Sunday, November 1, 2009

It’s the ultimate trick-or-treating treasure - that one house on the block that offers the coolest candy and surprises galore.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama smiled, chatted and passed out cellophane goody bags Saturday night to more than 2,000 children from the District, Maryland and Virginia who came to the White House door dressed as superheroes, pirates, fairies and skeletons.

Mrs. Obama wore furry cat ears.

The goody bags were loaded with items such as White House M&Ms with the president’s signature on the bag and a butter cookie made by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses.

Tiera Thomas, 11, of Washington, said she was happy to get the candy but the best part was meeting the president, who touched her hand and said “Happy Halloween.”

By early afternoon Saturday a big, stuffed, black spider was dangling in a web of string from the top of the North Portico, and pumpkins had sprouted up around the columns. Later, the White House was lit in orange for the occasion, and three giant pumpkins - about 1,000 pounds each - were on the grounds.

The loot was just part of the treat for the kids, ages 6 to 14. Roaming the White House North Lawn were fairies, bubble makers, wandering trees, Star Wars characters, actors and artists and a “skeleton band.”

Later, in the East Room, the first couple were to be joined by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, at a Halloween reception for military families and for the moms and dads who work at the White House, along with their youngsters.

The visiting children were chosen with help from the Education Department.

It was the first White House Halloween for the Obama daughters, 8-year-old Sasha and 11-year-old Malia.

Over the years, the winter holidays have been the ones to get the full treatment at the White House, with Christmas trees and tinsel all around.

The Obamas are not the first, though, to show Halloween spirit.

President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush hosted 500 children on Halloween in 1989, loading them up with fun loot but also teaching them about the dangers of drugs. The kids came decked out in costumes; some Secret Service agents came dressed as clowns.

In the Clintons’ first year in the White House, the Great Pumpkin returned. A huge orange jack-o’-lantern formed around the front entrance to the White House, with the front door to the mansion serving as the middle tooth. The first couple’s daughter, Chelsea, was 13 at the time, and the house was stuffed with pumpkins.

During the Nixon administration, first daughter Tricia hosted parties for underprivileged children, according to the White House Historical Association. And plenty of other first families got festive for Halloween.

No telling what kind of goblins were popping up this year, although stories of ghosts - especially Abraham Lincoln’s - are woven into White House history.

c Christine Simmons contributed to this report.

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