The long time tradition of gathering at Grandma’s for the annual Easter egg hunt is something everyone looks forward to each year. Especially if the hunt takes place at the annual White House Easter Monday Egg Roll.
The Monday after Easter (April 4) thousands of children will invade the South Lawn of the White House turning it into what appears to be an amusement park complete with food, fun, games, music and a ton of colored eggs. Children can roll eggs with spoons from one point to another in hopes of winning, and also receive a memento of the day. Wooden eggs commemorating the day are given to each child in attendance. As with any keepsake or memento, there are thousands of collectors standing on the outside of the White House gates waiting to get their hands on those collective wooden eggs.
Records indicate the first egg roll was started by Dolly Madison (wife of President James Madison) in 1814 and held on the grounds of the United States Capitol building.
However, it wasn’t until the mid 1870s the tradition gained such popularity and the grounds became known as the “children’s playground.” Unfortunately, the yearly activities took a toll on the Capitol grounds landscaping and in 1877 a law was enforced forbidding the use of the grounds for this special occasion. However, the Easter Monday traditions were carried on when President Rutherford B. Hayes opened the White House grounds to the children for the annual egg rolling event in 1878.
With the exception of bad weather conditions and World War I and World War II, the tradition has been carried on each year by successive Presidents and their families. The event has grown throughout the years and now offers an abundance of activities for the children as well as their families.
Research reveals Grover Cleveland was the first President to join children in the egg roll; and in 1889 the United States Marine Band, conducted by John Philip Sousa, performed a song written by Sousa called “Easter Monday on the White House Lawn.” Times have changed and music is still on the list of entertainment for the children. In fact, during the 2009 egg roll, The Jonas Brothers entertained thousands of children.
The 1930s brought about many changes for the annual event. The Secret Service had to regulate the gates and the White House adopted a new rule of only one adult allowed per child. During the Nixon administration, the first family introduced egg roll races using spoons from the White House kitchen. Nixon also introduced the one and only Easter egg hunt. Unfortunately, some eggs were left behind and the stench from those eggs was too much for the President and his family to endure. During the Nixon period, the White House Easter Bunny was introduced with a member of the First Lady’s staff dressed as the first human-sized bunny for the event.
It has been reported that some 53,000 people attended the egg roll in 1941, while today’s event generally brings in between 20,000 and 30,000 young enthusiasts. Tickets for this event are now distributed over the Internet and often leave many disappointed after having spent days and hours online trying to get their hands on tickets for their children. Each of the commemorative eggs is signed by the President and in many instances the First Lady. The year and a picture of the White House also are inscribed on the beautifully-colored eggs.
As mentioned earlier, these eggs are very collectible and Jeff Burnett, of Ashland, Ohio, is the only dealer in the country who sells the White House eggs.
An avid vendor of Scott Antique Markets in Ohio and Georgia, Burnett started his collection in 1994, which was the first year the glass egg was made available.
Why the White House egg? Burnett said with the tradition dating back to President Hayes and the history of the event, he was very intrigued and interested. “It’s the only real public function held free and open to the public on the White House lawn,” Burnett stated. “And it’s the biggest and only function the First Lady is in charge of,” he added.
With his impressive collection of over 150 White House eggs, Burnett receives a lot of interest in his colorful specimens.
Burnett has been dealing in political campaign items, World War I and II posters, autographs as well as the White House Easter eggs for 17 years, but started collecting when he was just eight years old. His son, Dave is following in his footsteps and said his favorite item is the eggs.
In 2007, Dave was a participant in the annual event. Burnett said quite often collectors will be on the outside of the White House gates waiting for children to come out with their wooden eggs and purchase them at a minimal amount and resell them online for hundreds or to other collectors.
Prices of the eggs range from $20 each up to $300 or $400 (for sets) and quite often can range into the thousands for sets. Burnett also sells other White House collectibles such as Christmas cards and an occasional White House ornament.
“There are actually quite a few White House collectibles out there, but I like the eggs most of all,” Burnett stated.
Burnett will again exhibit this spring at Scott’s Antique Markets.
For more on Scott Antique Markets visit the Web site www.scottantiquemarket.com or call 740-569-4912.
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