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.”
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 The President placed his grandson carefully in the carriage, and simultaneously the caps were withdrawn from half a dozen cameras, and the smiling face of the White House pet was caught by the instantaneous photographic process.
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.
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.
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.