Yesterday was Easter Monday and I spent it working at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
An Easter Egg Roll is a children’s game that involves rolling a hard boiled egg on the ground with a spoon, as fast as you can, toward a finish line. The first one to cross the line wins. It was apparently a popular game in the late 19th century (so kids, don’t ever let the old folks tell you that games were better pre-Nintendo) and it was President Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1878, who decided to allow children onto the green and vast White House lawn for some rolling. Since then — with the exception of the World War years — the President has sponsored an annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House grounds.
Several years ago, when I worked for a US Senator, we Congressional staffers were asked if we wanted to be White House volunteers. Specifically, they wanted people to volunteer to work at the White House Easter Egg Roll. I declined. I wanted to be a White House dinner guest, not a flunky at a children’s event. I mean, if my fellow travel blogger, Andrew Petcher, can be invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, surely a Presidential invitation was on its way to me.
So I waited for my dinner invitation. I waited through the Reagan administration, and Bush 41 and 43, and Clinton, and Obama. Inexplicably, it never came (I’m sure it got lost in the post, like my invitation to the wedding of Prince William). So this year, I broke down, embraced my inner flunky, and volunteered to work the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Above are the lil’ darlings lined up to roll their eggs.
The White House Easter Egg Roll is a ticketed event. Every February, Americans are invited to submit an Egg Roll application and from the hundreds of thousands of applications, the White House chooses about 35,000 by lottery. It’s those lucky 35,000 (plus a few more with insider connections) who get tickets to the egg roll, held on the South Lawn of the White House each Easter Monday.
I was nowhere near the South Lawn yesterday. My station was about a half a mile away, in an area called “The Ellipse,” an egg-shaped green space administered by the National Park Service. It was the staging area for all of the (non-VIP) Egg Roll attendees and I was part of crowd control. Or “Line Maintenance,” as the National Park Service called it.
The way that the crowd is controlled at the egg roll is that the attendees are divided into five, uneven groups: A through E. Each group is brought in at a different time, starting with Group A at 8:30 am, and each group has about two hours before they’re swept out of the South Lawn and the next group files in.
Okay. So it isn’t exactly a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
The President and his family come out to the lawn only once during the day (I naively thought they wandered in and out all day) and the people who got to see them this year were Group B. They were the late morning group. They were also a group who did not get their tickets through the lottery. They’re the families of members of Congress, and specially chosen school groups and scout troops. The chances that regular people who get their tickets through the lottery will get to see the President or any member of the First Family are slim. This year, Group D, in late afternoon, got lucky, because Michelle Obama went out to run a race with the children around 4:00.
My job was easy: make sure that the attendees got into the correct lines. From holding area lines, they went on to the ticket lines, where their tickets were checked and wrist bands handed out. Then they got into a third line that took them through security. That was staffed by the Secret Service, so you know that they weren’t fooling around. Then they got to an area with food and port-a-potties and games. They could play around there or go straight to another line, which took them the final leg onto the White House grounds.
I had a couple of snarky people who complained about how far they had to walk, but most of the people were very pleasant. And the children were as cute as cute could be, many in their Easter best. There were a surprising number of little boys in pastel knickers, suspenders and driving caps, looking like they had stepped out of a 1920s photo.
An unexpected (by me, at least) perk of volunteering was that after our shift ended, we got to go to the South Lawn to watch the festivities. That’s how I got the photos. The Egg Roll has grown into much more than an egg roll: there were egg hunts and egg coloring stations, food and drink, costumed characters, and a stage where various musical acts (including Beyonce, yesterday) played. And I got as close as I’ll ever be to the back door of the White House.
Now that I think about it, though, I was at a cocktail party at the White House once, about 30 years ago, courtesy of my History Touring companion Patricia. Ronald Reagan was president and Edwin Meese was his Chief of Staff. Ed Meese had been dean of the University of San Diego law school before he’d joined the Reagan administration. Patricia had spent one year as an undergrad at USD but that one year was apparently enough to warrant an invitation when Ed Meese decided to hold a University of San Diego fund raiser at the White House. And I got to be her escort. So not only do I owe her for letting me wear her only coat during our first winter in DC, but I owe her for my only White House insider experience.