The History of the White House Easter Egg Roll
On April 6, most of us will be filling our lunch bags with egg salad sandwiches and wondering if Cadbury eggs count as a healthy breakfast. The folks who call the White House home, however, will still be celebrating Easter with 35,000 of their closest friends.
Unofficially, kids have been rolling eggs on government grounds since Abraham Lincoln’s children were running around Washington. But in 1876, fun-hating curmudgeons who were concerned about the landscaping at the Capitol introduced a law, signed by Ulysses S. Grant, that banned all egg-rolling activities on the grounds.
By 1878, a group of children had discovered that the low hills of the White House’s South Lawn would be perfect for egg-rolling activities, and wandered up to the gates to inquire about the possibility. President Rutherford B. Hayes told his guards to let them in. By 1889, the event was so popular that John Philip Sousa himself showed up to direct the band. He later wrote “Easter Monday on the White House Lawn” to commemorate the occasion.
Some notable Easter Egg Roll moments:
- In 1885, some of the children made their way from the South Lawn into the East Room, hoping to encounter President Cleveland [PDF].
- First Lady and animal lover Grace Coolidge brought a special guest to the egg roll in 1927: her pet raccoon, Rebecca.
- Grover and Frances Cleveland liked to let Hector, the First Dog, roam freely amongst the guests. Hector’s gleeful romp ended when the many eggs that revelers had given him came back up on the South Lawn.
- The Reagan years introduced “Egg Hunt Pits,” an activity where kids would search giant straw pits for autographed wooden eggs.
- During the Ford administration, Betty Ford thought that the children’s face painting station looked like fun—so she allowed a clown makeup artist to give her a little touch up.
- The Easter Bunny has made an appearance every year since Pat Nixon introduced the idea in 1969. The identity of the White House staffer inside is usually kept secret, with at least one notable exception: Ursula Meese, the wife of Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese III. Ursula enjoyed the tradition so much that she kept it up for six years, earning the title “The Meester Bunny.”
- An avid supporter of the Girl Scouts, Florence Harding showed up one year donning full Scout regalia.