Prologue Magazine

With Easter Monday You Get Egg Roll at the White House, Part 2

Spring 2000, Vol. 32, No. 1

By C. L. Arbelbide

© 2000 by C. L. Arbelbide


The First Children and Grandchildren

When Benjamin Harrison appeared in 1889 holding grandson Benjamin Harrison McKee, the egg rollers were thrilled. Baby McKee was coaxed into waving hello and then went off to play with his toy pony and carriage. Because of Baby Ruth Cleveland's popularity (the candy bar was named for her), it was presumed safer to hold her up from a second-story window rather than stroll the grounds for fear of being rushed. When Cleveland allowed the egg rollers carte blanche in the White House in 1895, the family rolled eggs in the privacy of their Woodley home (the neighborhood known today as Cleveland Park).

Theodore Roosevelt "could not resist the temptation to witness the frolic of the little men and women. He came out on the southern porch of the White House and remained for a time, a pleased spectator."(56) "The President watched the youngsters [often with his own children] with more than ordinary interest and with a seeming desire to join them in the sport."(57) A younger egg roller, observing Archie and Quentin Roosevelt in 1906, when assured that these were indeed the sons of the President, tugged his father's sleeve and "in a drawling tone said: 'Pop, them uns look jest like we uns.'"(58)

First Lady Lou Hoover was a proud grandmother, holding up four-year-old Herbert Hoover 3rd (Peter to the family) to the cheers of the 1931 egg rollers as Peggy Ann, older sister by one year, stood nearby. Both children took a moment to make their way down to the bandstand "and told about their Easter for the talkies."

"Sistie" and "Buzzie" Dall, popular granddaughters of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, strolled the grounds with Eleanor and their mother (first daughter Anna Dall) in 1934, then returned to the South Portico porch, which also doubled as a stage. There "Thurston the magician waved his hand over Buzzie's face and produced a bright Easter egg almost as if he had plucked it from the astonished child's mouth."(59) He then produced a live rabbit from Buzzie's coat and presented the bunny to Sistie.(60) Oohs and ahhs rose from the crowd below.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie revived the event in 1953 after a twelve-year absence. Ike, who had braved many a campaign mob, ventured without hesitation into the crowd to meet and greet. Accompanied by his daughter-in-law Barbara Eisenhower and grandchildren Dwight David 2nd, age five, and Barbara Ann, age four, the family was immediately surrounded. Retreat was impossible, and most of David's eggs were jostled from his basket. Picking up Barbara Ann, Ike maintained a wide grin, and with the assistance of a "flying wedge of Secret Service men," the party made its way to the southwest gate, then to the calm of West Executive Avenue and the safety of the Oval Office.

Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter's arrival at the 1977 egg roll, with grandson Jason Carter high atop the President's shoulders and daughter, Amy, alongside, took place under calmer conditions. George and Barbara Bush often had their grandchildren in tow, reminiscent of Benjamin Harrison and grandson Baby McKee's arrival.

Carter family, 1977 Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter arrive at the 1977 egg roll with daughter Amy and grandson Jason. (NARA, Jimmy Carter Library)

First Pets a Sure Bet

Baby McKee's toy pony and carriage enthralled the visiting egg rollers as did Hector, Grover and Francis Cleveland's "first dog." Hector, while not a roller of eggs, was an eater of the delicacies, and egg rollers had to be on guard.

The arrival of a "first pet" was sure to be in the rotogravure. No administration could use that exposure more than the scandal-ridden tenure of Warren G. Harding, whose dog, Laddie Boy, was the ultimate publicity hound. The popular Airedale bounded around the 1922 event, sniffing youngsters and shaking hands until his master and mistress, Florence ("Sonny" and "Duchess" as they called each other), appeared on the South Portico porch. Laddie Boy joined them, then performed tricks to the delight of the young audience below.

