(Photo Gallery of Presidential Families in Costumes follow below this essay)
Halloween has been celebrated in the United States at parties for well over a century, but not until the 1950s did it go entirely mainstream with mass-produced costumes for children and packaged candy to give them as treats. So it was true among Presidential First Families.
During the 1950s, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower became the first known White House resident to officially mark the holiday by having the state floor rooms decorated with ghosts, goblins, spider, skeletons and cobwebs. In fact, during her large luncheons held at that time of the year, she had the State Dining Room outfitted with Woolworth paper skeletons hanging from the chandelier, paper black cats and witches placed around the tables and carved pumpkins as centerpieces. In some rooms, she had orange light-bulbs replace clear ones to cast a ghostly shadow and color for atmosphere. In the Cross Hall, she wrapped the stately white columns in orange and black crepe paper streamers and had bales of hay and cornstalks parked alongside them.
A few years later, in the early 1960s, the annual holiday celebration coincided with the White House residence of the very young children of the President and Mrs. Kennedy, Caroline and John who thus became the first First Daughter and First Son to mark Halloween in the old mansion.
But their mother, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy loved the holiday too – and became the first First Lady known to have dressed up in an adult costume of her own for a White House Halloween.
In 1962, she took a large black garment bag, cut out two holes for eyes and put it over her head.
With black stockings, black boots and black gloves, Jackie managed a few moments of anonymity even in the White House, welcoming the President’s sister Jean Kennedy Smith (who copied Jackie’s costume and wore a red garment bag) and her son Steve, in the allegedly haunted Lincoln Bedroom, along with First Daughter Caroline Kennedy.
Then the four went down the elevator from the family quarters and walked out along the West Collonade to the Oval Office where the kids “scared” the President.
Every First Family since the Kennedys has hosted a Halloween event of some kind, whether it was a private party for friends and family or a large Halloween party for local children on the South Lawn or in the state rooms.
During the 1990s, the Clintons held an annual Halloween party which they anticipated with delight, inviting friends, family and staff members, to help celebrate First Lady Hillary Clinton’s October 27 birthday in costume. President Bill Clinton was an especially good sport – becoming the Chief Executive who dressed up in more annual Halloween costumes than any other before or since.
Long before, the children and adults who’ve called the White House home were planning and premiering their costumes on the annual Halloween holiday, however, they were wearing elegant eye-masks, disguises, turbans, hats and other bits of costuming for annual winter masquerade balls. Traditionally part of Carnival celebrations these were hosted just before the Lenten season began, usually coinciding with Valentines Day or George Washington’s Birthday, which Presidents once marked with elegant dance parties known as “the Birthnight Ball.”