Soon, hordes of egg rollers will be running around the White House lawn, in a tradition that dates back more than 100 years. Children in seersucker suits, church dresses and all manner of gender-neutral Easter best will squeal with glee. Parents will beam with pride. The White House gardeners will weep for months.
Lucky for those gardeners, the White House also announced Thursday that free Spring Garden Tours are resuming on April 9 and April 10 — before the Easter Egg Roll. Timed tickets will be distributed by the National Park Service from a tent near the Ellipse Visitors Pavilion each morning of the tour starting at 8:30 a.m. Tours of the White House itself will resume on April 15.
Visitors will not be required to be vaccinated or wear a mask during the tours or the Easter Egg Roll, according to the White House that it will be providing masks when requested and asking anyone who feels sick to refrain from coming.
Chasing after hard-boiled eggs on a grand public lawn is a peculiar Washington, D.C., tradition created by children of the Reconstruction and Victorian eras. In the 1860s and ’70s, instead of playing stick ball or Mario Kart, they rolled eggs, chasing after them with wooden spoons. President Abraham Lincoln was the first to let kids roll eggs on the White House lawn, during informal parties in the 1860s. Then the event moved to the Capitol grounds, but was so destructive to the grass that Congress passed a law — the “Turf Protection Act” — kicking them out, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant.
But two years later, in 1878, when the children of Washington showed up at the White House and batted their sad eyes at President Rutherford B. Hayes, he relented and let them use the South Lawn of the White House. Egg tosses and egg croquet were part of the event then, leaving the lawn covered in smashed eggs, and, presumably, smelling just wonderful for months.
Adorable children breached the inside of the White House in 1880, leaving the East Room carpet covered in “freshly smashed hard-boiled egg and broken egg shells,” but thoroughly charming President Grover Cleveland, according to a Washington Post article at the time.
Adults could only attend with a child, so for a while, tiny hustlers would stand at the White House gates, offering to rent themselves to childless grown-ups.
The event was also attended predominantly by White children until 1953, when Mamie Eisenhower saw Black children peering longingly through the White House gates and insisted that Black families be allowed in the next year.
President’s have adapted the tradition to their time. President Obama would spend the day playing basketball, while Michelle Obama read to the children. Their egg rolls were filled with characters from PBS like Clifford the Big Red Dog, and star-studded; at one, Shaquille O’Neill read “Green Eggs and Ham.” At their final roll in 2016, Idina Menzel sang the Star Spangled Banner and kids got to shoot hoops and play tennis with professional athletes. Black families from around the country made special efforts to ensure their children got to be there.
But fun prevailed and Trump and first lady Melania Trump were on lawn with 21,000 parents and children — many of them invited military families — blowing whistles to start the egg rollers off, then helping children color cards for military service members. Celebrities were scant, but enthusiasm was not. At their second, which was the egg roll’s 140th anniversary, they gave out autographs, signing pictures and at least one “Make America Great Again” hat. President Trump also gave a speech talking about how great the economy was, while standing next to a giant bunny.
But soon, the White House lawn will once again be filled with the sounds of squealing kids and shattering shells. Yolks will be pounded into the grass, little hands will be covered in dye, and the President and first lady may once again hug a giant white bunny in a suit. The gardeners will weep, but they will be happy tears.