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tv   Jonathan Pliska The White House Easter Egg Roll  CSPAN  April 21, 2019 11:05am-11:31am EDT

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they faced and the legacies they loved -- left behind. 23,ill be on shelves april but you can preorder your copy of the hardcover or e-book today presidents.rg/the >> the first white house easter egg role was in 1878 hosted by president rutherford b hayes. president trump and first lady melania trump host this year's easter egg role on monday. next, landscape historian jonathan pless got on the history. we talked with him across from the white house on lafayette square decatur house. the home of the white house historical association published his book.
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>> are the eggs real eggs? >> sometimes. they use wooden eggs. >> they are collectibles. >> definitely. but there are traditionally some real eggs used. in the past, it was all real eggs. >> and who gets to go? >> anybody can go, but you need to submit your request online in advance, and then a lucky lottery winner get to go over
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and, the other thing is you need to have a small child with you, otherwise -- you know it's an event for the kids and otherwise you would have a lot of adults like me wanting to go. >> well, your book really details the interesting history. you suggest the very earliest known connection goes back as far as dolly madison. >> there is a long-standing oral history that goes back to the 19th century the dolly madison was involved in the first easter egg roll in washington, d.c. and that was around 1810 on the u.s. capitol grounds. it is said it was her idea. her brainchild. >> do we know where an egg roll tradition came from? some place in our culture? >> it comes from older traditions in england and also the european continental.
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>> for its first number of years was on capitol grounds. tell me that part of its history. >> beginning in about 1810 it was held on the capitol grounds and then up through 1876 it stayed there and grew more and more popular as the years went on. it also got more messy. after the 1876 event, congress actually passed a bill outlawing easter egg rolling on the capitol grounds. >> in fact, little kids would like this, but you said the byproduct could have been some really stinky time. >> absolutely. once the white house took over in 1878, there was an interlude of one year where there was no egg roll. but much like today, it was raining cats and dogs and nobody wanted to roll eggs outside anyway in 1877. once it moved to the white house grounds, you could smell the white house easter egg roll before he can see it. >> if they did not find some of
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the eggs and hard-boiled eggs were left, that created a problem. >> that was the problem. and it was something that even happened in the 20th century. there was one year in the nixon administration where they decided to use a lot more real eggs and a few got misplaced shall we say for it while and that was the last time he did that. >> why did president hayes and his family decide they wanted to take over this tradition? >> the president was out on his daily walk and some schoolchildren covered him and said we have no place to roll our eggs now. he said that is odd. why don't you just come back with me and you can roll eggs on the white house grounds? a couple hundred children did that first year in 1878. >> as times go by, you tell this
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story. who did the illustrations? >> john hutton. >> what were you trying to achieve? >> what we were trying to do is have a book that was both educational and fun. and accessible to a wide variety of readers as we could. we'd like to be a book that children can read. also especially for younger children, that hopefully the parents will read to the children. but it will be interesting for the parents, too. >> one of your specialties is actually garden history and landscape history. and you write in the book of the south lawn is perfect for egg rolling. what about it makes it perfect? >> there are artificial hills known as the mounds. they are absolutely perfect for rolling children -- rolling eggs as well as rolling children. the kids generally tumble down.
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>> it is not a steep hill. >> it is. and it's a lot of fun very it's -- a lot of fun. it's pretty good for sledding in the winter. >> as presidents went along, virtually ever president cap the -- continued the tradition. one of the first things to be added was the marine van band. -- the marine band. >> it was a secret unveiling. the children were showing up and going what is this all about. what's going on? president harrison and his young grandson walked out and the marine band struck up a number and all the children cheered. music has been integral part of the easter egg roll ever since and the marine band is still involved. >> along with the legendary
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conductor, john philip sousa. what was his role? >> to be the leader. including his own composition from time to time. stars and stripes forever being the most well-known as well as a variety of popular music. >> as you were describing to harrison's walking out, i can envision our current president walking out with grandchildren. history and tradition really continues. >> absolutely and that is the beauty of the easter egg roll. it's one of the oldest and most deeply loved traditions. not just at the white house, but in all of washington. the more things change, the more they stay the same. >> presidents who have had children, you tell a number of stories along the way of children being involved. what are some of your favorite presidential children or grandchildren stories? >> i very much love this story of president carter and his -- both his children and his
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grandchildren being there when they brought in animals for the easter egg roll. it wasn't -- there were bunnies, but it was also they brought in, among other things, an enormous steer and that was a big wow moment that there was this animal in the white house grounds. it was a petting zoo really. >> there are other stories about animals being involved. i remember one about the president didn't show up, but their dog laddie showed up. what was that about? >> that was the harding's and during one of the years the president and first lady were not in attendance and that does happen from time to time. and in their stead, he presided over the day and he had his own special throne made and the dog handler who was known as the master of the hounds at the
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time, had a very high profile role in that, as well. there is a wonderful picture of this included in the book. >> laddie boy, as we have learned through our presidential history was really the first dog celebrity in the white house. the harding's really understood the connection between pets and the public. what did you learn about that? >> he was arguably more famous than the president at the time. it wasn't just him for instance. the next president, the coolidge's, they had a raccoon named rebecca and she was originally supposed to be thanksgiving dinner for the white house. she was sent from the previous thanksgiving from mississippi to be made to food. but she was tame. mrs. coolidge completely fell in love with her and she was very much involved in the easter egg rolls, too.
