First lady Michelle Obama, 9-year-old daughter Sasha and other presidential relatives toured Maryland's historic State House on Tuesday during a day trip to Annapolis that included a stop at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats, greeted the first family, who then took a 45-minute private tour of the Capitol and grounds. The Secret Service restricted access to the building during the midday visit and kept news media and passers-by at a distance.
State archivist Edward C. Papenfuse, who led the tour, said that the Obamas were engaged and had enjoyed themselves.
"We had a great time," said Papenfuse, archivist since 1975. "They were a wonderful audience."
The State House — which dates to 1772 and is the oldest working state capitol in the country — is loaded with history.
The first stop was the House of Delegates Chamber, Papenfuse said, where Busch explained the legislative process. They crossed the hall to the Senate Chamber and then ducked into the state Archives Room.
Other points of interest included the Old Senate Chamber, where George Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army in 1783 — a moment that affirmed civilian leadership of the nascent United States — and the governor's office, which holds a huge desk made out of the Wye Oak. The Obamas also viewed a rarely displayed draft copy of Washington's resignation speech.
Papenfuse said he shared historical highlights and trivia about the Capitol: The flag pole atop the wooden dome is a real Ben Franklin lightning rod. President Abraham Lincoln came to town in 1865 but didn't want to be seen by anyone. He walked a mile to his boat undetected.
O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said the governor gave Sasha and two young cousins Salisbury Pewter pillboxes engraved with the state seal. Obama's sister-in-law was also in attendance.
The Obamas also were given several books, including an autographed copy of Roots. Author Alex Haley's nephew, Chris Haley, heads the state archives research division.
After the tour, Michelle Obama, wearing a knee-length white dress, and the rest of the group descended the State House steps and briefly strolled the pedestrian area between the Capitol and the governor's mansion. Papenfuse said he told stories about the statues commemorating Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, and the court case that led to public school integration.
The Obamas waved to a collection of onlookers gathered across the street, then hopped into a silver SUV and sped off in a motorcade. A White House aide said the group also toured the Naval Academy.
Obama told Papenfuse and others that the day was part of the girls' summer educational visits.
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