White House welcomes nearly 30K visitors for Easter tradition

First lady Melania Trump takes the reins of annual event

Nearly 30,000 people won free tickets to the 2018 White House Easter Egg Roll held on Monday, the second hosted by First Lady Melania Trump. April 2, 2018. Donna King, North State Journal

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, the 140th White House Easter Egg Roll drew nearly 30,000 visitors to the historic South Lawn of the White House.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were on hand, along with the Trump children and grandchildren to take party in the Easter Monday American tradition. The coveted free tickets were distributed by lottery online starting in February and assigned in two-hour blocks starting at 7:30 a.m. until after 4:30 p.m. The annual event is one of very few that opens the White House grounds to the public. For those who could not attend in person, the entire event was livestreamed by the White House.

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The crowds turned out in droves despite near-freezing weather in the morning and climbing no higher than 55 degrees by the afternoon. The cold didn’t stop bright smiles and cheerful greetings to each visitor from volunteers and employees of the National Park Service, the organization that helps run the event. Visitors waited in lines snaking through the ellipse in front of the White House, as each went through metal detectors and passed Secret Service officers with bomb-sniffing canines.

As visitors stood in line with most children dressed in Easter clothes and heavy coats, they also walked past large wooden eggs, one for each state, decorated with symbols of their state. N.C.’s egg was decorated by students at Underwood Elementary in Raleigh.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Maryland mother Angela Williams, there with her children Elizabeth, 7, and James, 4, dressed in matching spring coats. “I just want good pictures, good memories and no meltdowns. We’ve been in line for about an hour, but the music and the excitement has made it fun.”

More than 30,000 eggs, distributed for rolling and eating, were donated by the American Egg Board, which also sponsors the event each year. Coloring activities, cookie and egg decorating, and costumed characters entertained the families. In keeping with a tradition started in 1977, the organization presented Melania Trump with a commemorative rhinestone-encrusted glass egg that opens to reveal tiny ceramic figurines of the president and first lady. This year’s commemorative egg was called “Wings of Prayer” and designed by Texas artist Deborah Grassel, who said she was inspired by Melania Trump’s elegance.

“Easter would not be Easter without eggs,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Our nation’s egg farmers — and their incredible eggs — are a fixture on the South Lawn of the White House for this time-honored and unique American holiday tradition.”

One of the most popular activities at the South Lawn party was the reading nook, where Melania Trump, director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos read spring stories to the children and their parents.

The White House Easter Egg Roll is a premiere event organized by the office of the first lady each year, and this year was Melania Trump’s first as a full-time resident of the White House. Last year, she and son Barron were still living in New York until he finished the school year. White House insiders say she took an enthusiastic lead in planning the event this year and saw it as a public display of embracing her role of first lady.

Each first lady over the years has incorporated her own tastes and interests to the event. First lady Lou Hoover had part of the South Lawn roped off for folk dancing. First lady Pat Nixon introduced the traditional egg roll races. First lady Nancy Regan began the tradition of giving a keepsake wooden Easter egg to each visitor in 1981. Melania Trump added lawn bowling to the slate of activities this year.

But the event is all hands on deck. Last year, social media erupted when pictures circulated of former Trump White House spokesperson Sean Spicer in the Easter Bunny costume, dated from when Spicer was a staffer in the Bush 43 administration. This year, the identity of the bunny suit inhabitant was kept a closely guarded secret.

Making news at the family event this year was the appearance of Donald Trump Jr. with his wife, Vanessa, who filed for divorce last month after 13 years of marriage. The pair were there to celebrate the holiday with their three children, despite a high-profile separation in recent weeks. Onlookers reported that they chatted pleasantly and took a lot of pictures with their children.

According to the White House Historical Association, the egg roll dates back to 1878, under the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes, but historians believe that the egg roll started informally under Abraham Lincoln.

Hayes started it after a group of children from the D.C. area approached White House guards and asked to use the South Lawn for games on the Monday break from school. Ever since, the annual event has brought larger and larger crowds. In 1939, the Secret Service reportedly shut down a ring of kids sneaking adults into the event. Because of World War I and World War II, there were no egg rolls from 1917 to 1920 and from 1943 to 1945. Food conservation and construction on the White House prevented any celebrations from 1946 to 1952, as well. President Dwight D. Eisenhower reinstated the tradition in 1953.

To enter the lottery for the White House Easter Egg Roll 2019, the National Park Service recommends checking recreation.gov starting in early February.