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Prof. Boerner's Explorations

Thoughts and Essays that explore the world of Technology, Computers, Photography, History and Family.


Archive for November 1st, 2009
by Gerald Boerner


“…women drink a great deal, sing, cry, and celebrate the loss of [the bride’s] virginity, dancing with bottles of wine in their hands.”
— Graciela Iturbide

“Yes, certainly, but I think that that which is hidden in the picture is a revelation of what is hidden in the photographer.”
— Graciela Iturbide

“The need to bring things spatially and humanly ‘nearer’, is almost an obsession today.” In photography this would be the obsession of the “humanist school.”
— Walter Benjamin, of Iturbide, Cartier-Bresson, Koudelka & Salgado

“The unconscious obsession that we photographers have is that wherever we go we want to find the theme that we carry inside ourselves.”
— Graciela Iturbide

“My intention, certainly, is to create something which is aesthetic but many things are implicit in the work that I do. For me photography is writing, it is history; it can be aesthetic, it can be many things though it does not have to be art.”
— Graciela Iturbide

“Through the people and culture of Mexico I find myself, and at the same time I leave a sort of testament of what I’ve seen. But all this is very personal; what interests me in photography is the point of view or poesy of man, and yet I wouldn’t say my work is mainly ethnological.”
— Graciela Iturbide

“I think you can see Graciela Iturbide in all of my photographs, I feel that photography is a regard within a regard—between the gaze of the photographer and the gaze of the subject the image becomes a reflection of the person taking the picture.”
— Graciela Iturbide

“When I find myself facing the Juchitan culture which is so different from mine, obviously, I question myself: who am I? why am I a photographer? When in front of the people who are my subjects I wonder: is photography aggressive? in what way can I learn from these people?”
— Graciela Iturbide

“These fiestas are frequent and fervent. The women dance and recite to each other the erotic songs and poems of Juchitan; the men drink and only observe for a wedding, for a political reunion, for a quince años—a birthday celebration.”
— Graciela Iturbide

“Nowhere else in Mexico do you find the expression of women as open and forceful as in Juchitan, and in the Zapotec culture. Elsewhere women are more often in the home, do not make economic or political decisions, don’t get involved the way men do. Outside of Zapotec culture the Mexican woman is resigned to her lesser role.”
— Graciela Iturbide


Graciela Iturbide (born: 1942)

Iturbide_Auto-portraitHB Graciela Iturbide is a Mexican photographer. She then married the architect Manuel Rocha Díaz in 1962 and had three children over the next eight years. Iturbide’s six year old daughter died in 1970; after this death she turned to photography. She studied at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where she met her mentor, the teacher, cinematographer and photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo.

Iturbide photographs everyday life, almost entirely in black-and-white. She was inspired by the photography of Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado and Álvarez Bravo. She became interested in the daily life of Mexico’s indigenous cultures and has photographed life in Mexico City, Juchitán, Oaxaca and on the Mexican/American frontier (La Frontera.)

In 1979, Iturbide was asked by a man to photograph his village. Interested by the proposal, Iturbide released her first collection, titled "Mujer Ángel" ("Angel Woman") and shot in Mexico’s portion of the Sonoran desert. Her first experience as a photographer shaped Iturbide’s views on life, making her a strong supporter of feminism. The image of "Mujer Ángel" was used by the politically charged metal group Rage Against The Machine for their single "Vietnow" in 1997.

Iturbide_CasaFridaKahloHBSome of the inspiration for her next work came from her support of feminist causes. Her well known collection, "Señora de Las Iguanas", ("Our Lady of the Iguanas") was shot in Juchitán, Oaxaca, a city where women dominated town life. Her work in Juchitán was not only about women, however: she also shot "Magnolia", a photo of a man wearing a dress and looking at himself on a mirror. It was "Magnolia" that has led many photography experts to say that Iturbide also explored sexuality among Mexicans with her work.

Iturbide has also photographed Mexican Americans in the White Fence barrio of East Los Angeles as part of the documentary book "A Day in the Life of America" (1987). She has worked in Argentina (during 1996), India (where she shot another well known photo of hers, "Perros Perdidos", or "Lost Dogs"), and the United States, where she did her last known work, an untitled collection of photos shot in Texas.

