Smithsonian and White House Historical Association Exhibit Opens at Visitor Center
They were maids, cooks, butlers, doormen, electricians and all the people who kept the country’s most famous household running efficiently. Covering 200 years of White House service, their narratives provide a rare and intimate perspective on the ceremonies, elegant state dinners, national celebrations and heartbreaking tragedies that shape and make United States history.
The workers and their unique stories are the subject of the “The Working White House: 200 Years of Tradition and Memories,” an exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The exhibition, which will be on view at The White House Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. through Feb. 28, 2010, is developed with and supported by the White House Historical Association, (WHHA) with assistance from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
‘The Working White House’ gives exhibit visitors a rare view of the inner workings of America’s most renowned residence through the experiences, firsthand accounts and one-of-a-kind artifacts of the largely unrecognized people crucial to the everyday lives of our first families,” said Neil W. Horstman, president of WHHA. “For two centuries, workers at the White House have witnessed history in the making and, in the process, they have created their own. We are pleased to share that proud history with the nation.”
“The Working White House” showcases the souvenirs, housekeeping implements, scrapbooks, letters, menus, photographs and other objects to help illustrate the full story of the presidential residence. New interviews conducted by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and WHHA staffers with past workers provide eyewitness accounts of White House work culture and will be included in an audio tour and exhibition video.
“I thought I knew how to serve,” Eugene Allen, a former maître d’ who served in the White House from 1952-1986 explained. “But the White House is different. Other places you can make mistakes and you don’t feel bad; but you don’t feel like making mistakes for the President and First Lady.”
With memories and household treasures from the presidencies of William Taft through Barrack Obama, visitors will take a walk behind the scenes at the White House, guided by the men and women who managed every detail of the inner workings at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“I had to produce glossy, smooth confections on an almost daily basis at the White House,” said former executive pastry chef Roland Mesnier. He developed his own signature chocolate-tempering techniques and used them to delight White House guests for more than 25 years. Mesnier’s plastic chocolate mold from the1990s, designed to yield nine candies embossed with the presidential seal, is on view in the exhibition.
“Behind the scenes, the workers of the White House welcomed and helped guide new administrations and got to know the American presidents as few could,” said Anna R. Cohn, director of SITES. “While Americans don’t know them, it’s clear that the presidents, first ladies and their children did and came to deeply honor their service.
The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to enhance the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the White House. All proceeds from the association’s trusts, publications and other items are used to fund acquisitions of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent collection, to assist in the preservation of public rooms, and further its educational mission. For additional information visit www.whitehousehistory.org.
SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at www.sites.si.edu.
The White House Visitor Center, in historic Malcolm Baldrige Hall of the Department of Commerce at 15th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW, offers a welcoming experience and orientation to the White House and President’s Park.
The facility provides interesting exhibits and free video presentations that serve as an alternate form of tour for those unable to visit the White House. The Visitor Center, operated by the National Park Service, is open daily from 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 pm. 202-208-1631.