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The Working White House: Witness to History

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White House workers’ memoirs abound with recollections of significant international and national events and episodes. As they go about their daily business, members of the residence staff function amidst history in the making.

One of the most searing experiences for 20th-century White House employees was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Seeing the President and Mrs. Kennedy off to Texas on the 21st, hearing the news of the Dallas shooting the following day, receiving Mrs. Kennedy at the White House that same evening, and taking part in the funeral procession, Mass, and burial on the 25th, were a combined experience etched indelibly on the minds and hearts of White House workers. Still, the White House had to continue to function. The residence staff—as it had done for generations, and as it would continue to do through other trying times—moved forward to welcome members of a new first family and to make them feel at home.

When you first go to work at the White House, you are all eyeballs. Honestly, for the first month, your eyes are as big as teacups. . . . You’re actually drinking in history and current events.

Russell Free, engineer, 1964–86