While attending a recent Washington Nationals’ baseball game, Evan Phifer listened contentedly to the people around him trying to guess the answer to the history question posted on the team’s gigantic scoreboard.
After all, the 27-year-old Silver Spring native wrote that question.
As a research historian at the White House Historical Association, Phifer is part of a team providing historic content for researchers, web articles and anyone wondering about this country’s presidents and the White House.
When preparing a question that will be displayed in the fifth inning of each of the 81 Nationals’ home games during the regular season – not to mention additional ones in the playoffs this year – Phifer is more interested in attracting interest than in stumping the crowd.
“Even if the person gets it wrong, they are still interested,” he said. “I hear people talking amongst themselves what the answer can be,” said Phifer. “It’s educational outreach.”
Besides being a lifelong Nationals’ fan, the Springbook High School grad has always loved history.
History classes there not only reinforced his love of learning about the past but also showed him “you can make a career” out of it, he said.
Since his childhood, Phifer has toured historic sites, especially ones that played a role in the Civil War. He said he particularly enjoyed the sites near the Maryland and Washington D.C. area and participated in reenactments during the Civil War’s 150th anniversary events.
He enjoys “making these personal connections with people from the past who are no longer living,” he said. Learning about Abraham Lincoln, a favorite of his, also led him to read up on the guards who protected the former president.
Phifer, of Arlington, Va., enjoys exploring historic areas in the Washington, D.C. area, and also is “a big Beatles fan.”
He received his undergraduate degree at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. and went on to earn a master’s degree in public history at American University.
An internship with the White House Historical Association turned into a full-time job.
Besides coming up with the questions for the Nationals games, Phifer also is responsible for verifying information about the White House.
When First Lady Michele Obama recently remarked that her two daughters play on the lawn of a White House built by slaves, the association’s staff went into high gear to research the veracity of that claim.
Up on its website now is a blog explaining how the White House first turned to Europe to obtain more workers. When that wasn’t enough, recruitment “turned to African Americans – both enslaved and free – to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings.”
Many of the questions the association staff researches pertain to what dignitary is visiting the White House at the current time.
Researchers are called upon to answer many questions about that particular country.
Want to know why the White House is white, what each president did to relax or which presidents played college football?
Those answers and more can be found on the association’s website: https://www.whitehousehistory.org.
This private, non-profit organization started in 1961 after First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy expressed concern that no one was preserving or exhibiting artifacts from the White House.
Also, she fretted the objects the White House did have were not necessarily the best that America had to offer, explained association President Stewart McLaurin.
The association buys art and furniture and maintains and refurbishes what already is at the White House.
Its work is confined to the areas where state and ceremonial functions are held and where guests visit, McLaurin said.
Much of the money is spends comes from its annual sale of a White House Christmas ornament.
Each year, the association features a president on that ornament. This year, a fire truck is featured to commemorate the administration of President Herbert Hoover.
The fire truck depicts what the engines looked like in 1929, during a Christmas Eve fire at the White House.
Crafted from brass-plated nickel and 24-karat gold, the truck on the ornament has a Christmas tree on it. It sells for $21. The 2017 Christmas tree ornament will feature President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency.
The association also has three retail stores and publishes books on White House history, McLaurin said.