Getty Exhibition (2008)

The breadth and depth of the selection has been made possible through the generosity of the artist, who opened her personal archive, and the magnanimity of Brentwood collectors Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser. They have followed Iturbide’s work for more than 10 years and assembled a wide-ranging collection of her images, including many of the pictures created in the remote southern Mexican city of Juchitán, Oaxaca during the 1980s. Reflecting the extensive and discriminating Greenberg-Steinhauser collection, this important series, central to Iturbide’s body of work, is a primary component of this exhibition.

La frontera, the Spanish name for the border between Mexico and the United States, is an area of misunderstanding, unrest, and pervasive cultural cross-fertilization. In 1990, Iturbide paid special attention to the cholo culture in the outlying barrios of the border city Tijuana, Mexico. Here, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, marks both walls and bodies, as seen in the image above.

Iturbide recalls how she obtained this picture: "This woman arrived [at the market] with iguanas on her head to sell, and I told her: ‘Wait a minute, let me take your picture.’ She had taken the iguanas off her head and put them on the ground but she put them back on her head for me."

26819800.tifWhen the Mexican painter and printmaker Francisco Toledo contacted Iturbide in 1979 to ask her to photograph life in his native Juchitán in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, she found a project in which to indulge her desire to photograph the vitality of women. The small city in the narrow Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the most purely indigenous community in Mexico. The Zapotec women there are economically, politically, and sexually independent and have been idealized as a source of national strength for more than a century. Their bright, embroidered apparel, rich gold ornamentation, and elaborate coiffure identify them as part of the exotic-seeming Tehuana tradition.

26819800.tif Iturbide’s approach to photographing life in Juchitán was not the traditional distanced one of the documentarian. She chose to get well acquainted, to make the women "complicit" in the way she would photograph them. As Iturbide said herself about her experience among the "big, strong, politicized, emancipated, wonderful women" of Juchitán, "They adopted me in a way. They let me take my pictures and let me know about the various fiestas. I would go on pilgrimages with them….It wasn’t only that they gave me permission to take photographs, they also suggested themes and showed me things. I discovered the Zapotec people through their eyes, and through my own at the same time."

Iturbide’s photographs from Juchitán also document the region’s rich life of religion and ritual. Iturbide sees an analogy between these rituals and her own practice of taking photographs:

"It is the only way we have to transcend the mundane in life…. Perhaps I have been marked by my religious education. When I was a girl, in order to get away from my family, I went to a convent to act. There was an atmosphere filled with disguises one can find years later in my work: the transvestites, the figure of death, the two faces of Janus. I don’t pretend to mythologize indigenous peoples like many people believe I do, but what I love about them is their way of mythologizing the mundane. Maybe, when you come down to it, photography serves as ritual for me."

In 1986 Iturbide was asked to participate in a photographic event to document the U.S. for the book A Day in the Life of America (1987). With an introduction from a friend, she made the acquaintance of a group of Mexican Americans living in the White Fence barrio of East Los Angeles.

The White Fence family befriended Iturbide and showed her the rituals and painted walls of their local cholo culture, which identified them as something other than Mexican or American. The 1980s cholo fashion—men wearing chinos or jeans with sleeveless white T-shirts or plaid Pendletons, longish hair sometimes in a hairnet, and evident tattoos, and women in tight jeans, halter tops, and heavy makeup —was heir to the pre-World War II Mexican pachuco, or zoot-suit attitude. Along with this costume, there was often signing, tagging (or graffiti), and other gangster activity passed back and forth across the U.S.Mexican border.

In the northern part of the state of Oaxaca, La Mixteca, goats have been herded since the Spanish arrived. A ritual that involves the slaughter of goats has continued from that time through the end of the 20th century. Iturbide witnessed this annual ceremony at the hacienda of Santa Maria in El Rosario, near the town of Huajuapan de León.

One part of the ritual is the dancing of the goat. This custom, no doubt related to the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, includes choosing a goat to be spared from the slaughter, crowning it with a wreath of flowers, and selecting a boy to lead the rite by dancing with it atop his shoulders. Iturbide titled her images of the chosen goat La danza de la cabrita (The Goat’s Dance).

She is a founding member of the Mexican Council of Photography. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is included in many major museum collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum. The largest collection of original prints in the United States is located at the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University.

Awards and Honors

She has won the W. Eugene Smith prize for photography (1987), a first prize award from Farnce’s Mois de la Photo, and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1988). In 2008 she received the Hasselblad Foundation Photography Award.

