Did you know that White House is a National Park? That’s the opening line of the national park service website for President’s Park (White House). This is a place that is steeped in history and tradition. Not only has every president (except Washington) lived at the White House, it also plays host to a number of events throughout the year.
Easter Egg Roll
The most well-established tradition is the “Easter Egg Roll”.
Back as far as the 13th century, folks decorated eggs as a symbol of Easter. It is said that rolling Easter Eggs represents the rolling of stones away from Christ’s tomb. As a kid, it is also a pretty fun thing to do. But back in the 1870’s there weren’t many places for kids to play in Washington, so they started bringing their Easter Eggs to Capitol Hill. Unfortunately this was damaging newly planted grass, so Congress passed a law banning it – the Turf Protection Law of 1876.
When they couldn’t go to Capitol Hill, they came to the beautiful lawn at the White House and President Rutherford B. Hayes instructed the guards not to turn them away. That was in 1878, and with only a few exceptions, there has been an Easter Egg Roll at the White house every year. Today, you get tickets for this via a lottery.
Another tradition at the White House are garden tours – one in spring and one in the fall. We were fortunate to be visiting DC at the right time and we were able to get on the spring tour. It was lovely.
We were not aware of any of the history surrounding the rose garden. Originally established in 1913 by the wife of President Woodrow Wilson, it was redesigned in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and again by President Kennedy in 1962. Kennedy had visited Europe where he was entertained in beautiful gardens. When he returned, he wanted to build something similar at the White House. Located between the Oval Office and the West Wing, most people can probably recognize the Rose Garden from the many media events there.
The other formal garden is near the East Wing of the White House, home to the First Lady and her staff. Originally just called the East Garden, in 1965 Lady Bird Johnson renamed it the “Jacqueline Kennedy Garden” to honor the contributions of her predecessor.
Another highlight on the tour is the Kitchen Garden, planted by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009 as a way of educating and encouraging people to grow food at home, much like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt did when she planted a Victory Garden at the White House during World War II. There has been a kitchen garden at the white house since 1797, when the first one was planted by President John Adams.
Today, the National Park Service cares for the grounds and the garden. The National Park Service does not host tours of the White House itself. That can only be arranged through your congressman or embassy.