Pigs-in-a-Blanket, 74 Teens ... but Sadly No Beach Boys: Remembering When the White House Hosted Prom

The May 1975 event for Susan Ford's class remains the only high school dance ever held at the White House

Susan Ford
Susan Ford. Photo: AP/Shutterstock

In many ways, it was the stereotypical high school prom: a band performed the days' greatest hits while teenagers awkwardly milled about, enjoying refreshments and dancing under the watchful eye of adult supervision.

But this prom — held in 1975 for seniors at the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland — stood out in one major way: It took place at the White House.

The historic occurrence came about when Susan Ford, daughter of then-President Gerald Ford, was in her final year of high school.

"I was a senior [when my dad took office] ... and the lucky thing is we lived in Washington, so I didn't have to change schools like other president's children," Susan told PEOPLE in a recent interview about what it was like growing up as the child of a president. "My heart broke for Amy Carter, who had to move to Washington and make new friends and go to a new school. It's hard on those kids."

Susan Ford
Susan Ford and Billy Pifer at the 1975 prom at the White House. Charles Tasnadi/AP/Shutterstock

Susan's May 1975 prom — which remains the only high school dance ever held at the White House — was arranged, as so many teenaged escapades are, out of peer pressure.

"It was kind of a fluke deal: I wasn't on the prom committee, but they came to me at some point and said, 'Can we have it at the White House?' " Susan said. "So I went and talked to the head usher and he said, 'Yes, as long as you all pay the expenses.' "

There were other conditions as well.

For one thing, students had to hand over their names, dates of birth and their Social Security Numbers to Secret Service a month ahead of the event.

Finally, the members of the band who had been selected as the evening's entertainment could not have any outstanding drug charges.

According to a 1975 White House memo, the prom committee wasn't able to book its first choice for a band: The Beach Boys.

"Mrs. Ford and Susan have discussed the attached memo of November 4 and have asked me to solicit your thoughts on whether Susan should go any further with the idea. Susan would very much like to go ahead with 'Plan A' but is concerned about the possible consequences," reads the memo, titled "Possible Performance by Beach Boys at Susan's Prom."

Still, the group managed to pull together evening entertainment. "We were able to have two bands," Susan said. And thanks to funds the committee had been raising since seventh grade, they were able to fully cover the cost of the event — creating their own tablecloths and floral arrangements to provide a "light, springy feel."

Susan Ford
Susan Ford. Charles Tasnadi/AP/Shutterstock

President Ford and First Lady Betty Ford were out of town on a trip to Europe during the prom. But Susan's aunt Janet acted as one of the chaperones, according to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library,

Susan, meanwhile, had recently broken up with her longtime boyfriend, opting to go with a classmate named Billy Pifer instead.

Susan and Billy, plus three other couples, took a cruise aboard the presidential yacht USS Sequoia prior to the dance.

Susan Ford
Susan Ford. AP/Shutterstock

According to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the 74 students on the guest list entered the prom in the White House's Grand Hall, heading to the State Dining Room for refreshments, including punch, miniature quiche lorraine, Swedish meatballs and pigs-in-a-blanket.

Music and dancing took place in the East Room and documents from the time show that the balcony was also open for guests.

Members of the press (from Rolling Stone, PEOPLE and The New York Times, among others) were invited to come for the first 20 minutes of the event, during which they were free to speak with attendees.

A White House photographer was also present, with the event spanning 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

"It's really fun and hasn't been done since ... It was very cool," Susan tells PEOPLE. "No question about it. It was very, very cool."

* With reporting by RACHEL BURCHFIELD

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