In awarding her the 2008 Hasselblad Foundation award, the Foundation said:

Graciela Iturbide is considered one of the most important and influential Latin American photographers of the past four decades. Her photography is of the highest visual strength and beauty. Graciela Iturbide has developed a photographic style based on her strong interest in culture, ritual and everyday life in her native Mexico and other countries. Iturbide has extended the concept of documentary photography, to explore the relationships between man and nature, the individual and the cultural, the real and the psychological. She continues to inspire a younger generation of photographers in Latin America and beyond.

Her work is represented in the United States by the Rose Gallery in Santa Monica, the Mayans Gallery in Santa Fe and Throckmorton Fine Arts in New York City.

The largest institutional collection of Graciela Iturbide photographs in the United States is preserved at the Wittliff collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Graciela Iturbide that can be found at…


Getty Museum Exhibition…
The Goat’s Dance: Photographs by Graciela Iturbide

by Gerald Boerner


“We worked in areas where we found that commercialization has been very hard…”
— David Liddle

“We still look at PARC as giving us a vision of the horizon. We want them to continue doing that.”
— Herve Gallaire, the Chief Technology Officer of Xerox

“We’re out actively engaging the Web community. This has to do with one of the core competencies of PARC, which is user interfaces.”
— Mark Bernstein, Interim CEO of Xerox PARC

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”
— Mark Weiser, Xerox computer scientist

“The very concept of what-you-see-is-what-you-get computing came from Xerox PARC, along with many of the specific elements of the graphical user interface (GUI) we’re all used to, including icons, pop-up menus and multiple windows on the computer screen.”
ABC News

“I’ve been in the [Silicon] Valley for 20, 25 years and I think I have to go back to 1976 to see something this significant. The companies in the [Silicon] Valley that have interest are fewer in number than when we started talking with folks last year.”
— Mark Bernstein, Interim CEO of Xerox PARC

“At the same time, what we’ve come to know as “the computer” itself is likely to disappear–physically and figuratively. Miniaturized components are cramming all the functions of today’s PCs into ever-smaller packages: Apple Computer Inc.’s Newton and similar handheld gizmos are only a first step. Researchers at Xerox Corp. and Olivetti are driving toward a concept called “ubiquitous computing,” in which computing resources are embedded throughout the human environment–in appliances, digital whiteboards, and walls, or the surface of your desk, which might turn your scrawl into perfectly formatted, spellchecked text.”


Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center)

PARC-logo-color_800px PARC (Palo Alto Research Center, Inc.), formerly Xerox PARC, is a research and development company in Palo Alto, California with a distinguished reputation for its contributions to information technology.

Founded in 1970 as a division of Xerox Corporation, PARC has been responsible for such well known and important developments as laser printing, the Ethernet, the modern personal computer graphical user interface (GUI), ubiquitous computing, and advancing very-large-scale-integration (VLSI).

Incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox in 2002, PARC currently conducts research into biomedical technologies, "clean technology", user interface design, sensemaking, ubiquitous computing, large area electronics, and embedded and intelligent systems.


In 1969, Chief Scientist at Xerox Jack Goldman approached Dr. George Pake, a physicist specializing in nuclear magnetic resonance and provost of Washington University, about founding and generously funding a second research center for the company.

parc-view Dr. Pake selected Palo Alto, California, as the site of what was to become known as PARC. While the 3,000 mile buffer between it and Xerox headquarters in New York afforded scientists at the new lab great freedom to undertake their work, the distance also served as an impediment to persuade management of the promise of some of their greatest achievements.

taylor PARC’s West Coast location proved to be advantageous in the mid-’70s, when the lab was able to hire many employees of the nearby SRI Augmentation Research Center as that facility’s funding from DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force began to diminish. The location, address 3333 Coyote Hill Road, is in the Stanford Research Park, land leased from Stanford University. This proximity allowed Stanford graduate students to be involved in PARC research projects, and PARC scientists to collaborate with academic seminars and projects such as the Internet.

Much of PARC’s early success in the computer field was under the leadership of its Computer Science Laboratory manager Bob Taylor, who guided the lab as associate manager from 1970–77 and as manager 1977–83.

PARC today

After two decades as a division of Xerox, PARC was transformed in 2002 into a wholly owned subsidiary company dedicated to developing and maturing advances in science and business concepts with the support of commercial sponsors and clients.

As of 2004, Xerox remained the company’s largest customer, but PARC had also announced a multi-year relationship with Fujitsu and an entrance into biomedical sciences in partnership with the Scripps Research Institute of La Jolla, CA.

