Obama and former President Jimmy Carter, the program features new interviews with First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter reminiscing about their families’ place in the 200-year history of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. These personal stories are interwoven with historical facts about the “house that George Washington built.” First Lady Michelle Obama, for example, reveals that “the White House is a fabulously magical place to live, that’s not difficult to make a home.” Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter admits that thinking about the history of the White House “gives her chills.” And former First Lady Barbara Bush recalls, “You can feel history, and hope you can live up to it.”
Perhaps most revealing is a story told by former Chief Usher Gary Walters, who was preparing a luncheon for the entire Congress and their families on the White House lawn the morning of September 11, 2001, when news of the terrorist attacks reached Washington. Despite Secret Service orders to evacuate the White House, Walters recalls how he quickly assessed the severity of the situation and made the decision to remain behind and dismantle the outdoor luncheon space, thus freeing up the lawn to allow the president’s helicopter to land. He then went on to prepare the Oval Office for President Bush to address the nation later that day. “One of the things that I turned to in my own mind on 9/11 was the role that the White House plays in disasters and wars,” says Walters. “People have a tendency to turn to the White House as a symbol of our American Heritage.”
Adds Michelle: “This is really what the White House is all about. It’s the “People’s House.” It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome. And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can.”
I’m still waiting.