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>> the president would bring the pets and the password mingle -- and that pets would mingle with the children and the whole thing continued to gel. were the newspapers more info -- always with this? it helps with the president's image. and later on there was the first radio broadcast. when did that happen? >> the first radio broadcast was done by the hoovers. but neither the president nor first lady actually spoke. the marine band played their music. >> that would have been 1928, 1929? >> yes. >> what would a radio broadcast really be like? >> it was mostly the marine band 's music and probably laughing kids in the background. one of thomas edison's early videos actually is of the easter egg roll and it's available from the library of congress and it is online. i would encourage everybody.
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>> you must have had a lot of fun looking at pictures and videos over the years. where did you do your research? >> the library of congress, the national archives come to good -- national archives, the good folks of the national park service and white historical association. also online newspapers are , wonderful, especially for something like the easter egg roll. it is very easy to find the news coverage. and there always was news coverage. >> do you know the earliest photographs were? >> the earliest would be from around the 1870's and they show children of all ages in period attire. it looks more like sunday fineries than what we would expect current children to be wearing. begich gowns, suits and ties sometimes three-piece suits and , ties. >> on little children. >> little children. >> everybody was very formal going to the white house.
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>> yes, but only in their attire. it was a big deal but it was also a time to have fun. like i said, kids were rolling down hills in the cleveland administration in addition to the easter egg roll and the races. there was egg croquet, egg baseball, and all manner of mass -- mess was happening on the grounds. and when the president invited the kids inside the east room to shake their hands. there are famous stories of tracking egg on the carpet. >> where they at least hard-boiled? >> yes. [laughter] >> i wonder where all those egg boils were going on. we are talking about thousands of eggs at any given time. were they mostly prepared by the white house kitchen? >> they were. >> were they dyed? >> yes, they would have been dyed. in 1923 there was an extra
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shipment of 10,000 eggs from kansas at the last minute because the president was concerned there wouldn't be enough. >> world war i changed history of this. because of concerns about food shortages. what happened during world war i? >> the easter egg roll was suspended for the first time in its history. during world war i. the very first year america was involved in the conflict it was relocated to the washington monument grounds. but after that, the grounds stayed closed and there weren't any eggrolls anywhere because they wanted to send the message that it was important to conserve food and resources and that we should be thinking of the soldiers overseas. >> how did it get restarted? >> it got restarted simply because after the end of the war there was continued rationing afterwards. people were ready to have a good time again and the easter egg roll is very much a good time. >> so then it continued to reach
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-- through each president until world war ii. what happened then? >> pretty much the same thing. it just needed to be stopped because of the security concerns over world war ii and to save food and resources. and that continued for a few years after world war ii as well while america was still working. still working to basically rebuilt europe. and then after that, president truman renovated the white house. the famous truman renovation. the entire grounds begin one -- became one massive construction site. >> i want to stay with the roosevelt for just a second ago they were an office for such a long time. the longest number of years for the easter egg roll. they had lots of kids. >> it was a good time. fdr was not known to make too big of an appearance because he was concealing his disability. but eleanor roosevelt was there,
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she was very much the leader of the easter egg roll during that time. she's the first lady or president to speak live directly from the easter egg roll on the radio. and usually the weather was very good. there was one year where was not so good. it was unnaturally very cold and only about 5000 kids showed up, which is really tiny for something like this. and she more or less discouraged -- urged everyone run around, have fun and stay warm. >> talking about presidents and war, tell me what happened during the bush administration when the iraq war was going on? >> the president and first lady had a great idea that in order to remind everyone that even on the happiest occasions, we need to remember the sacrifice our active-duty members are making great they had yellow for the
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-- had all of the eggs died yellow for the iraq war. >> the yellow ribbon concept. >> support our troops. then the second bush administration did something similar. they actually closed the grounds down for one year for the easter egg roll and barred the general public and made a special event for active-duty and reserve military members and their family. then it went back to being open to the general public the year after. but it was a really big gesture -- heartfelt gesture of support. >> let's go back to the truman years. they had to move out of the white house. the white house was completely torn apart from renovations. how many years was it suspended and did they do anything for children at that time? >> it was suspended for all eight years of truman's presidency and there were other easter egg rolls. smaller, less formal affairs. even neighborhood events held elsewhere in the capital.