Among the fields PARC currently conducts research into are:

  • biomedical technologies,
  • "clean technology",
  • user interface design,
  • sense making,
  • ubiquitous computing,
  • large area electronics, and
  • embedded and intelligent systems.
The Alto

Xerox_Alto_450px Most of these developments were included in the Alto, which added the now familiar SRI-developed mouse unifying into a single model most aspects of now-standard personal computer use. The integration of Ethernet prompted the development of the PARC Universal Packet architecture, much like today’s Internet.

The Alto was first conceptualized in 1972 in a memo written by Butler Lampson, inspired by the On-Line System (NLS) developed by Douglas Engelbart at SRI, and was designed primarily by Chuck Thacker. Manufacturing was sub-contracted to Clement Designlabs, whose team included Carl J. Clement, Ken Campbell and Fred Stengel. An initial run of 80 units was produced by Clement Designlabs, working with Tony Ciuffini and Rick Nevinger at Xerox El Segundo, who were responsible for installing the Alto’s electronics. Due to the success of the pilot run, the team went on to produce approximately 2000 units over the next ten years

The GUI and Xerox Star

Xerox_Star_8010 Xerox has been heavily criticized (particularly by business historians) for failing to properly commercialize and profitably exploit PARC’s innovations. A favorite example is the GUI, initially developed at PARC for the Alto and then commercialized as the Xerox Star by the Xerox Systems Development Department. Although very significant in terms of its influence on future system design, it is deemed a failure because it only sold approximately 25,000 units. A small group from PARC led by David Liddle and Charles Irby formed Metaphor Computer Systems. They extended the Star desktop concept into an animated graphic and communicating office automation model and sold the company to IBM.

The Star workstation, officially known as the Xerox 8010 Information System, was introduced by Xerox Corporation in 1981. It was the first commercial system to incorporate various technologies that today have become commonplace in personal computers, including a bitmapped display, a window-based graphical user interface, icons, folders, mouse, Ethernet networking, file servers, print servers and e-mail.

The name "Star" technically refers only to the software sold with the system for the office automation market. The 8010 workstations were also sold with LISP- and Smalltalk-based software, for the smaller research and software development market.

Adoption by Apple

Macintosh_128k_transparency_511px The first successful commercial GUI product was the Apple Macintosh, which was heavily inspired by PARC’s work; Xerox was given Apple stock in exchange for engineer visits and an understanding that Apple would create a GUI product. Much later, in the midst of the Apple v. Microsoft lawsuit in which Apple accused Microsoft of violating its copyright by appropriating the use of the "look and feel" of the Macintosh GUI, Xerox also sued Apple on the same grounds. The lawsuit was dismissed because Xerox had waited too long to file suit, and the statute of limitations had expired.

PARC legacy

PARC’s developments in information technology have had great long-term impact. Once the merits of interfaces and technology pioneered by PARC became widely known they evolved into standards for much of the computing industry. Many advances were not equalled or surpassed for two decades, enormous timespans in the fast-paced high tech world.

While there is some truth that Xerox management failed to see the potential of many of PARC’s inventions, it is an over-simplification to generalize. The larger reality is that computing research was a relatively small part of PARC’s operation. Its materials scientists pioneered LCD and optical disc technologies, others invented laser printing, each of which proved great successes when introduced to the business and consumer marketplaces.

While not of the same order, the oft-overlooked work at PARC since the early 1980s includes some noteworthy advances in ubiquitous computing, aspect-oriented programming, and IPv6.


Background and biographical information is from the Wikipedia articles on:

Xerox PARC that can be found at…

by Gerald Boerner


“The White House is the finest prison in the world.”
— Harry S. Truman

“I don’t take a dime of their [lobbyist] money, and when I am president, they won’t find a job in my White House.”
— Barack Obama

“The White House is giving George W. Bush intelligence briefings. You know, some of these jokes just write themselves.”
— David Letterman

“People say satire is dead. It’s not dead; it’s alive and living in the White House.”
— Robin Williams

“The great unfinished audience room I made a drying room of, to hang up the clothes in.”
— Abigail Adams

“Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. I wish him well.”
— Barbara Bush

“The Dalai Lama visited the White House and told the President that he could teach him to find a higher state of consciousness. Then after talking to Bush for a few minutes, he said, “You know what? Let’s just grab lunch.”
— Bill Maher

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
— John F. Kennedy

“I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
— John Adams

[NOTE: John Adams, on November 1st, was the first president to live in the White House. While it was not totally completed, he moved in and his wife joined him a short time later.]


