White House Fun: Living It Up at the Best Public Housing in America

We still don’t know who the next president will be. But we know what prize awaits him — the best address on earth, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The White House is now celebrating its 200th anniversary, commemorating that moment in November 1800 when John and Abigail Adams arrived at their freshly plastered, partially furnished new home, where 41 presidents have now lived and worked.

Only two nights after Election Day, the Clintons invited all the living former White House residents to celebrate two centuries of presidential history. Joining them at the head dinner table in the East Room were George and Barbara Bush, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Gerald and Betty Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson.

It was the largest gathering ever of presidents in the White House, and perhaps it was appropriate that the fate of the election was still in doubt. That was the case 200 years ago on Nov. 16, when the Adams family moved into their new home, just after Election Day.

In those days, information traveled by horseback. The Adamses were just getting settled when they got the news that Thomas Jefferson had been elected. Four months later, they left.

Abigail wasn’t completely disappointed. She had been reluctant to leave Philadelphia and called Georgetown “the dirtiest hole I ever saw.”

But if the White House lacked cachet then, it now represents the very center of American democracy. And if that doesn’t impress you, what about a four-year, rent-free lease on a 132-room mansion complete with swimming pools, a movie theater, bowling alleys and a putting green.

Now do you remember why little kids want to grow up to be president?

A domestic staff of 91 servants to wash your clothes, cook your meals and shell your pistachio nuts might seem a little excessive. But keep in mind, the White House has 31 toilets to scrub, 147 windows to squeegee, 18 acres to mow, and then there’s state business to attend to in the West Wing. You need a little help around the house.

Poker Games, Pool Parties

“The White House is really the most amazing residence on earth,” says Carl Anthony, presidential historian and author of America’s First Families (Touchstone). “Real lives are lived on the ultimate stage — and the whole world is watching.”

Considering they called that sort of pressure cooker home, it’s fascinating to see how past presidents and their kin enjoyed (or endured) their days roasting on the public fire.

“Just about every president and his family left some sort of mark on the White House,” Anthony says. “And each one enjoyed it in a unique way. And the contrasts in personalities are amazing.”

After office hours, the swinging begins. Andrew Jackson threw a wild bash in 1829. Some 8,000 packed the executive mansion. To get folks to leave, crews had to put bathtubs of orange juice and whiskey on the front lawn.

At another party, Teddy Roosevelt threw himself into a pool, fully dressed with a lit cigar.

Of course, acceptable mores change with the times. But Prohibition didn’t stop Warren Harding from serving alcoholic drinks to his buddies as they played poker in the Oval Office, Anthony says. His little parties featured a pink doll that shook and winked.

Dwight Eisenhower held stag poker nights in the Treaty Room after dining on wild game.

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