Grace Coolidge generated a massive following in 1925, when she appeared with the white collie Rob Roy and Airedale Laddie Buck (half-brother to the Hardings' Laddie Boy). Strolling through the grounds dressed in white and sporting a large twenties wide-brimmed hat, the stylish Grace attracted a sea of adoring fans. In 1927 she upstaged herself when she arrived carrying Rebecca Raccoon. Although one guest, the rotund (and former President) Chief Justice Taft, predicted "stomach-aches from the hard boiled eggs" and a "dreadful mess on the greenswards," the Coolidges never faltered in their support of the event.(61)

Eleanor Roosevelt brought first dogs Meggie, a Scottie, and Major, a German shepherd, to the 1933 event and was not the least bit fashion conscious when she toured the grounds in 1938 in her tan riding habit. The Roosevelts' most famous canine, Fala, born in 1940, never attended. Mrs. Henry Wallace, the wife of the Vice President, substituted as hostess in 1941, and White House egg rolls were suspended until 1953.

From Play Day to Festival

Egg rollers created their own games such as "Egg Pecking," "Egg Picking" or "Picking Egg," "Egg Ball," "Toss and Catch," and "Egg Croquet." First-timers had to be alert to impostors attempting to peck with a lye-soaked egg (which hardened the shell) or a china egg. An impromptu posse of older egg rollers would discipline the offender. Shells were then hollowed out and set afloat in the South Lawn fountain. Occasionally an egg roller would upend into the water while reaching for a tiny eggshell ship.

In 1889 Benjamin Harrison scored an egg roll first by inviting "The President's Own" Marine Band, with director John Phillip Sousa, to perform. Sousa immortalized the event in music in 1929, when he retitled a composition: "Easter Monday on the White House Lawn." Outside the gates, well before the average Washingtonian had started for work, the long lines of children were greeted by vendors selling fruits, waffles, peanuts, balloons, gaily colored pinwheels, and ices and creams.

Lunchtime had its own ritual. Egg rollers in 1886 kept their eyes on the top of the nearby State, War, and Navy Department (later known as the Old Executive Office Building), where, each noon, a large ball slid down a galvanized iron flagpole pole. While the time ball signaled government workers to synchronize their watches, egg rollers reached for their eats stored in their wicker hampers and lunch boxes.(62)

Had Edith Roosevelt had her way, the event would have been discontinued. "It seems such needless destruction of the lovely grass." "Almost worse was the game called 'picking egg,' when pairs of children pecked their respective eggs together to see whose cracked first. The huge number of broken eggs gave off a combined odor that could be smelled three squares away."(63)

Edith Wilson embraced the egg rollers. "All the families of the Cabinet were invited, and many friends with their children." The cabinet members, in shape as a result of Woodrow Wilson's early morning exercise sessions, often joined in the play with their own children. Woodrow joined Edith on the South Portico, where they "stood for many minutes watching the kaleidoscope of colour."(64)

Lou Hoover provided the children with a great number of eggs that the first lady herself had dyed for them. Yet, concerned that fertilizer from the grass would taint the cracked eggs, she tried to divert attention away from egg rolling and toward maypole and folk dances in 1929. Strong resistance ensued as veteran egg rollers refused to give up their time-honored custom.

At the first Roosevelt egg roll in 1933, Eleanor abandoned the folk dances, introduced organized games, then greeted the public by radio on a nationwide hookup. Technology advances by 1998 permitted Bill and Hillary Clinton to welcome the world's children— live— over the World Wide Web.

The Easter Bunny Arrives

During the Eisenhower era, Mrs. Fred W. Johansen of Maryland dressed her children, each year, in handmade bunny costumes. Their images appeared in the press, various women's and family magazines, and The Weekly Reader. Their towering ten-foot tall green papier-mâché rabbit, brought to the 1967 event, entertained the crowd.

The next year, a Texas-size five-foot-tall chocolate bunny, to be cut up and distributed to the egg rollers, was erected on the South Lawn. (Apparently, there were two such giant bunnies, but the Secret Service feared one was "tainted" and recommended setting it in a nearby room where staff, if they cared to risk it, could partake.)