The White House

White House South Facade_800px The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., it was built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the late Georgian style and has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the home in 1801, he (with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe) expanded the building outward, creating two colonnades which were meant to conceal stables and storage.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by the British Army in the Burning of Washington, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed house in October 1817. Construction continued with the addition of the South Portico in 1824 and the North in 1829. Because of crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had nearly all work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office which was eventually moved as the section was expanded.

Boudin Red Room_757px The Red Room as designed
Stéphane Boudin during
the administration of
John F. Kennedy.

The third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; both new wings were connected by Jefferson’s colonnades. East Wing alterations were completed in 1946, creating additional office space. By 1948, the house’s load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame constructed inside the walls. Once this work was completed, the interior rooms were rebuilt.

Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence (in which the First Family resides), the West Wing (the location of the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, and Roosevelt Room), and the East Wing (the location of the office of the First Lady and White House Social Secretary), as well as the Old Executive Office Building, which houses the executive offices of the President and Vice President.

The White House is made up of six stories—the Ground Floor, State Floor, Second Floor, and Third Floor, as well as a two-story basement. The term White House is regularly used as a metonym for the Executive Office of the President of the United States and for the president’s administration and advisors in general. The property is owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President’s Park. In 2007, it was ranked second on the American Institute of Architects’s List of America’s Favorite Architecture.


Architectural competition

HobanWHProgressDrawing A 1793 elevation by James
, the selected architect
from the competition.

The President’s house was a major feature of Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant’s’s plan for the newly established federal city, Washington, D.C.. The architect of the White House was chosen in a design competition, which received nine proposals, including one submitted anonymously by Thomas Jefferson. The nation’s first president, George Washington, traveled to the site of the federal city on July 16, 1792, to make his judgment. His review is recorded as being brief, and he quickly selected the submission of James Hoban, an Irishman living in Charleston, South Carolina. Washington was not entirely pleased with the original Hoban submission, however; he found it too small, lacking ornament, and not fitting the nation’s president. On Washington’s recommendation the house was enlarged by thirty percent; a large reception hall, the present East Room, was added. This was likely inspired by the large reception room at Mount Vernon.

Design influences

The building Hoban designed is verifiably influenced by the first and second floors of Leinster House, in Dublin, Ireland, which later became the seat of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament). Several other Georgian era Irish country houses have been suggested as sources of inspiration for the overall floor plan, details like the bow-fronted south front, and interior details like the former niches in the present Blue Room. These influences, though undocumented, are cited in the official White House guide, and in White House Historical Association publications.

White_House_1846_783px Earliest known photograph of
the White House, taken
c. 1846 by John Plumbe
during the administration
of James K. Polk.

The first official White House guide, published in 1962, suggested a link between Hoban’s design for the South Portico, and Château de Rastignac, a neoclassical country house located in La Bachellerie in the Dordogne region of France and designed by Mathurin Salat. The French house was built 1812–1817, based on an earlier design. The link has been criticized because Hoban did not visit France. Supporters of a connection posit that Thomas Jefferson while visiting the École Spéciale d’Architecture (Bordeaux Architectural College) in 1789 viewed Salat’s drawings,[7] and on his return to the U.S. shared the influence with Washington, Hoban, Monroe, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe.


Construction of the White House began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792, although there was no formal ceremony. The main residence, as well as foundations of the house, were built largely by enslaved and free African-American laborers, as well as employed Europeans. Much of the other work on the house was performed by immigrants, many not yet with citizenship. The sandstone walls were erected by Scottish immigrants, employed by Hoban, as were the high relief rose and garland decorations above the north entrance and the “fish scale” pattern beneath the pediments of the window hoods. Much of the brick and plaster work was produced by Irish and Italian immigrants. The initial construction took place over a period of eight years, at a reported cost of $232,371.83 ($2.8 million in 2007 dollars). Although not yet completed, the White House was ready for occupancy on or circa November 1, 1800.

White House Colonnad Jefferson and Latrobe’s West Wing
Colonnade in this nineteenth
century engraved view, is now
the James S. Brady Press
Briefing Room.

Shortages, including material and labor, forced alterations to the earlier plan developed by French engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant for a “palace” that was five times larger than the house that was eventually built. The finished structure contained only two main floors instead of the planned three, and a less costly brick served as a lining for the stone façades. When construction was finished the porous sandstone walls were coated with a mixture of lime, rice glue, casein, and lead, giving the house its familiar color and name.

