THE ANNUAL WHITE HOUSE EASTER EGG ROLL
To anyone alive today, the annual White House Easter egg roll has been happening “forever.” That’s because none of us can remember back as far as 1878, when the White House South Lawn first hosted the event, at the invitation of then-President Rutherford B. Hayes. After all, that was 141 years ago.
The Easter egg roll itself is even older, having gotten its start at the Capitol. The Monday after Easter, kids and their families from around Washington, DC would gather and the children would roll decorated hard-boiled eggs down the grassy hill using spoons to guide their eggs in the race. The event was hard on the grass, however, so some evidently fun-averse legislators pushed through the Turf Protection Act in 1876. It was signed into law by President Ulysses Grant.
RARE ULYSSESS S. GRANT OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA FISH PLATE. ALSO, AN EXTRAORDINARILY RARE 1879 RUTHERFORD B. HAYES OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE CHINA DINNER PLATE - PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION.
And that was the end of the official Washington, DC Easter egg roll. Temporarily. Accounts vary about exactly what transpired next, but two years later, either a group of children descended on the White House asking to hold the egg roll there, or President Hayes invited the event to the White House. Regardless, the President was all in, as they say, the gates were opened, and the Easter egg roll became an official White House event.
Today, it is the largest annual public event held at the White House, with some 37,000 people attending last year. Because of its popularity, attendance is now limited -- determined by an online lottery -- but tickets remain free for participants and families.
Over the years, various Presidents and First Ladies have added their own touches to the Easter egg roll. Grover Cleveland started a tradition of inviting some young egg rollers into the East Room for a personal meeting. Benjamin Harrison added the United States Marine Band, and in more recent years numerous well-known artists have been invited to perform. First Lady Pat Nixon introduced the Easter Bunny himself, when one of her staffers donned a bunny suit to shake hands with those entering the gates.
The event has gone dark on some occasions over the years, notably during World Wars I and II. In 1918, the event was cancelled because the District of Columbia food administrator determined it was an unacceptable waste of valuable eggs during a time of food rationing. And the event was off the schedule from 1943 through 1952, due to war itself, post-war conservation efforts, and then construction on the Executive Mansion itself. Accordingly, this two-year White House construction put the South Lawn off limits.
WHITE HOUSE EASTER EGG ROLL IN 1898 SHOWS BLACK AND WHITE CHILDREN ENJOYING THE EVENT TOGETHER - IT IS LIKELY THAT THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN LAD COULD BE A SON OF ONE OF THE WHITE HOUSE PERMANENT STAFFERS
According to Smithsonian Magazine, White House archives include an 1898 photo showing black and white children participating together in the event. The article quotes Clarence Lusane, author of The Black History of the White House: “Permitting black children to integrate with white children on the White House premises one day a year was acceptable, even though such mingling was illegal in many places throughout the South at the time, including libraries and schools.” Also, it is likely that the African-American lad could be a son of one of the White House permanent staffers.
At some point, though, integrated White House egg rolls went by the wayside -- until 1953, when Mamie Eisenhower noticed black children watching the event from outside the fence. The next year, she made sure black children were welcomed to participate again.
RONALD & NANCY REAGAN HAD THEIR FAMOUS FRIENDS SIGN WOODEN EASTER EGGS DURING THEIR TIME IN THE WHITE HOUSE, AND WOODEN EGGS HAVE BEEN THE NORM EVER SINCE
First Ladies Betty Ford and Roslyn Carter changed things up as well, handing out plastic eggs that contained personal notes from each of them. Continuing that theme, President and Nancy Reagan handed out wooden eggs instead, each inscribed as a memento of the event and signed by a famous person. Similar wooden eggs are still given to all children 12 and younger as they leave the event. Who knows? Receiving that keepsake wooden egg may inspire some of those youngsters to become collectors of presidential memorabilia, perhaps even Official White House China.
Distinguished historian and collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx has acquired a remarkable number of scarce and rare pieces of Official White House China. Mr. Amyx’s passion for American historical artifacts has been his sole focus for nearly 40 years. Mr. Amyx's collection is the largest privately-owned collection of extremely high-quality, as well as the rarest, Official White House China and Presidential China in the world. If you would like to engage in a discussion with Mr. Amyx about White House China, please contact him through the button below.