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there was one year it was temporarily relocated to the capitol grounds. >> and they messed up the lawn again. >> they did. >> how much damage is there to the south lawn of the white house? >> the national park service , which is in charge of the care and management of the grounds and is one of the major folks that are involved with easter egg role, they do an amazing job. there is an incredible amount of set up and take down and clean up afterward. but within a day, you never know. >> we were talking a presidents -- talking about presidents that brought animals. the kennedy's did that. what was their story? >> the kennedys were never actually in attendance at the white house easter egg roll and neither were the johnson's or nixon's. that did not stop the kids in the kennedy years from wanting ponies andkennedy
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you want to play on the swing set and meet the kennedy kids. the policeman providing security had to explain that caroline and john john were not there to meet them but they send their regrets and the pony. >> i'm sure a lot of photos exist of the pony. you told us the story of the petting zoo from the corridors. let's move forward to the reagan administration. there's some wonderful personal connection between nancy reagan and the white house easter egg roll. >> she attended the easter egg roll as a small child. >> no kidding. she must've been very keen. >> the reagans were the family that introduce the commemorative eggs. which is not the official white house keepsake. they brought the easter egg roll into a modern era by introducing
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all manner of games and activities, bringing in costumed superheroes and cartoon characters. it became a full day event. >> what are the hours? >> the hours are from 9:00 a.m. until dark. >> it lasts all day. >> there are ticketed times. you only alone -- you are only allowed on the grounds for a limited time. accommodated -- accommodate as many as possible. tickets were added in the 20th century and were needed because otherwise it was just a too big -- just too big of an event. back in 1905, there was a story about a child who by this point you needed an adult companion to bring you onto the grounds and an adult could not come onto the
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grounds that a child. kids being smarter than adults a lot of the times, started essentially buying out, buying -- having parents buy their way on the grounds with them. childe a story of the made a dime at a time doing that. >> no kidding. >> absolutely. >> we were talking about media progression. when did the white house easter egg roll get live streamed? >> that was in the clinton administration in the 1990's. >> how has social media changed it? i'm sure people are sending pictures. >> absolutely. there are so many things going on from games to easter egg roles. and with the benefit of social media can see that in real time instead of having to wait even just a few hours for the internet article to come up it's . it's instantaneous.
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>> amplifying the event. i wonder if any countries around the world and their leaders have also replicated the easter egg roll since it worked so well in the united states. >> i don't know, but i know there are some presidential sites that host their own easter egg roll every year. i was in ohio for a family birthday and the james a garfield national historic site is hosting one this year. we will probably get some snow. >> let's talk about the most recent president. two terms of the obama administration. they had young children. how did the obamas host the white house easter egg hunt? >> the president played basketball. he is a huge fan of basketball. he plays on the white house basketball court. the first lady michelle obama , really throughout her time was interested in promoting active, healthy lifestyle through good nutrition and exercise.
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she started something called the let's move campaign to get kids to do that more readily. they included that in the easter egg roll during their years , they had an obstacle course and other fun activities. >> the most current president, the trump family, they have one easter egg roll so far. what have you observed so far about how they are hosting it? >> a little bit of a smaller sample size but they have taken an active involvement in the day's activities. the president and first lady started the first easter egg roll by blowing on whistles. they were there to greet the winners of that particular race. and they have also been very active in childhood literacy by by using his special book nook where authors will come in and read and enjoy time with the children. >> when you worked on this book together, we have worked her way
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-- our way through the various history and presidents. what did you aim for and how did you work with mr. hutton on the illustrations? what was the feel you are trying to get? who do you envision your readers to be? >> the readership we hope is literally everyone. that's why it is subtitled a history for all ages. we would like it to appeal to younger readers obviously but we would like it to appeal to parents and adults in general. especially for young children we , are hoping parents will read the book with their children and read it to them. and even the youngest children can enjoy the illustrations. as far as how john hutton and i worked together, he is the artistic genius. i can't even draw stick figures. but i had some ideas about what we wanted to do. we wanted to mention each presidential administration.
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and i kind of put some storyboards together and i think we can make this look like this. it was always very basic and he turned it into this amazing, amazing book. >> each illustration is a small work of art throughout the book. so as we close on this, what do you think people learn about american presidents, american culture through the white house easter egg roll? >> history can and should be fun. no matter what you think of any given president, there is always a good time to be had. >> and that presidents and children have gone together since the first days of our republic. >> and animals. >> thank you for telling us the long history of american society at the easter egg roll. >> it has been my pleasure.
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