The north front of the White House was tinted orange and bedecked for Halloween as children began filing in, we're told at 5 p.m. The pool was escorted up at about 6:15 p.m. Among the sights and sounds: Three giant pumpkins, each weighing about 1,000 pounds (grown in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin). "Skeleton" brass players and kettle drummers in black leotards. Red and yellow butterflies inside giant bubbles. Two giant orange and black eyes peering out from first-floor windows. A giant black spider and cobwebs hanging over the North Portico. Walking "trees" on stilts. Star Wars and other characters handing out candy. Hundreds of pumpkins and a few scarecrows. A "scuba diver" replete with bubbles. And much more. Most of the characters came from theatrical groups, including the Red Moon Theater in Chicago and D.C. companies.
POTUS, FLOTUS and First Grandmother Marian Robinson, all smiling broadly, handed out treats for about 30 minutes from 6:30 to 7 p.m. on the front steps. First, the treats: White House M&Ms, a sweet dough butter cookie from the White House pastry shop and, of course, some dried fruit (cherries, apricots, pears, apples and papayas). POTUS was in casual slacks, checked shirt and black sweater. FLOTUS, more in the spirit, had an orange-and-black leopard-type top and cat ears (the Cat Woman), black eye shadow, her hair in a bun and lots of gold bracelets on one arm. The three of them were continuously handed fresh baskets of the wrapped-in-plastic treats to dole out by staff in chef's hats. Children and parents who arrived earlier or later didn't get their treats from the First Family, but from other characters.
The children, ages 6 to 14 (but some obviously with younger brothers and sisters), came from 11 area schools -- five in the District, three in Maryland and three in Virginia (see list below) -- all chosen by the Department of Education. There were supposed to be about 2,000 children. Final count, according to First Lady's staff, was 2,600 children and adults. At one point, a toddler in his father's arms burst into tears upon seeing the president. Most of those exiting the line said the president simply said "Happy Halloween" as they passed. The event was run by the National Park Foundation, which provided each child with a Junior Ranger activity book..
Then, inside: A couple hundred military families, chosen by each service, and White House staffers and their children roamed the first floor of the White House as an old-fashioned turntable played albums -- yes, albums. POTUS and FLOTUS came into the East Room at 7:12 p.m. to greet some of them personally. Included: Robert Gibbs dressed as Darth Vader, with son Ethan; Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, dressed as Goofy (the president jokingly asked cameras not to take her photo). The First Couple handed out the same treats that went to those passing by outside; at one point the president squatted down to talk to some of the children, seated on the floor.
As the pool was being ushered out, the president spoke briefly. He told the military families "We are so grateful to you," especially those who are separated from family members. He thanked staffers and their children, at which point FLOTUS piped in, "They're so cute!"
"They're adorable," POTUS said, "as is, by the way, my wife -- a very nice-looking Cat Woman."
The president told everyone to enjoy the party and the characters but warned, "Some of them are pretty big and scary." He noted that younger daughter Sasha "doesn't like big furry things." (Neither Obama offspring was seen, but we're told they were there.)