The Mad Men Era White House Easter Egg Roll, 1961

The familiar hot pinks and pale blues of the incumbent First Lady Jackie Kennedy were no where to be seen at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 3, 1961, but the adults and children attending the event more than made up for that. What nobody there could know was that the very next day, President Kennedy would give his approval for the disastrously failed invasion of Cuba that would come to be known as the Bay of Pigs.

These fourteen photographs, from the collections of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library recall more of the Fifties than the popular conception of the Sixties, but the end of the one decade and the beginning of the other, in many ways, constituted a self-contained time capsule all its own. Today, its popularly known as the Mad Men era, after the popular AMC cable television series which began in that time period and is highly regarded for its meticulous detail to history.

At the time. it was familiarly called The Jet Age,  commenced by the widespread use of jet planes for commercial use, and coming to an abrupt end with the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. Following that tragic event, the president’s widow dubbed the time from 1961 to 1963 as Camelot, an expression that came to evoke not just the loss of the young President but the national sense of a hopeful future.

It was, as is most instantly recognizable times, very much defined by the latest technology. These pictures are eye-popping not just for the bright monochromatic colors of the formal clothes that most families wore on Easter Sunday, but also the vividness provided by  Kodachrome camera film, then rapidly becoming affordable and available to everyone. It was also an era marked by the increase of television shows being produced in what NBC famously called “living color.”

The seeming accessibility of the pictures, however, is truly an illusion. These images show Americans in their prime over half a century ago, a world long gone.

Categories: Americana, Easter, First Families, History, Holidays, Presidential Holidays, The Kennedys

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6 replies »

  1. And still, fifty years later, we uphold the tradition of inviting children and families to the White House lawn for an old-fasioned Easter egg roll.

  2. I’m so glad you are still up and running. Every time I get on this website I find a story or photos that I love!! Who do you use to scan all you photos? Please keep sharing this history with us!!!

    • Well thank you – that’s a great and really nice surprise. Who do I use to scan all my photos? Haha…who else, me. I do everything entirely on this website. I will keep trying to stay up and running – I am finally exploring some reasonable monetizing alternatives though. I really can’t go on, time-wise, too much longer – but certainly through the end of the year. Anyway – your comment is really encouraging – thank you.

  3. When I was in 3rd to 5th grade, my family lived in Arlington (my dad was a Marine officer) and my mother took my two sisters and I to one of the Easter Egg hunts in 1957. It was Mad Men clothes and I had to reply to your article because the last photo could be of my sister and I. I remember wearing white gloves when I was on an airplane and the food was almost gourmet1 Things have surely changed – I think I just die a few times when I see how my grandchildren dress for school!

    Carl you were terrific on the C-Span First Ladies panel show!

    Barbara Roberts

    • Thanks for the thumbs-up on the C-Span panel. As to the Easter Egg Roll in the 1950s, what is interesting about that period is that the Eisenhowers insisted that the Easter Egg Roll was opened to every child without regard to race at a time when the city was still segregated in many places. So children like you were enjoying themselves – but were also, unwittingly, living through a bit of history. As far as your grandchildren – well, consider what your grandparents likely thought of clothes worn by kids in 1957! I bet it was startling to them…..

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