Andrew Johnson was the first president to have an Easter Egg hunt at the White House, but Rutherford B. Hayes is the one who rescued and institutionalized the event – 137 years ago today, on April 22, 1878.
The Easter Egg Rolls (as they were then called) were actually held on Easter Monday, not Easter Sunday – and they were held on Capitol Hill. Families would gather for picnics and the kids would merrily tear about, rolling (and presumably hunting for) Easter eggs.
But then….a bunch of grumpy Grinchy congressmen decided that they didn’t want to blow any of their maintenance budget on repairing a lawn torn up by giggling, happy kids and basically passed a law that said, “not in my House (of Representatives).
No kidding – we couldn’t make this up. In a moment of financial prudence (read: total Grinch-ery), to keep kids from playing on the lawn, Congress passed a law that prevented “any portion of the Capitol grounds and terraces from being used as playgrounds.” By definition, since this law passed both houses of Congress, a majority of Congressmen in 1878 actually proved themselves to be grinch-worthy.
1877 brought heavy rains so the hunt was cancelled – but in 1878, the grumple-stilskins in Congress were determined to keep those meddling kids away from their grass and then gave notice that the Lawn Law would be enforced. Really.
One of the great things about kids is that they’re typically not shy about asking for what they want. While Rutherford B. Hayes, was out taking his daily afternoon walk around Washington (my how times were different then), the kids went straight up t him and told him of their plight – and asked if they could have the Easter Egg Hunt on the White House South Lawn.
The good-humored President actually had no idea what they were talking about – but promised to follow up on it with his staff. And he DID. President Hayes, checked with his staff and learned about the threatened cancelling of the D.C. tradition. He then issued an official order that if any children showed up on Easter Monday to Egg Roll, they should be allowed to do so.
Word spread quickly – so even those kids who showed up on Capitol Hill soon learned about the venue upgrade. “Egg Rolls,” “Egg Hunts,” “Egg Picking,” “Egg Ball,” “Toss and Catch,” and “Egg Croquet” at the White House!
Keeping the tradition alive, there’s an Easter Egg Hunt at the White House every year… and also of course at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center.