White House Visitors
December 25, 1974: Marshall Fields visits the White House. Earlier in the year, Private Robert Preston, a US Army helicopter mechanic, stole a helicopter from Fort Meade, Maryland and touched down on the South Lawn. He had flown over the Executive Mansion, hovered for about six minutes, and then took off again. He was chased by two Maryland State Police helicopters and forced down. He was slightly injured in the process. He was eventually sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,400 after plea bargaining. Richard Nixon was President at the time and was not at the White House. He was in Florida and his wife was in Indiana.
On this day, Fields crashed his Chevrolet Impala into the Northwest Gate and made his way on to White House property. He was dressed as an Arab and claimed he was the Messiah and had explosives with him. He drove up to the North Portico and placed himself just feet away from the front door. The US Secret Service agents went into negotiations with Fields and it took four hours to end the standoff. When Fields finally surrendered, it was found that the “explosives” he was carrying were only flares. President Gerald Ford was not at the White House during the encounter.
When the White House was first built, there were no fences and the public was given greater access to the White House grounds. This remained true up until World War II. After the war, access became increasingly restricted and after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the airspace also became more restricted and better enforced. At the time of this incident, there was a wrought iron fence in place. Since it proved inadequate, a new gate was erected in 1976. Police built barricades on the streets surrounding the White House in 1983 and during the mid-1990s the fence was expanded by one block to move traffic even farther away.
There have been several attempts by unwanted visitors to enter the Executive Mansion. Michael Winter made the first such attempt on April 13, 1912. There were three attempts in 1974 with Samuel Byck making an unsuccessful assassination attempt. Gerald Gainous tried twice in 1975 and there were three more attempts to enter in 1976. There were twelve more attempts before the year 2000. There were seven attempts between 2001 and 2009. Joseph Reel tried in 2013 and was sent to prison for three years after his arrest. There have been five people trying to get inside the White House in 2014 with the last being Dominic Adensanya’s October 22 second try. He was attacked by dogs and stopped. The Secret Service were able to stop a toddler who squeezed through the fence in August and no charges were filed.
The secret service is a strange group. They don’t really have a leader. It’s not set up like a military. Each one is supposed to be able to act like a leader when something comes up. – Val Kilmer
Bush said today he is being stalked. He said wherever he goes, people are following him. Finally, someone told him, ‘Psst. That’s the secret service.’ – Jay Leno
The Secret Service has announced it is doubling its protection for John Kerry You can understand why – with two positions on every issue, he has twice as many people mad at him. – Jay Leno
There is no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity. – Salman Rushdie
Also on this day: Mastodons – In 1801 the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.
It Is Finished – In 1991, the dissolution of the USSR was completed.
Arrival – In 1941, Admiral Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor.