- The executive branch had a pretty strict definition of the term "non-essential personnel." As I recall, pretty much everyone below the level of deputy assistant to the president was sent home. We weren't allowed to work, even for free. (Something about the 13th amendment.) They wouldn't let us in the doors. Interns, however, could still show up, and were given unprecedented access to senior staff. Among these interns was one Miss Lewinsky....
- The Congress got to make its own determination about which employees were essential. I had several friends who were legislative aides on Capitol Hill, and they continued to work throughout the shutdown.
- I got to spend roughly a month at home, mostly reading, following the news (it was an eventful time, with the shutdown and Rabin's assassination), and catching up on my coursework for the night classes I was taking at GW. I wore sweatshirts every day and shaved infrequently. We were not getting paid at this time, although we were hopeful that we would eventually get back pay. (We did, but the uncertainty put a damper on my holiday spending.)
- Society managed to function -- we still had a postal service, a military, police, hospitals, Social Security, etc. We could not use national park facilities. We could not go to museums. We could not tour federal buildings or memorials. It was not a very fun time in the District of Columbia, but it wasn't exactly 1991 Sarajevo, either.
I'm sort of curious how things would be different today. With the rise of e-government, a lot more governing functions (research, tax filing, benefit applications, etc.) can be done without employees, at least in the short term. I'm assuming those servers would continue to function. Also, John Boehner strikes me as a lot less prone to temper tantrums and bad sweaters than Newt Gingrich was, so maybe the Republicans would have a somewhat easier time controlling the news cycle than they did in 1995. Still, I think the public would end up siding with the president on this one.