Megan Mulligan wanted to see Amy Carter's tree house. Juliana Trimmer wanted to see the White House grape arbor. Sean Osborne wanted to see, up close, the site of the White House Easter-egg-rolling contest.
All of them and thousands of other people went to the White House yesterday, one of the four days each year -- one weekend in the fall and one in the spring -- that the public is allowed to stroll around the lawn and gardens of the presidential mansion.
They came from Mississippi, Texas, New York, the District of Columbia and its suburbs. Most brought cameras and a few brought lunches. They waited in line for up to one hour to get onto the White House grounds, and then they spent about another two hours viewing the tennis courts, Jacqueline Kennedy's garden, Amy's tree house, and the outside of the Oval Office before seeing the rooms inside that are customarily open on a White House tour.
With an election only a few weeks away it was inevitable that some talk -- but not much -- would be about the executive mansion's current tenant and its prospective one.
"I wanted to look over Reagan's new house," said Bill Gerth, a patent attorney from Alexandria. "I'm not enthusiastic about Carter and I figure, if in doubt, throw the rascals out."
Then, Gerth happily snapped pictures of his daughters sitting in the White House's children's garden, an area of small white wrought-iron chairs where the grandchildren of presidents have played.
Meanwhile, Tom Osborne of Fairfax, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, mused that he probably would vote for Carter -- but not because of the White House tour.
"I had never been to the White House before," said Osborne. "It makes me very proud to be an American."
Osborne's son, Sean, was more interested in a photograph on display captioned "Easter egg roll" showing a person dressed as an Easter bunny surrounded by children on the White House lawn.
"Can I go to the Easter egg roll?" Osborne asked his father, who said he could, adding, "There must be 9 million children who go to the Easter egg roll."
A few yards away, Allan Mulligan pointed to a cedar tree. "See Amy's tree house?" Mulligan asked his four-year-old daughter, Megan. "That's where Amy plays."
Not everyone was so impressed. One 13-year-old, surveying the collection of boards and poles built around the bottom of the tree, said she couldn't imagine playing there.
"It's more like a ground house than a tree house," she said.