Obamas Have Open House at White House on First Day

President and Mrs. Obama met with members of the public and campaign volunteers in the Blue Room.
President and Mrs. Obama met with members of the public and campaign volunteers in the Blue Room. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009

In their first full day in their new home, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama opened the White House yesterday to hundreds of people, both those who had been invited because they volunteered in the campaign and those who heard about the open house and rushed to its gates with only thin hopes they would get in.

Paula Peebles and Barbara Reid got up early, got dressed and went to the East Gate. But when they arrived, a Secret Service agent insisted they needed a ticket to get in. "We kept telling him we had no tickets," Peebles said. "And he kept insisting we needed tickets."

Deflated, they stood there. The cold wind whipped against them and the iron gate. And still they waited with dozens of other people, hoping they would get in. An hour passed and they waited, not sure for what.

The guard went away. He came back. He told Peebles and Reid and dozens of other people they would be allowed to come in.

"He told us Michelle Obama looked out the window and saw people waiting and told them to let the people in," said Peebles, a community organizer from Philadelphia.

They opened the gate about 1:15. "We saw the Red Room and it had beautiful fresh roses. We saw the library. We saw the Lincoln room, which had beautiful multi-colored fresh roses," she said. "We saw the Blue Room and the pictures of the Clintons. The art was so beautiful it would make you cry."

Christine Easterling of Silver Spring toured the Yellow Room and the Green Room. Then the tour guide told them to put away their cameras. There would be a surprise. They entered the Blue Room.

"I lost my breath," Easterling said. "We walked in the room and there they stood."

President Obama and Michelle Obama stood in the south-facing oval room overlooking the Washington Monument.

"Enjoy yourself," Obama told two women in a long receiving line.

"Welcome, enjoy yourself," Obama told a young man in a black sweater. "Roam around. Don't break anything."

Aides said the Obamas decided to host the open house to keep their promise to make the White House more open and accessible to people. Several presidents, including the past three, held similar events. Yesterday, Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill, invited D.C. public school children to their official residence on the Naval Observatory grounds.

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