36th Annual Ornament honors the nation’s firefighters.
Philanthropists, designers and members of the Washington metropolitan area fire and emergency services gathered on Sept. 14 at the Historic Decatur House to celebrate the 36th annual White House Christmas ornament launch. The ornament is commissioned by the White House Historical Association, a non-profit organization founded by Jacqueline Kennedy to preserve the unique art and history of the Executive Mansion.
The 2016 ornament takes the form of a red vintage fire truck to commemorate the engines that responded to the four-alarm fire that occurred in the West Wing on Christmas Eve in 1929 during President Hoover’s staff party. The Wing was destroyed, but thanks to the heroic efforts of over one hundred firefighters, no one was injured.
The invite-only event celebrated the beauty of this year’s ornament and the legacy of America’s bravest firefighters with opening remarks by WHHA President Stewart McLaurin and a cocktail reception hosted by Avalon Catering.
Guests posed with vintage fire trucks and sampled small Mediterranean plates – the grilled shrimp with rosemary and the prosciutto skewers were particularly mouth-watering – while they cooled off with a selection of themed drinks. Nodding to the history of the ornament, the Art Deco bar offered glasses of Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc, bottles of the Fireman’s Brew Lager, and tumblers of specialty “smoking” cocktails: the Old Fashioned “5-Alarm” and the Gin Gimlet “Pumper.”
Far more interesting than the drinks was what stood behind the bar: a display of antique fire gear sampled from the extensive collection of T. Cosgrove Jones, a former lieutenant of the DC Fire Department. Accompanied by his wife Jeanne and their son Patrick, Lieutenant Jones explained that he has spent the past forty-seven years collecting rare equipment such as vintage helmets, badges, and hose nozzles because of his love and respect for the tradition of the fire services. He confessed proudly: “It gets in your blood.”
The metropolitan fire and emergency medical services were well represented at the event, most notably by FDDC Chief Gregory Dean and U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Ernest Mitchell, Jr. Bill Webb, the executive director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) and vice chairman of the board for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, was also in attendance. He displayed a canvas painted by the artist Chris Fagan, commissioned by the CFSI to pay tribute to the responders to the September 11th attacks.
At the center of the evening stood Kayla Whelan, graduate of the Montserrat College of Art, winner of the WHHA’s design competition, and creator of the 2016 ornament. Whelan said that the process of designing the ornament was deeply meaningful: “As an artist, you put your heart and soul into everything you create.”
Whelan is confident that the ornament will make a lasting impact on her budding career as a graphic designer: “The White House Historical Association has been really wonderful throughout the whole process. They’ve done so much for me and for my college, and I will never stop being grateful to them for the incredible opportunities they’ve given me.”
The 2016 White House Christmas ornament is available for purchase here.