By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009 7:54 PM
The first lady was dressed as a leopard, with a smear of eyeliner, fuzzy ears and a spotted orange-and-black top. The president was dressed as a middle-aged dad, with a black cardigan, checkered shirt and sensible brown slacks. Together they handed out treats on the steps of the north portico of the White House Saturday night, sending some trick-or-treaters into fits of shock and joy.
"I'm so excited my hands are shaking," said Jarmell Wilson of Bowie, who came with her husband Damon and masked 8-year-old son Damon Jr., who attends Kenilworth Elementary. She immediately called her mother, then said they were told " not to expect them, so it was a surprise. This was just a treat."
About 2,600 trick-or-treaters and guardians swooped, skulked and pitter-pattered their way through the front drive of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. last night, stopping at the north portico to get their treat: a plastic baggy containing White House M&Ms, an orange sugar cookie in the shape of the residence, and clumps of desiccated apricots, apples and papayas. Better than a toothbrush, but . . .
"I'm not a fan of dried fruit," said a 9-year-old Cleopatra, aka Grace Hammond of Arlington, who nevertheless acknowledged that this was the swankiest address she'd ever trick-or-treated at.
The White House invited children from 11 area schools to file past the front entrance of the house, which was lit orange, wrapped with cobwebs and adorned with a giant black spider with a dozen googly eyes. A brass band dressed as skeletons hopped around, blasting gypsy music and tarantella, as actors and make-up artists from Chicago's Red Moon Theater painted each other's faces. Pumpkins littered the marble steps of the north portico. Bubbles floated in the humid air. There were, of course, real spooks roaming in the gray, foggy distance. On the far end of cordoned-off Lafayette Park, a witch held a pink sign that said "This White House is haunted by ghosts of Bush's war."
But the mood inside the gates was festive and casual. This wasn't the first-ever Halloween event at the White House -- Tricia Nixon hosted underprivileged children for the holiday, the Fords and Carters welcomed trick-or-treaters from charitable organizations like UNICEF -- but it might have been the biggest. Thousands of 5- to 14-year-olds and their families paraded through the crescent-shaped driveway.
Renee Randolph of Clinton shot a cellphone video of her 5-year-old daughter Nicole as she stood, mouth open in hesitant terror, in front of a towering forest creature, one of several elaborate costumed performers that was flown in by a Los Angeles entertainment company. Nicole, a student at Abingdon Elementary in Arlington, had her name drawn at random to be part of the White House trick-or-treat.
"The White House showed up on the TV not too long ago and she said, 'Mommy, we're going there,' and I was like, 'Baby, what are you talking about?' " said Randolph, who wore a tiger-ear headband. "But then I looked in her bag and saw the invitation. It's wonderful."
After the make-up station, the brass band and the north portico treat stop, the final attraction on the driveway was the giant pumpkins. Pumpkin growers Dan Bowles of Eagle River, Wisc., the Colwell family of Hubertus, Wisc., and Norm Gansert of Johnston, Rhode Island stood by as children gawked at their gargantuan produce.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Gansert, a factory worker in overalls and flannel who drove down his 1,287-pounder in a pickup truck. "I can say I got a pumpkin in the White House driveway.