The bunny movement continued as Pat Nixon's staff introduced, in 1969, the White House Easter Bunny (in reality a staffer dressed in a white fleece bunny costume). The bunny, from behind a snow fence, shook hands with one paw while holding onto its oversized head with the other. The next year the bunny roamed the grounds, welcoming the egg rollers and posing for photographs.

Although the outdoor event was canceled on account of rain in 1984, the Reagan staff, led by the costumed Easter bunny, Ursula Meese (wife of Edwin Meese, attorney general, 1985-1988), organized a walk through the White House. The staff distributed prepackaged goody bags, helping to ease the egg rollers' disappointment.

Occasional celebrity bunnies would appear, such as NBC's weatherman Willard Scott, but the importance of seeing the "real" bunny was underscored in 1993, when a young child pleaded for the man in the pinstripe suit to step back as he was blocking his view of the Easter Bunny. Bill Clinton was happy to oblige.

What's an Egg Roller To Do?

When visitors complained there was "nothing to do," Pat Nixon's staff initiated the first— and last— formal Easter egg hunt using real hard-boiled eggs. Only days later were all the eggs found, having emitted a pungent odor that could be detected by anyone within a few feet or downwind. By 1974 the most famous of Easter Monday activities— organized egg-rolling races— was introduced. Commandeering stainless steel serving spoons from the White House kitchen, youngsters lined up eight across and, at the whistle, raced down the marked lanes rolling, pushing, and occasionally launching colored hard-boiled eggs (prepared by the White House chefs) into the air on their way to the finish line. A temporary setback for hens occurred when the Fords substituted plastic eggs for real eggs, but Rosalynn Carter returned to the real thing.

The Carters escalated the 1977 event into a charming but manageable three-ring circus and petting zoo. "There were marionettes, mountain cloggers from North Carolina, a cowboy twirling his rope tricks, and a small menagerie that featured a live lamb, a pony, a chicken, and a 1,200-pound steer named Big Red."(65)

Reagans with Easter Bunny, 1983 Nancy and Ronald Reagan greet children at the 1983 White House Easter Egg Roll. (NARA, Ronald Reagan Library)

Egged on, the 1981 egg roll went "Hollywood." First Lady Nancy Reagan, who as little Anne Francis Robbins of Bethesda, Maryland, had attended a Coolidge egg roll, viewed the action from the other side of the fence. The eggstravaganza included assorted clowns and characters, balloon vendors, Broadway show vignettes, a petting zoo, exhibits of antique cars, and an eggxposition of specially decorated eggs (one for each state). Each egg roller received a goody bag filled with a program, toy products supplied by corporate sponsors, and food— whose wrappers littered the lawn. Gigantic balloons from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades began hovering seventy-five feet over the South Lawn fountain, including Bullwinkle the Moose, Olive Oyl (her feet were as long as canoes), Humpty Dumpty, and forty-foot-tall Deputy Dan. The sixty-foot-high Jack in the Box balloon (1985) had to come down due to high wind warnings.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have attended every egg roll of their two administration (a first couple first), scaled back the number of miscellaneous activities, added more egg rolling lanes, and provided children with disabilities an early entrance into the event. But of all the activities and goodies, it is a simple wooden egg given to each child that has become "the" ultimate presidential egg roll keepsake.


Pat Nixon initiated certificates of participation, a tradition continued by Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter, who in 1980 also gave out ten thousand plastic eggs, each with a printed note from the first lady folded up inside.

The ultimate eggcitement occurred in 1981, when autographed wooden eggs were discovered in the newest activity— the egg hunt straw pits. Each egg bore a signature, perhaps from a member of Congress (ironic considering they banned the event from their end of the Avenue), a Hollywood celebrity, or a sports figure. Westport Marketing Group of Westport, Connecticut, which had been involved in promotional work for the Reagan inauguration, suggested giving the wooden replicas. The one thousand eggs, a gift of Green Mountain Studios in Lymes, New Hampshire, were milled out of solid New Hampshire birch by the staff of Allen Rogers Ltd. of Laconia, New Hampshire, who produced the eggs until 1998.

