First daughters Malia and Sasha Obama got a big surprise after school Wednesday: A brand-new swing set.
They squealed with delight upon seeing it, a spokeswoman for the first lady said.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, went to work while the girls were at school, having the set installed on the south grounds of the White House within sight of the Oval Office, where their father spends plenty of time.
Late last year as the couple planned the family’s move to Washington, they had discussed with the chief usher at the White House ways to make the historic residence feel more like home for their girls, said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama.
Malia and Sasha, ages 10 and seven, had never lived anywhere but Chicago.
“Many first families have made these sorts of changes to make the White House feel like home,” McCormick Lelyveld said. “This one is like their little mark.”
The 100 percent cedar and North American Redwood structure has four swings, including a tire swing, a slide, a fort, a climbing wall and climbing ropes. There’s also a picnic table with brass plates etched with the names of all 44 presidents, she said.
“They ran right for it. They were really, really excited. All four of them,” McCormick Lelyveld said.
The girls played on the set for almost an hour in chilly weather, she said. Their mother went for a swing, too.
The Obamas paid for the swing set, which was made and installed by Rainbow Play Systems of Brookings, S.D. The company’s Web site says it’s the most trusted brand name in wooden swing sets.
Presidents throughout the years have altered the landscape of the White House grounds to suit their recreational needs, or their children’s.
James Buchanan added the first greenhouse in 1857, and Theodore Roosevelt followed with a tennis court in 1903.
Historical photos show two of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandchildren playing on a slide near a jungle gym on the South Lawn, and much later Caroline Kennedy pushing younger brother John F. Kennedy Jr. on a swing set, also on the South Lawn.
Gerald Ford added an outdoor swimming pool, and Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, had a treehouse. George H.W. Bush had tree-mounted swings installed for granddaughters Jenna and Barbara, and Bill Clinton, a jogger, installed a running track.