As it is a famed structure in America, many replicas of the White House have been constructed.

Naming conventions

The building was originally referred to variously as the “President’s Palace”, “Presidential Mansion”, or “President’s House”. The earliest evidence of the public calling it the “White House” was recorded in 1811. A legend emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure white paint was applied to mask the burn damage it had suffered, giving the building its namesake hue. The name “Executive Mansion” was used in official contexts until President Theodore Roosevelt established the formal name by having “White House–Washington” engraved on the stationery in 1901. The current letterhead wording and arrangement “The White House” with the word “Washington” centered beneath goes back to the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

1860s_White_House The White House North Lawn
in the 1860s, during the
Abraham Lincoln administration.

Although it was not completed until some years after the presidency of George Washington, it is also speculated that the name of the traditional home of the President of the United States may have derived from Martha Custis Washington’s home, White House Plantation in New Kent County, Virginia, where the nation’s first President and First Lady had courted in the mid-18th century.

Public access and security

Like the English and Irish country houses it was modeled on, the White House was, from the start, open to the public until the early part of the twentieth century. President Thomas Jefferson held an open house for his second inaugural in 1805, and many of the people at his swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol followed him home, where he greeted them in the Blue Room. Those open houses sometimes became rowdy: in 1829, President Andrew Jackson had to leave for a hotel when roughly 20,000 citizens celebrated his inauguration inside the White House. His aides ultimately had to lure the mob outside with washtubs filled with a potent cocktail of orange juice and whiskey.

Even so, the practice continued until 1885, when newly elected Grover Cleveland arranged for a presidential review of the troops from a grandstand in front of the White House instead of the traditional open house. Jefferson also permitted public tours of his home, which have continued ever since, except during wartime, and began the tradition of annual receptions on New Year’s Day and on the Fourth of July. Those receptions ended in the early 1930s, although President Bill Clinton would briefly revive the New Year’s Day open house in his first term.

PennAveWhiteHouse Pennsylvania Avenue is now
closed to all vehicular traffic,
except government officials.

The White House remained accessible in other ways; President Abraham Lincoln complained that he was constantly beleaguered by job seekers waiting to ask him for political appointments or other favors, or eccentric dispensers of advice like “General” Daniel Pratt, as he began the business day. Lincoln put up with the annoyance rather than risk alienating some associate or friend of a powerful politician or opinion maker. In recent years, however, the White House has been closed to visitors because of terrorism concerns.

In 1974, a stolen Army helicopter landed without authorization on the White House grounds. Twenty years later, in 1994, a light plane crashed on the White House grounds, and the pilot died instantly.[52] As a result of increased security regarding air traffic in the capital, the White House was evacuated in 2005 before an unauthorized aircraft could approach the grounds.

Wh South Lawn_750px Marine One prepares for landing
on the South Lawn where
State Arrival Ceremonies for
visiting heads of state take place.

On May 20, 1995, primarily as a response to the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, the United States Secret Service closed off Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic in front of the White House from the eastern edge of Lafayette Park to 17th Street. Later, the closure was extended an additional block to the east to 15th Street, and East Executive Avenue, a small street between the White House and the Treasury Building. The Pennsylvania Avenue closing, in particular, has been opposed by organized civic groups in Washington, D.C. They argue that the closing impedes traffic flow unnecessarily and is inconsistent with the well-conceived historic plan for the city. As for security considerations, they note that the White House is set much further back from the street than numerous other sensitive federal buildings are.

Prior to its inclusion within the fenced compound that now includes the Old Executive Office Building to the west and the Treasury Building to the east, this sidewalk served as a queuing area for the daily public tours of the White House. These tours were suspended in the wake of the September 11 attacks. In September 2003, they resumed on a limited basis for groups making prior arrangements through their Congressional representatives and submitting to background checks, but the White House remains closed to the general public. The White House Complex is protected by the United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police.

Other Events on this Day
  • In 1765…
    The much-despised Stamp Act goes into effect, a measure that American colonists view as taxation without representation.
  • In 1800…
    John Adams becomes the first president to move into the White House
  • In 1900…
    The twelfth census reports that the United States has 76 million people at the outset of the twentieth century.
  • In 1913…
    Notre Dame uses the forward pass to beat Army, helping to popularize the play among football teams.
  • In 1938…
    In Baltimore, Seabiscuit upsets War Admiral in a horse called “the match of the century”.
  • In 1952…
    The United States explodes the first hydrogen bomb at Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific.


Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

The White House that can be found at…