The White House Easter Egg Roll

Yesterday morning I was at the White House for an historic Washington tradition – the President’s annual Easter Egg Roll.

I went with a good friend and her young son, traipsing through the morning mist along the Ellipse and, after waiting in several lines and security checks, eventually onto the South Lawn.

Attending a White House event these days is a little like a trip to the airport.

South Lawn of the White House in the morning mist
South Lawn of the White House in the morning mist (Photo: Robert Yule)

We followed along as my friend’s son took part in a variety of activities,  starting with the famous Easter Egg Rolling Race itself. The race is a more recent tradition, started in 1974 using spoons from the White House kitchen and eggs hard boiled by White House chefs.

It basically involves pushing an egg with a wooden spoon through the grass to the finish line.

Trust me, not as easy as it sounds.

Easter Egg Rolling Race
Easter Egg Rolling Race – On your mark, get set… (Photo: Robert Yule)

While we arrived a bit too early to see President Obama and the First Family at the event, we did meet a number of former presidents in attendance.

There was Abraham Lincoln, in the form of one of the Racing Presidents mascots for D.C.’s baseball team, the Nationals.

Reportedly it was Lincoln’s son Tad who started the first informal egg-rolling party at the White House in 1861, just a couple weeks before the Civil War started.

President William McKinley and First Lady Ida McKinley
President William McKinley and First Lady Ida McKinley (Photo: Robert Yule)

We also ran into President McKinley and First Lady Ida McKinley. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her husband was destined to be assassinated in 1901, and replaced by his Vice President, Teddy Roosevelt, who happened to also be wandering the White House grounds nearby as part of the Racing Presidents.

Then there was President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy Hayes, who initiated the first official Easter Egg Roll at the White House in 1878.

For several years before that, children had done their egg rolling on the

William Holman - LOC
Congressman William Holman, the Grinch who stole the District’s Easter egg roll (Photo: LOC)

terraces of Capitol Hill each Easter Monday, until Congress  put a stop to all the fun in 1876.

That’s when the stern-looking Indiana Congressman William Steele Holman, chairman of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, led the charge to pass the Turf Protection Law.

It was intended “to prevent any portion of the Capitol grounds and terraces from being used as play-grounds or otherwise, so far as may be necessary to protect the public property, turf, and grass from destruction and injury.”

Basically, it amounted to a cranky Congress telling Washington’s collective youth to get off its lawn.

President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy Hayes
President Hayes and his wife continue to be welcoming to the District’s kids (Photo: Robert Yule)

Two years later, President Hayes reportedly agreed to a request from a group of local boys to hold the event on the South Lawn of the White House instead.

The tradition has continued all the way until today, with only a few notable interruptions, when the National Mall was used instead (World War I, World War II, and the Truman renovation of the White House).

Now with a record 30,000 guests from all over the country, the White House Easter Egg Roll has evolved from its early days as a tradition for just D.C. locals.

Today it’s the largest public event at the Executive Mansion, broadcast live

on TV with musical performances and other activities. Al Roker, Kelly Ripa, and young pop star Willow Smith were some of the big names present this year.

And there were other signs that the Easter Egg Roll has changed with the times.

As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! anti-obesity initiative, there was lots of organic fresh fruit and healthy food on hand throughout the event.

For kids who had gorged on their Easter basket candy the day before – and for their tired parents – this was probably a welcome addition to tradition.

WH Easter Egg Roll - 4.25.11
The Easter Bunny on the South Lawn (Photo: Robert Yule)

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