Not all children went home with the coveted prize. In response, ten thousand eggs were distributed in 1982, with celebrities on hand to add their autographs. Since 1987 the event's theme has been inscripted on each egg, and by 1989 George and Barbara Bush added their facsimile signatures. In 1991 the design highlighted one symbol, the forget-me-not yellow ribbon. Imprinted on both the wooden eggs and programs, the ribbon honored members of the armed forces serving in the Persian Gulf. Even the Clintons' cat, Socks, "paw-printed" a few eggs. Today the official eggs are given one to a child (under twelve) as they leave the South Lawn.

Rolling Along

Whether with real or wooden eggs, the White House Easter Egg Roll remains a day of play as energetic in spirit now as it was in 1878. But most of all, to the men occupying the solitary confines of the Oval Office, the egg rollers have continued to offer their enthusiastic and nonjudgmental loyalty.

As Easter Monday rolls into a third century, it commemorates the eggceptional relationship between a sitting President and the "future generation." While Presidents and egg rollers may be separated by time, they are forever united by this event.

With Easter Monday You Get Egg Roll at the White House, Part 1


1. David L. Lewis, District of Columbia: A Bicentennial History (1976), p. 43. ("An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia," April 16, 1862. Original document is housed at the National Archives. The District of Columbia Emancipation Act freed the Capitol's slaves on this date. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day 1863.)

2. "Local News. The Grand Display Last Night," Evening Star, Apr. 14, 1865, p. 1, col. 1.

3. "Fashions For Easter," Washington Chronicle, Apr. 13, 1873, p. 1, col. 7.

4. Ibid.

5. "Easter Sunday," Washington Chronicle, Apr. 5, 1874, p. 4, col. 4.

6. Lewis, District of Columbia, p. 20.

7. Ibid., p. 19.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., p. 24.

10. Ibid., p. 27.

11. File 618.292: "White House Easter Egg Rolling," entry 177, Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital, Record Group (RG) 42, National Archives Building (NAB), Washington, DC; and "Egg-Rollings," Evening Star, Apr. 17, 1922, p. 6, col. 2.

12. "The Capitoline Park," Evening Star, Apr. 1, 1871, p. 2, col. 1.

13. File 618.292: "White House Easter Egg Rolling," entry 177, RG 42, NAB; and "Egg-Rolling," Evening Star, Apr. 17, 1922, p. 6, col. 2.

14. "Egg-Rolling At The Capitol," Evening Star, Apr. 2, 1921, p. 12, col. 1.

15. "The Children's Holiday," Daily Patriot, Apr. 2, 1872.

16. "Easter Monday. Scenes About the Capitol," National Republican, Apr. 18, 1876, p. 4, col. 4.

17. "Egg-Rolling At The Capitol," Evening Star, Apr. 2, 1921, p. 12, col. 1.

18. "Improvement of Capitol Grounds," Congressional Record, 44th Cong., 1st sess., Feb. 9, 1876, pp. 956-957.

19. Ibid.

20. House, "Improvement of the Capitol," Cong. Rec., 44th Cong., 1st sess., Apr. 11, 1876, pp. 2378-2379; Senate, "Improvement of Capitol Grounds," ibid., p. 2368.

21. Senate, Senator Justin Smith Morrill, "Protection of Capitol Grounds," Cong. Rec., 44th Cong., 1st sess., Apr. 19, 1876, Vol. 4, p. 2580.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Dian Olson Belanger, "The Railroad in the Park Washington's Baltimore & Potomac Station, 1872-1907," Washington History 2 (Spring 1990): 15. ("For 35 years, from 1872 [legislation effective May 22, 1872] until 1907, tracks of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad, bisected Washington's Mall south to north along 6th Street west of the Capitol. They terminated at a colorful Gothic station on the site now occupied by the National Gallery of Art on Constitution Avenue, then called B Street, N. W." p. 5.)

