They’re the most famous First Family, and it’s the most famous White House public event – so why didn’t President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, First Daughter Caroline Kennedy and First Son John Kennedy, Jr. ever make an appearance at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll during their residency in the mansion in 1961, 1962 and 1963?
Following the family tradition set by his formidable father and clan patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy and his wife Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the President joined them at their Palm Beach, Florida estate. Along with Jackie and their children, his brothers and sisters, their spouses and children, they maintained a family tradition of gathering there on Easter. In the first year of his presidency, Easter fell on Sunday, April 2, 1961. When the President and Mrs. Kennedy appeared at the family church that Sunday, St. Edward’s Catholic Church, they came without their three and a half year old daughter Caroline. More unusual to reporters and local residents was the extra-large security detail around the church. The next day, the American public learned that a week earlier, the Secret Service had uncovered a credible threat to harm the President and First Lady and a plot to kidnap the little First Daughter. The threat had been made by Cubans living in the area who supported their island nation’s communist dictator Fidel Castro, who had led a 1959 overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista‘s government. After church, the President played fourteen rounds of golf with his father at Seminole Country Club.
Two days later, before leaving Florida, the press reported that he was back, playing eight rounds, with his father and two brothers-in-law Steve Smith and Peter Lawford. What nobody knew at the time was that on the same day, he approved the failed invasion of Cuba soon to be infamously known as the Bay of Pigs.
It was not an entirely ominous Easter for the Kennedys that year. A massive Easter bunny made by expert chocolatiers in Switzerland was sent to Palm Beach, where the county’s board of commissioners delivered it as a gift for the First Daughter. As is a routine measure with gifts of foods to members of the presidential family, it was almost certainly destroyed before one bit of bunny ear could be snapped and sampled.
Whether or not it was to due to security concerns, the President and First Lady did not attend Easter services at St. Edwards the next year, but rather a private mass that was conducted in the home of the President’s parents. It may have also been due to the fact that his father had suffered a stroke four months earlier and was unable to leave his home. The First Family rented the nearby home of Captain John Paul rather than attempt to establish themselves in his parent’s home, large as it was. Easter fell late that year, on April 22, 1962 and the heat in Florida made it already feel like summer, but Jackie Kennedy got a cheer of approval when she appeared at the senior Kennedy house, in white gloves, light purple Oleg Cassini dress and ivory-colored lace kerchief. She had only just returned from her famous trip to India and Pakistan.
Absent from the April 15, 1963 White House Egg Roll on the Monday after Easter, perhaps assuming there would certainly be at least one more Easter for them to attend, in 1964, the First Family again resided in the Paul home during their Easter vacation that year. Though most American mothers might not believe it, Jackie Kennedy was doing there what many of them were doing in their own homes – helping her children dye Easter eggs different colors, and apply stickers and create little paper stands for them. Joining them in the endeavor was Sally Fay, the First Lady’s goddaughter and the daughter of the President’s old friend Paul “Red” Fay.
On Easter morning, the First Lady guided the children out into the living room where first John offered his father an egg, followed by Caroline shyly presenting him with one. Then, something upset the two and a half year old First Son, until the President distracted him with a toy that involved his great fascination of airplanes. Besides the pictures taken that day by a White House photographer, a silent color film was made, seen below. All of these historical materials now part of the public domain collection of the John K. Kennedy Presidential Library.
With or without the First Family, the White House Easter Egg Roll goes on and White House photographers were in attendance at the public event. Perhaps the most brilliantly colorful images first made of the White House Easter Egg Roll were captured at the 1961 event, showing children and adults alike in poses and clothes evoking the current, popular AMC cable television series Mad Men.
That article will be posted here later this week.
Look also for a photo essay about the history of the event and the First Pets and First Families who attended.
And, finally, to round out the week before Easter, there will be an article drawn from new findings which prove that it was a President’s son who started the first White House Easter Egg Roll, yet remains uncredited for it.
A Day for Dogs and other White House Easter Egg Roll Memories
The President’s Son who hosted the first White House Easter Egg yet remains uncredited
Coming: The Mad Men Era White House Easter Egg Roll, 1961