1889: What the White House Easter Egg Roll Looked Like

“A picture of domestic happiness which has never been equaled in the history of the venerable white pile,” reported The Washington Post of the event.

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Brian Resnick
April 18, 2014, 9:08 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Ben­jamin Har­ris­on had a crisis. A child had let go of a bal­loon in the White House, dur­ing the East­er Egg roll on April 22, 1889. And we all know how hard it can be to get a bal­loon down from the corner of a ceil­ing, lest deal with the child sud­denly stripped of a most prized and buoy­ant plaything. The guests no­ticed. “Here it re­mained dur­ing the af­ter­noon, and was sub­ject of uni­ver­sal com­ment as to the best means to be re­sor­ted to in or­der to get it down again,” a Wash­ing­ton Post re­port­er wrote of the day’s event.

The White House East­er Egg Roll as we cel­eb­rate it today began in 1878, dur­ing the Ruther­ford B. Hayes ad­min­is­tra­tion. It was par­tially in re­sponse to an 1876 con­gres­sion­al ban “to pre­vent any por­tion of the Cap­it­ol grounds and ter­races from be­ing used as play-grounds or oth­er­wise.” Hayes, con­cerned for the chil­dren of the Dis­trict of Columbia, in­vited them over to his house, the White House, to play without the fear of ar­rest.

Thir­teen years later, Hayes’s tra­di­tion lived on, and was cap­tured on cam­era. The fol­low­ing are the old­est pho­tos the Lib­rary of Con­gress has of the egg roll in their on­line archives. In­ter­spersed are se­lec­tions from The Wash­ing­ton Post write-up of the event, penned in that great old-timey news­pa­per gran­di­ose style. Ac­cord­ing to the au­thor the East­er egg roll of 1889 was “a pic­ture of do­mest­ic hap­pi­ness which has nev­er been equaled in the his­tory of the ven­er­able white pile.”

(Library of Congress) National Journal

Among the in­cid­ents of the day was the ar­rival of a toy pony and car­riage for the use of Ben­jamin Har­ris­on McK­ee, and which was set up on the por­tico by the ex­press­man who brought the large box con­tain­ing it to the White House. The Pres­id­ent placed his grand­son care­fully in the car­riage, and sim­ul­tan­eously the caps were with­drawn from half a dozen cam­er­as, and the smil­ing face of the White House pet was caught by the in­stant­an­eous pho­to­graph­ic pro­cess.

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Out­side the in­clos­ure venders of fruits, pea­nuts and the ir­re­press­ible hokey pokey ice-cream man piled a thriv­ing trade, and their wares soon formed a con­glom­er­ate mass with thou­sands of bright hued East­er eggs, in as many youth­ful stom­achs.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

A mod­er­ate es­tim­ate place the num­ber of par­ti­cipants in the mer­ry­mak­ing at 10,000, of which fully three-fourths were chil­dren. Not an ac­ci­dent oc­curred to mar the pleas­ures of the day, and when the Mar­ine Band con­cluded a med­ley of pat­ri­ot­ic se­lec­tions, it gave the sig­nal that an­oth­er frol­ic had passes in­to his­tory, and tired moth­ers and maids hur­ried home­ward with their charges, who were pretty well ex­hausted with their day’s sport.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

A toy bal­loon be­came dis­en­gaged from the hand of one of the Pres­id­ent’s youth­ful callers and rap­idly as­cen­ded to the ceil­ing. Here it re­mained dur­ing the af­ter­noon, and was sub­ject of uni­ver­sal com­ment as to the best means to be re­sor­ted to in or­der to get it down again.

After the guests had de­par­ted Jerry, the colored at­tend­ant, solved the prob­lem by means of a step lad­der and a long handled brush, and the bal­loon will be cher­ished at the white house as a rel­ic of a mem­or­able East­er Monday.

(Library of Congress) Library of Congress
(Library of Congress) Library of Congress

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