The First Family welcomed a record 30,000 people to the South Lawn for the 133rd White House Easter Egg Roll.
By John Arundel
In a tradition two-thirds as old as the Republic, the First Family of truly epic Easter gatherings welcomed a record 30,000 people to their backlawn Monday for the 133rd White House Easter Egg Roll.
Embracing this year’s theme of “Get Up Go!” — that they did as waves of kiddies clutching Easter baskets and icy cold VitaminWaters distributed at the gate poured onto the South Lawn of The White House to celebrate Sunday’s religious holiday and to take part in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, a national effort to combat childhood obesity.
Highlighted by blue skies, truly amazing performances, heart-pumping activities and the massive consumption of fresh apples and oranges from Whole Foods, the event was characterized as “a huge success,” by Ellie Shafer, director of The White House Visitors Office.
Shafer and her team spent the better part of a year organizing the sponsors, entertainers and activities, as well as marshalling the resources of 1,200 White House volunteers. “It’s the biggest, best attended event the White House puts on every year,” she said.
President Barack Obama opened the 2011 Easter Egg Roll by cheering on the first kids rolling their eggs to the finish line, before heading to the White House Tennis Courts where he hit tennis balls and shot hoops with the Harlem Globetrotters during a sports clinic set up.
Later, he headed to the Storytime Stage where he read Maurice Sendak’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are” to an energized group of youngsters, many of whom showed remarkable patience after waiting nearly an hour on an unseasonably hot day to pass through security.
Talk show host Kelly Ripa and her husband Mark Consuelos read “Robot Zot!” by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon, while Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi read “Dream Big Little Pig,” and actress Geena Davis read “When Dinosaurs Came with Everything” by Elise Broach. The actor John Lithgow read from his books, and author John Bemelmans Marciano read his grandfather’s book the classic children’s story “Madeleine.”
Despite the heat, the children listened with rapt attention.
On the kids cooking stage, the First Lady led White House chefs Bill Yosses and Rissa Pagsibigan and celebrity chefs Al Roker, Art Smith, Carla Hall, Spike Mendelsohn, Howard Helmer and Jacques Pepin in heart-friendly cooking classes, in which she implored the youngsters to “Play with your food!”
President Obama also briefly joined the singers Colbie Caillat and Willow Smith on the Rockin Egg Roll Stage, which hosted a parade of top artists during the day, including Greyson Chance, Mindless Behavior, Little Beats and DJ WillyWow. Fresh FM’s Tommy McFly served as the day’s honorary emcee. The United States Marine Corps Band also performed.
In the Eggtivity Zone, professional players and coaches from pro sports teams taught kids how to play sports and show kids easy and fun ways to stay active and fit. Athletes participating included Olympic stars Tyson Gay and Bryan Clay; Lorenzo Alexander with the NFL; DC United’s Bryan Namoff, Josh Wolff and Ben Olsen; the Washington Nationals Jim Riggleman, Adam Laroche and Ryan Zimmerman; along with Sean Casey and others.
On the White House tennis courts, Chris Evert, Katrina Adams, Brian Vahaly, Mal Washington, Patrick Monroe and Chanda Rubin gave free lessons, with the Washington Kastles Mascots there to cheer them on.
This year’s Easter Egg Roll was the biggest ever, Shafer said, with 205,000 tickets requested through an online public lottery system, and 30,000 tickets from all 50 states and D.C. distributed.
A total of 83,00 wooden souvenir wooden eggs in four pastel colors were produced this year, produced through a process of wood turning and barrel dying. Each one included the stamped signatures of the President and First Lady. Shafer said all of the eggs were Made in the USA and were FSC-certified, U.S. hardwood.
Things like that matter when doing an event at The White House.
About 14,500 hard-boiled and dyed eggs were used between the egg roll and the egg hunt, and “chirping eggs” were available for visually impaired children.
The Easter Egg Roll is a hallowed White House tradition dating back to 1878 and the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, but records exist of informal egg rolling events as early as Abraham Lincoln’s administration.
After the Civil War, egg rolling often took place on the Capitol building’s grounds. But by 1876, members of Congress grew weary of the torn up grounds and rowdy crowds and passed a law prohibiting the use of the Capitol Grounds as a play area.
On Easter day in 1878, when the ban on egg rolling at the Capitol went into effect, some claim that President Hayes saw tearful children while riding by the Capitol Grounds in his carriage and invited them to roll their eggs on the White House lawn.
It has been held at the White House every year except during World War I, World War II and the Truman Renovation of the White House, when it was moved to other Washington locations or cancelled.
President Ronald Reagan was the first President to hide autographed eggs for children to find in the Egg Hunt, and President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were the first to include the White House Easter Bunny in the festivities.
First Lady Grace Coolidge was known for her love of pets, but none were more famous than her pet raccoon, Rebecca, who made an appearance at the White House Easter Egg Roll in the 1920’s.
It was not until the presidency of George H.W. Bush that the Easter Bunny made its first appearance. A tradition was born, and set in stone.
“The event actually cannot officially be called the White House Easter Egg Roll until the opening ceremony, when the Easter Bunny makes an appearance every year,” Shafer said.