White House Easter Egg Roll brings rich history

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That changed under President Obama and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama.

For the first time last year — the Obamas’ first in the White House — tickets were distributed through an online lottery.

The White House said it made the change to give more families from across the country a chance to participate in what is the longest annual presidential tradition on the South Lawn. It also meant people now could apply for tickets from the comfort of their homes.

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Public access to the South Lawn is as rare as sightings of the Easter Bunny.

The White House grounds are open to the average public just two weekends a year, for the spring and fall garden tours. It is open again for the Easter Egg Roll, which is the only event during which people get to walk across the meticulously tended South Lawn.

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It is the White House Easter Egg Roll, but the fun and games did not originate at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, the presidential address.

The West Front of the Capitol has a steep, grassy slope that made an ideal venue for egg rolling, and children for years took their colored eggs and rolled them down the hill there on Easter Monday.

After putting up with noisy children and watching them trample the grass, members of Congress decided they had had enough. A bill signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876 banned such activity to prevent “injury” to the Capitol grounds and grass.

In 1877, it rained so hard that the egg roll was canceled, so the Capitol Police did not have to enforce the new law.

The officers would have no such luck the following year, however, and had to chase away basket-toting egg rollers as they arrived at the Capitol.

“Eggsasperated” egg rollers then headed west on Pennsylvania Avenue in search of an alternate site after word spread for them to go to the White House, according to the White House Historical Association.

As the story goes, President Rutherford B. Hayes was out for his daily walk a few days before Easter in 1878 when a boy approached and asked Hayes if he would let them roll eggs at the White House. The still-new president was not familiar with the tradition, partly because the event was rained out his first year in office, in 1877.

Hayes told the boy he would check with his staff. Back at the White House, the president inquired about egg rolling. He instructed the staff to let the kids through the gates if they showed up on Easter Monday and not to make a fuss.

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