On April 21, 1876, Congress passed the Turf Protection Law . . . or more formally, “An act to protect the public property, turf and grass of the Capitol Grounds from injury.” The act stipulated that “it shall be the duty of the Capitol police hereafter to prevent any portion of the Capitol grounds and terraces from being used as play-grounds or otherwise, so far as may be necessary to protect the public property, turf and grass from destruction or injury.”
Pray tell why? Apparently Easter Monday egg rolling on the capitol grounds had grown to unsustainable numbers!
Easter Monday had become the favorite day of the year of children in the District of Columbia. On April 6 1874, the Washington, D.C. newspaper, The Daily Critic, estimated that 1,000 children were “in the Capitol and President’s Grounds, this afternoon, indulging in the amusement of egg rolling.” Two years later, the city’s Daily National Republican estimated there were at least 5,000 “lads and lassies, aye, and many older heads congregated to witness the pranks and capers of the boys and girls in rolling the eggs from the crest of the hill to the lawn below.” They also had their fun “at the president’s grounds and other convenient places.” Perhaps it was that day that prompted the Capitol grounds ban before April drew to a close.
Easter 1877 was a rainy day In Washington and there were no egg-rolling events. An 1878 news brief in the Washington Post a short time before Easter Monday noted that Capitol police would be enforcing the ban, but President Rutherford B. Hayes saved the day. He approved the use of the White House lawn for egg rolling that year—and is credited with establishing the event as it has become today—only today there will be no egg rolling at the White House due to the CORVID-19 pandemic.
Fannie B. Ward described the importance of Easter Monday in Washington in an April 1879 syndicated news article, so either the Capitol loosened its restraint or Ward recalled earlier times. Her description nonetheless captures the extent of the tradition’s popularity.
Easter Monday in the District of Columbia is a grand gala day for the little folk, what Thanksgiving is in New England or the Fourth of July in the West; schools are closed upon that day, and from sunrise to sunset thousands of children throng the hill upon which the Capitol stands, and the slopes and terraces of the White-House, all intent upon egg-rolling or egg-butting. Many bring their dinners and picnic on the springing grass—with hard-boiled eggs for every course; and there is no cessation of the sport till the purple gloaming falls, and “the blankets of the dark” shuts off the scene.
Nearly one hundred years later, Hugh Morton was on the White House lawn attending the Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 11 1977. The Grandfather Mountain Cloggers were part of the day’s celebration, which Morton photographed. There are six slides 35mm color slides in the collection, five of which are in the online collection. Two are a bit unusual: they depict Lillian Gordy Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s mother, seated in a wheelchair while watching the festivities from a White House balcony.