The President of the United States is one of the world's most public figures, yet the power and tradition of the office veil his life in a tightly controlled, highly protected enclave (above, in Benin) that few outsiders ever see.
History always makes a sharp turn in Washington when a new American President takes the oath of office, and so it will once again on January 20, 2009. There will be new Cabinet members, a new Congress, a new foreign policy, a new style in the East Wing, new embarrassing relatives (if the past is any guide), and new first friends.
But many other things in the private world of the President of the United States will stay remarkably the same. The maids on the permanent White House housekeeping staff will make the presidential bed, just as they always have. The kitchen staff will still peel potatoes and scramble eggs. The gardeners will have planted 3,500 tulip bulbs to bloom in the Rose Garden in the spring.
The permanent care and feeding of the President of the United States is an industry staffed by hundreds of people, largely supported by taxpayers, and little understood beyond the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. First families move in and out—“They get a four- or eight-year lease,” says Gary Walters, former chief usher of the Executive Mansion. But the staff, customs, and mechanics surrounding the world's most powerful chief executive endure, often for generations.