April 25, 2011
Not Quite All About Eggs
The Library of Congress
and White House Historical Association
have archives of amazing photographs of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, a tradition which everyone seems to think began with Dolley Madison (like every social tradition in DC) but is verified to have occurred every year since 1878 (with breaks during the First and Second World Wars) on the south lawn. Apparently President Rutherford B. Hayes gave refuge to a bunch of Washington children who had been banished from playing their customary Easter games on the capitol lawn, and the tradition began. The event grew bigger and bigger with each year, and by the 1890s it featured crowds (and consequential crowd control measures), music, and official press releases and photographs. And so we have our documentary and visual record. There are two groups of photographs below, one set from the later nineteenth century and another from the 1920s. These were official photographs, taken by official White House photographers, and as you can see, they contain a message of inclusion and integration while at the same time giving us an intimate view of a familiar event a century ago, more and less.
First, one photograph from 1889 and two from 1898. None of the children in the photographs below are identified; I can only image that the small Asian child whom everyone is beholding is the son of some visiting dignitary or diplomat.
Next, a group of photographs from the 1920s. Apparently this is when the First Families started getting really involved in the event. You can see Grace Coolidge below, with her dogs in 1925 and her pet racoon Rebecca two years later. Great hats all arround, both in 1890s and the 1920s.
Jump forward (and northward) to another neoclassical building with an Easter tradition. The Salem Athenaeum, a private membership library with a collection that dates back to the eighteenth century, holds a traditional easter egg hunt for its littlest members on the day before Easter. I was hoping to showcase lots of cute Easter-outfitted children hunting for eggs in the beautiful backyard garden of the Athenaeum, but as everyone in New England knows, this past Saturday was a cold, rainy day. After a quick hunt by some hearty souls, most of the festivities were moved indoors, and I spent most of the time there perusing the current Mark Twain exhibition.
The "new" Salem Athenaeum in the 1920s