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tv   Jonathan Pliska The White House Easter Egg Roll  CSPAN  April 21, 2019 8:39pm-9:05pm EDT

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police, washington and wife. two is real, dated eight september, 1779. that is three months before his death. , allmount vernon came seven archaeologists came, but the director held this document and said he has never seen anything like it. document it's signed by george washington, martha washington, george washington's secretary. it is signed by his stepson. it is signed by john anderson, his manager at his farm in mount vernon. ezra let's was the lease or -- lutz was the leaser of the property. that is a document that is signed by the key players at mount vernon that had never been seen.
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you are the first on camera to see this document. travel with us to historic sites, museums and archives. and sunday at 6:00 p.m. 10:00 p.m. eastern on our weekly series, american artifacts. this is american history tv, all weekend on c-span3. easterfirst white house egg roll was in 1870 eight, posted by president rutherford b. hayes. president trump and first lady melania post this easter egg roll on monday. next landscape historian jonathan pliska about the easter egg role. we talked to him at the decatur house, the home of the white house historical association, which published the book. this is about 30 minutes. >> jonathan pliska, you've worked with the white house historical association to write a young readers book about the white house easter egg roll.
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before we get into history, tell me about it today. how large is it in 2018? jonathan: it would be larger than it is except the popularity is so high and everybody wants to be a part of this that they generally cap the attendance at 30,000-35,000 people. >> where is it held today? donovan: it is held on the south lawn of the white house. that is what i like to call the president's backyard. >> are the eggs real eggs? jonathan: they are sometimes real eggs. they use wooden eggs. >> they are collectibles. jonathan: definitely. but there are traditionally some real eggs used. in the past, it was all real eggs. >> and who gets to go? jonathan: anybody can go, but you need to submit your request online in advance, and then a lucky lottery winner get to go
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over 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. what did you learn? jonathan: there is a long-standing oral history that goes back to the 19th century that 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. it was her brainchild. >> do we know where an egg roll tradition -- you are a historian -- did it come from someplace in our culture? is it british? jonathan: it comes from older traditions in england and also the european continental. >> for its first number of years
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it was on capitol grounds. tell me that part of its history. jonathan: 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. and expensive to clean up afterwards. 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. jonathan: 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 the eggs and hard-boiled eggs
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were left to rot, that really created a problem. jonathan: 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 a wild, and that was the last time he did that. 1876 was rutherford b. hayes. why did president hayes and his family decide they wanted to take over this tradition? jonathan: 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. , you tell goes by this in your story -- first of all, who did the illustrations? jonathan: john hutton.
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absolutely genius art history historian. towhat were you trying collaboratively achieve with this? jonathan: 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? jonathan: 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. >> it is not a steep hill.
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jonathan: 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 every president continued the tradition. they kept adding things. one of the first things to be added was the marine van band. tommy about the addition of music to the event. jonathan: 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. >> the marine band brought along a legendary connector, john
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philip sousa. what was his role? jonathan: his role was 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. jonathan: 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, d.c. 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? jonathan: i very much love this story of president carter and his -- both his children and his grandchildren being there when
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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 800 pound sphere 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's that story? jonathan: 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 entire day. he had his own special throne made and the dog handler who was known as the master of the hounds at the time, had a very
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high profile role in that, as well. there was a wonderful picture in the book. >> laddie boy, as we have learned through our presidential history that 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? jonathan: as you said, he was a celebrity. 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 mississippi to be made into food. she was tamed it. 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 pets would mingle with the children and the whole thing continued to gel. a great event for the public. where the newspaper is always interested in this? it helped 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? jonathan: yes. >> what would a radio broadcast of an easter egg roll really be like? jonathan: it was mostly the marine band with music. 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.
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i would encourage everybody. >> you must have had a lot of fun looking at pictures and videos over the years. jonathan: oh, absolutely. >> where did you do most of your research? jonathan: the library of congress, the national archives , the good folks of the national park service and white historical association. although online newspapers are wonderful source of information, 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? jonathan: the earliest would be from around the 1870's and they show children of all ages in period attire. it looks more like sunday refineries than what we would expect current children to be wearing. victim, suits and ties. >> on little children. jonathan: little children.
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>> everybody was very formal going to the white house. jonathan: 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 in the east room to shake their hands. there are famous stories of them tracking egg all over the carpet and upholstery. >> where they at least hard-boiled? jonathan: yes. [laughter] >> i wonder where all those egg boils were going on. we are talking about thousands of eggs at any given time. where they prepare for the white house kitchen? jonathan: they were. >> were they dyed? jonathan: yes, they would have been dyed. there was an extra's shipment of 10,000 eggs brought in from
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kansas of last minute because the president was concerned. >> world war i changed history of this. because of concerns about food shortages. what happened during world war i? jonathan: 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? jonathan: 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. the easter egg roll is very much a good time. >> so then it continued to reach
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each president until world war ii. jonathan: -- what happened then? jonathan: 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. to basically rebuilt europe. and then after that, president truman renovated the white house. the famous truman renovation. the entire grounds begin 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. what were those particular things that the roosevelt's brought. they had lots of kids as well. jonathan: it was a good time. fdr was not known to make too big of an appearance because he was concealing his disability.
