McCaslin's Beltway Beat

Posted: Nov 23, 2001 12:00 AM
The White House, citing security concerns, has canceled its popular public holiday tours, earning the nickname "Scrooge of the season" from none-too-pleased D.C. Delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton. So, this column has decided to lead a special VIP tour of the White House, which shall commence right now: As you begin your tour, you'll notice that White House staff and volunteers have been busy in recent weeks creating a wintry forest theme throughout the executive mansion. All through the forest, atop mantels and pier tables, we find displays of miniature replicas of past presidents' homes, from Abraham Lincoln's Illinois log cabin to Lyndon B. Johnson's Texas ranch. Please don't touch. Here in the State Dining Room, feast your eyes on a not-so-ordinary gingerbread house - a re-creation of the White House as it appeared in 1800 when President John Adams became the first resident. The gingerbread house took approximately three weeks to create, and is made from 80 pounds of gingerbread, 30 pounds of chocolate and 20 pounds of marzipan. Parents, please control your children. Here in the Blue Room stands the official White House Christmas Tree. This year's tree is an 18-foot Concolor fir, grown in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. As for the ornaments, artists from all 50 states designed the miniature replicas of historic houses in their regions. We're now entering the East Wing, and specifically, the East Foyer, where third-grade students from military bases throughout the Washington area have made the snowflakes found on the Fraser Fir. The Christmas cards you see next to the tree are from the permanent White House collection, including President and Mrs. Bush's 2001 card. On the wall, by the way, is the original oil painting depicting this year's Christmas card, painted by artist Adrian Martinez of Downingtown, Pa. And finally, we come into the East Room and find the traditional White House creche. This beautiful creche has been on display since 1967, when it was given to the White House by Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard Jr. of Far Hills, N.J. Thanks for visiting, and be sure to come back next year. GIPPER'S ROOTS Ronald Reagan lived in several houses while growing up in Illinois, but the one he considers his boyhood home is about to become a national historic site. Congress has passed a resolution authorizing Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton to purchase the presidentially historic property in Dixon, Ill., and rename it "the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site." Reagan lived in the Dixon home from 1924 through 1928, and already the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Dixon house is currently owned by the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home Foundation, a nonprofit organization that paid approximately $30,000 for the residence in the early 1980s and has since invested several million dollars in the home and adjacent properties, including a museum. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal cost of purchasing the property would be about $700,000 over the next two years, and thereafter between $250,000 and $500,000 annually to operate the historic property. QUEEN'S LEGACY The "Heather French Henry Homeless Assistance Act"? Yes, named after Miss America 2000, who brought the issue of homeless veterans to national attention during her reign. If the bill (S. 739) were to be fully funded through the appropriations process, the new programs - assistance to homeless veterans through health care benefits at non-Veterans Administration facilities and the establishment of new health service centers - would cost $67 million in the first year. LENS ON LARRY Yes, that's Larry King, as never seen before, on the cover of Paul McCartney's just-released album, "Driving Rain." The 59-year-old former Beatle, who was near Ground Zero in New York when terror struck on Sept. 11 - and happened to be flying into the city last week just as American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Queens - wore a wrist camera when he snapped the talk show host's picture during a recent appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live." "My best credit yet," King tells this column. "I'm hip, who knew?" The album is so new it contains the anthemic "Freedom," recorded by Sir Paul just weeks ago at Madison Square Garden's "Concert for New York City," benefiting the World Trade Center victims. LAST LAUGH Noted author Michael Ledeen, a close friend of U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and his late wife, Barbara, who lost her life aboard the terrorist-hijacked plane that was crashed into the Pentagon, shared an interesting story during an interview this week with Melanie Morgan on KSFO talk radio in San Francisco. Ledeen, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, revealed that the Pentagon on Sunday sent a 500-pound bomb raining down on Taliban forces in Afghanistan - with Mrs. Olson's name painted on it. "The military's way of saying, 'We haven't forgotten you, Barbara,'" Morgan tells this column.