Thursday, March 21, 2013

Egg Roll tradition extends to Eldon

As many know now, Gothic Area Tourism of Eldon and the American Gothic House Center are teaming up for the first-ever Easter Egg Roll here at the Center on Saturday, March 30. Much preparation has been done for the event and volunteers and staff are looking forward to it—and hoping for a bright, sunny day. However, it does call for some reflection. Why roll Easter Eggs?

Since Easter traditionally is a religious holiday, rolling the eggs signifies rolling the stone away from Christ’s tomb. I had no idea of this symbolism and I diligently sat through years of Sunday School classes. I must have missed that somewhere. So it goes with bunnies and eggs in the broader sense as both represent, if not religiosity, a rebirth that accompanies spring. A very brief synopsis concerning the traditional Easter symbols can be found at Check it out.

All that information aside, the Egg Roll at the Center is modeled after the traditional Egg Roll at the White House, the big one in Washington D.C. Ever wonder how that tradition got started?

Evidently, according to the White House Historical Association, the beginnings are a bit murky as initially, in the 1870s, it was an impromptu affair held on the grounds of the United States Capitol. New landscaping in 1876 prompted Congress to pass a bill prohibiting the activity and President Grant passed it into law in 1876. Needless to say this didn’t set well with area children and adults. That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Congress passing a bill that annoys people. Good thing that doesn’t happen today.

In 1877—the first year the ban went into effect—rain cancelled all outdoor activities so it was moot. However, when egg rollers showed up in 1878 they were ejected by Capitol Hill police. Not to be deterred the children made a bee line for the White House in hopes the sitting president—Rutherford B. Hayes—would grant them access. He did and a tradition was born.

Subsequent presidents continued with the tradition with many putting their own spin on the Monday activity. Grover Cleveland invited the egg rollers, with their baskets of hard-boiled eggs, into the East Room for a reception. This turned out to be a bit messy as eggs fell from baskets and were ground into the carpeting thus ruining it. Cleveland wasn’t too upset, however, as when he returned to the White House later for another term he continued the tradition.

President Benjamin Harrison decided the affair needed some music and included the United States Marine Band, known as “The President’s Own,” directed by none other than John Philip Sousa, to perform.

As things go, the egg roll became quite an attraction and eventually measures were taken to limit the number of people on the South Lawn. A one grown child-one grown adults rule was instituted but this also didn’t go as expected and the rule was abused (imagine that). As it turned out kids would charge a fee to adults (unrelated to them) which would allow them through the gates and gain access to the South Lawn. The arrangement got so out of hand in 1939 Secret Service agents were stationed at the White House gates.

First Ladies have always been involved with the Easter Egg Roll, with many putting their own personal touch to it. In 1929, Lou Hoover introduced folk dancing. Pat Nixon introduced an Easter Egg hunt using real eggs, replacing the hard-boiled ones used in previous rolls and hunts. For obvious reasons this was a one-time only endeavor. Nixon also introduced the Easter Bunny to the event and he (or she) has become a fixture since.

First Lady Nixon was also the first to give something to each participant—a certificate of participation. By extension, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter handed out plastic eggs with personal notes inside. President Reagan and Nancy hosted an egg hunt with wooden eggs inscribed with signatures of notable people. Soon afterwards wooden eggs became the official souvenir of the Egg Roll with each inscribed with the signature of the President and the First Lady.

Since this year is the first year for the Easter Egg Roll at "our White House" there are not any traditions to uphold, rather it is time to make some. Be a part of tradition in the making by coming to the American Gothic House Center on Saturday, March 30 at 1 pm to roll eggs, receive a commemorative egg, play games, win prizes and see the Easter Bunny, just like at the real White House.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center

The American Gothic House Center strives to become financially independent through gift shop revenue, sponsorships, and by establishing an endowment fund. Funds raised in this campaign will be used to match the Iowa Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grant and will become endowment funds to support the Center's annual operations. As a subscriber to the weekly newsletter, you have already shown support for the American Gothic House Center. I invite you to strengthen your role in the valuable experience we provide the community by making a contribution to our fund drive. Click here to give your tax deductible gift, or head to our website for more information. Thank you to all who have donated so far!
        Our Mission: Integrating the puzzle pieces of American Gothic
300 American Gothic St | Eldon, IA 52554 | 641-652-3352 |

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