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but eleanor roosevelt was there, 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 just urged everyone to 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? jonathan: the president and first lady had a great idea that in order to remind everyone that even on the happiest occasions, we need to remind our active-duty members are making great they had yellow for the iraq war.
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>> the yellow ribbon concept. jonathan: 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 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 this time? jonathan: it was suspended for all eight years of truman's presidency and there were other easter egg rolls. smaller, less formal affairs. other events held at the capitol. there was one year it was
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relocated to the capitol grounds. >> and they messed up the lawn again. jonathan: they did. >> how much damage is there to the south lawn of the white house? jonathan: the national park service which they charge the care and management of the grounds it is one of the major folks that are involved with the easter egg roll. 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 that brought animals. the kennedy's did that. what was their story? jonathan: the kennedys were never actually in attendance at the white house easter egg roll and neither were the johnsons or the nixon's. but that did not stop the kids in the kennedy years from
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wanting to see the kennedy family pony, wanting to play on the kennedy kids' swing set, and really wanted to meet the kennedy kids. the usher at the white house, the policeman are providing security explained that caroline and john john were not there to meet them but they send their regrets and the pony. >> i'm sure lots of photographs exist of macaroni the pony. you told us the petting zoo from the carters. let's move forward to the reagan administration. there's some wonderful personal connection between nancy reagan and the white house easter egg roll. what is it? jonathan: she attended the easter egg roll as a small child. >> no kidding. she must've been very keen. jonathan: absolutely. the reagans were the family that introduce the commemorative eggs, which is now the official white house keepsake. they brought the easter egg roll into a modern era by introducing
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all matter of games and activities. bringing in costumed superheroes and cartoon characters. it became a full day event. >> what are the hours? jonathan: the hours are from 9:00 a.m. until dark. >> it lasts all day. jonathan: there are ticketed times. you are only allowed on the grounds for a predetermined amount of time. i believe there are three times of entry. that's to accommodate as many people as possible. >> when were tickets added? jonathan: tickets were added in the 20th century and were needed because otherwise it was just a too big of an event. back in 1905, there was a story about a child who by this point you need an adult to bring you onto the grounds and an adult companion could not come out to the grounds without a child. so, kids being smarter than
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adults a lot of the times, started essentially buying out, or having parents buy their way into the grounds with them. the administration child made ad made a small fortune, a diamond the time doing that. susan: no kidding, and early entrepreneur. jonathan: no kidding. susan: we were talking about media progression. when did the white house easter egg roll get live streamed? jonathan: that was in the clinton administration in the 1990's. susan: how has social media changed it in recent days? i am sure people are sending pictures on the internet. jonathan: there is so many things with games, easter egg roles with activities with the children with the benefit of social media you can see that real-time instead of having to wait, even just a few hours for an internet article to come up. it is literally instantaneous. susan: amplifying the event over
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and over again. i wonder if any other countries around the world and their leaders have also replicated the easter egg roll since it worked -- it works so well in the united states. jonathan: that is a good question. i don't know, but i know there are some presidential sites that host their own easter egg roll every year. i was just in in ohio for a family birthday and the national a.toric site for james garfield is hosting. we will probably have some snow. susan: let's talk about our most recent presidents. two terms of the obama administration. they had young children themselves. how did the obamas use or host the white house easter egg hunt? jonathan: the president played basketball. he is a huge fan of basketball. he played ask ball with the children on the white house basketball court. and the first lady, michelle obama really throughout her time as first lady was interested in promoting active, healthy lifestyle through good nutrition and exercise. she started something called the
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let's move campaign in order to get kids to do that more readily. and they included that in the easter egg roll during their years. they had an obstacle course and other fun, active games. susan: 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? jonathan: with a little bit of a smaller sample size, they have also taken a really active involvement in the day's activities. the president and first lady last year started the very easter egg roll by blowing on first whistles. and were there to greet the winners of that particular race. and they have also been very active in promoting childhood literacy, by using a special book where authors will come in and read and enjoy time with the children. susan: so when you worked on this book together, because we have worked our way through the
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various presidents and their history what did you aim for and , how did you work with mr. hutton on the illustrations? what was the feel you were trying to get? who do you envision your leaders to be? jonathan: the readership we hope is literally everyone. we subtitled it history for all ages. we would like it to appeal to younger readers obviously but we would also like it to appeal to parents and adults in general. and especially for young children, we are hoping that the parents will read the book with their children and read it to them. and even the youngest children can enjoy the wonderful 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 president, each presidential administration. and i kind of put some
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storyboards together and i think we can make this look like this. it was all very, very basic, and he turned it into this amazing, amazing book. susan: 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? jonathan: that history can and should be fun. that no matter what you think of any given president, there is always a good time to be had. susan: and that presidents and children have gone together since the earliest days of our republic. jonathan: absolutely. and animals. susan: thank you very telling is the long, long history of american society and the white house easter egg roll. the 2019 version. jonathan:


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