The Wacky White House Annual Easter Egg Roll
According to undocumented tradition, Dolley Madison began the historic White House Easter Egg Roll in 1814. But it wasn’t exactly like it is today. The event’s debut actually took place on the grounds of the Capitol Building. Hundreds of children were in attendance, stampeding over the perfectly manicured lawns holding brightly colored eggs. It was a joyous day for the kids in the greater D.C. area, but the groundskeepers were none too thrilled about the post-apocalyptic state of their lawn after the event. With decades of this same grievance, the groundskeepers fought against the annual trampling of their work. In 1876, Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill, making it illegal for the Capitol Building’s grounds to be used for play.
The next year, poor weather prevented the law from being challenged and in 1878, there was no need for any protest. After being begged relentlessly by children, including their own, Mr. and Mrs. Hayes opened up the grounds of the White House to hold the event, thus spawning the tradition that’s still in place today.
Until the middle of the 20th century, the event remained untarnished, but during the years of World War II, was completely abandoned. In 1946 and 47, plans were in the works to revive it, but came to a quick halt due to food conservation efforts, as many treats were expected to be handed out to participants.
After a twelve year hiatus, the Eisenhower’s revived the South Lawn egg roll. In the decades following its revival, many presidents were unable to make appearances during the egg roll, but in 1976, Gerald Ford reinstated the custom – which hasn’t broken since.
Each year, the event has a theme that is carried throughout the activities. Recently, under the Obama administration, the Egg Roll’s themes were geared to help teach youngsters the importance of activity and exercise, as part of Mrs. Obama’s campaign to combat childhood obesity.
The turnout is quite remarkable – reaching up to 30,000 attendees – along with appearances by celebrities including J.K. Rowling and Justin Bieber. And if you’re one of the thousands of children under 12 who are able to be present, you’re in luck. Each child with less than a dozen years under his or her belt receives a special wooden egg upon their departure from the White House grounds. These eggs are engraved with a picture as well as the signatures of the current president and first lady, providing precious keepsakes that document an interesting part of America’s history.