Halloween — with lavish parties, costumes and trick-or-treat favors — can be telling of the personalities who have resided at the White House over the years.
Politico reporter Tevi Troy writes that in 1962 the Kennedys celebrated Halloween during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but a successful resolution of the predicament left the White House in a more festive mood. JFK suggested putting a jack-o-lantern on the Truman Balcony, but thought it would remind people of Fidel Castro.
Costumes have been a significant part of the White House Halloween, where even presidents would get into the act. Lyndon Johnson once wore a “Halloween suit” that was red and white, decorated with the words “Super President.”
Former Vice-President Al Gore wore a Frankenstein outfit — complete with green skin — to the vice president’s ball in October 1994, the same time a sniper fired 29 shots at the White House. Although no one was injured, it did raise the possibility that Gore might have been sworn in as president wearing bolts in his neck.
There were times when Halloween was all business. Ronald Reagan made the decision to run for president on Halloween night 1975, but his son Ron was more interested in attending a costume party. George W. Bush, after failing to get White House Counsel Harriet Miers appointed to the Supreme Court, used Halloween morning 2005 to indicate he was submitting the name of Samuel Alito.
The biggest political decision to appear on Halloween was in 1974. Gerald Ford, concerned about the reliability of Nixon holdovers, made sweeping changes in his administration during the week of Halloween.
Ford replaced James Schlesinger with Chief of Staff Don Rumsfeld as secretary of defense; a budding Dick Cheney moved to White House chief of staff; Henry Kissinger remained secretary of state but lost the title of national security adviser; George H.W. Bush replaced William Colby at the CIA; and he dropped Vice President Nelson Rockefeller from the 1976 ticket.
Ford’s staff shuffle became known as the Halloween Massacre. “It was the biggest political mistake of my life,” Ford later reminisced.
Presidents can also easily overdo Halloween, Troy notes. An extravagant “Alice in Wonderland” party, put on by actor Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton, was downplayed in the press, so not to paint Barack Obama as uncaring during tough economic times. When the story did come out later, interest in the press was short-lived — a lucky break for the president.