Hundreds of people lined up to get a glimpse of President Bush as he threw open the White House gates to the public Saturday, but only a few got in for what one jubilant tourist called "the chance of a lifetime."
"This is the people's house," Bush announced to a large crowd assembled on the south lawn before inviting a lucky few in for a personal tour. Others stood waiting - until it quickly became apparent that the event billed as an open house was not to play out as expected.Only those at the front of the line, most of whom arrived in the freezing predawn darkness, were allowed into the mansion with the president. Untold numbers of people who did not even make it onto the grounds were turned away throughout the day, advised that limits had been set without prior notice.
Bush, who drew shrieks of delight from the lawn crowd when he poked his head out a second-floor window on the way downstairs to the south portico with his wife, Barbara, heard cries of disappointment when he ushered the select group inside after shaking a few hands.
"OK, so there's some injustice out there," he shrugged.
His tone was kinder when he spoke to reporters later, telling them the crowd had not gone unnoticed when he went to bed in the wee hours after a whirlwind tour of the inaugural balls Friday night.
Bush said he had looked out a window and was surprised to see people huddled together in the darkness, already waiting for the Saturday event. Hearty souls had staked out positions along the fences, including three young men who came in their tuxedos after making the rounds of Friday night festivities.
"I was saying to myself, `What kind of people are they?' Well, they're all different kinds of people," Bush said. "A lot of kids, a lot of young people. Some older, some of them children, a couple of families.
"The common thread was that they felt they were lucky to be there - which amazed me in a sense, because I thought we were so lucky to have people that would care that much."
The new president explained that he merely had wanted to open the executive mansion "symbolically" and was surprised by the public's expectations.
For those who got in, the tour was far more than they expected.
"I still can't believe that I could get that close to the president of the United States. For a common guy like me, it was fantastic," said Dick Nichols, a middle-aged man from Baltimore.
"We nearly froze but it was worth it," agreed Howard Bell, a college student from Wyckoff, N.J.
"It's just the chance of a lifetime," gushed 51-year-old Jeanette Crawford from Birmingham, Ala., who was asked what she thought Bush meant to say by opening the White House for a tour. "Hopefully," she mused, "that we can all work together and maybe have a better government."
The 10-minute tour was conducted by curator Rex Scouten. It included a look at the Green Room, Blue Room and Red Room as well as the Grand Hallway. The East Room was set with large round tables and red tablecloths for a luncheon later in the afternoon for about 200 relatives of the first couple.
As the news media filed out, the Bushes went to the State Dining Room for a half-hour of handshaking, posing for pictures and signing autographs for the visitors.
Anthony and Marian Stockdale and their three children, from Melbourne, Australia, said the Bushes "made us feel right at home."
Benedicte Roosen, a 14-year-old from Denmark, observed, "In Denmark, you just watch it on TV. Here it's all so much more exciting."
Brendan Coughlin of Dallas told reporters, "I was very impressed. It was a piece of history this morning. I felt a part of history."
Barbara Bush was asked at one point during the tour if she planned any changes in the mansion's decor. She replied, "It's so beautiful, why would I change it?"
Asked how she slept in her first night as first lady, she quipped, "Short."