25. Senate, Senator Robert Enoch Withers, "Protection of Capitol Grounds," Cong. Rec., 44th Cong., 1st sess., Apr. 19, 1876, Vol. 4, p. 2581.

26. Ibid.

27. Forty-fourth Congress, 1st sess., Ch 86 "An act to protect the public property, turf and grass of the Capitol grounds from injury," Approved, Apr. 29, 1876, p. 41.

28. Ibid., p. 11.

29. Ibid., p. 27.

30. "City Brevities," National Republican, Apr. 3, 1877, p. 4, col. 1.

31. "No Egg-Rolling on Capitol Grounds," Evening Star, Apr. 20, 1878, p. 4, col. 2.

32. "Recollections of the Life of Abraham Lincoln," Evening Star, Feb. 7, 1915, sec. 1, p. 6, col. 1.

33. William H. Crook, Memories of the White House: The Home Life of Our Presidents from Lincoln to Roosevelt (1911), p. 68.

34. A volume of photostats, "Egg-Rolling on the White House Lawn" (1935), compiled by David C. Mearns and Verner W. Clapp and housed in the rare book collection at the Library of Congress, was an attempt to document (on behalf of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt) the history of the event. Over the years, numerous documents added bits and pieces to the story. Occasionally creative stories substituted for the missing particulars.

35. An untitled and undated newspaper article discovered in President Hayes's scrapbook (Vol. 115, p. 89) housed at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio, prompted further newspaper archive research by the author, resulting in the discovery of the "Easter Eggs," New York Evening Post, Mar. 29, 1880, p. 4, col. 1.

36. "Easter Eggs," New York Evening Post, Mar. 29, 1880, p. 4, col. 1.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. "Condensed Locals," Evening Star, Apr. 22, 1878, p. 4, col. 1.

42. "Easter Eggs," New York Evening Post, Mar. 29, 1880, p. 4, col. 1.

43. Ibid.

44. "Egg-rolling on the White House Grounds," Evening Star, Mar. 29, 1880, p. 4, col. 2.

45. "Pat Nolan's 'Job': A Story of Easter Monday at the White Lot," Evening Star, Apr. 18, 1908, sec. 3, p. 7, col. 1.

46. Clarence R. Wilson to Col. Clarence S. Ridley, Mar 29, 1918, No. 31/350, Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, RG 42, NAB.

47. Ibid.

48. Press Release, Apr. 10, 1946, File: White House Easter Egg Roll, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, MO.

49. "At the White House," Washington Post, Apr. 7, 1885, p. 3, col. 3.

50. Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52. "Rolling Easter Eggs," Washington Post, Apr. 3, 1888, p. 3, col. 2.

53. "Fun for Little Folks," Washington Post, Apr. 16, 1895, p. 2, col. 4.

54. "Rolling Easter Eggs," Washington Post, Apr. 3, 1888, p. 3, col. 2.

55. "Easter Monday Fete," Evening Star, Apr. 16, 1900, p. 3, col. 2.

56. "Annual Egg Rolling," Evening Star, Mar. 31, 1902, p. 12, col. 3.

57. Ibid.

58. "Children In Charge," Evening Star, Apr. 16, 1906, p. 3, col. 2.

59. "White House Egg Rolling Attracts Record Attendance," Evening Star, Apr. 2, 1934, p. A1, col. 2.

60. Ibid.

61. Ishbel Ross, Grace Coolidge and Her Era (1962) p. 114.

62. Washington went off "ball time" on December 16, 1939.

63. Sylvia Jukes Morris, Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady (1980) p. 266.

64. Edith Bolling Wilson, My Memoir (1938) p. 98.

65. "When Push Came To Shove The Eggs Rolled," Washington Post, Apr. 12, 1977, p. B1, col. 1.

Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.