Throngs of children take over South lawn for annual Egg Roll

Monday, April 1, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush and first lady Laura Bush welcomed thousands of children and their parents to the White House on Monday for the Easter Egg Roll -- the first time the general public had been invited inside the gates since last September.

"Laura and I are so glad that you came this year, especially given what happened last year," the president told the crowd, recalling showers that canceled last April's event and sent dripping children and parents inside for a tour instead.

"This is your home and you are welcome to the yard of your home," Bush said. The grounds had been closed to the general public since the terrorist attacks.

This year's Egg Roll, in which young children race to the finish line while pushing eggs with a spoon, took place on a bright, windy day.

Swarms of excited parents ushered wide-eyed children in pastel dresses and Easter suits from activity to activity on the South Lawn, pointing and snapping pictures -- some in front of an enormous jelly bean mosaic of the president's face.

Mrs. Bush and various Cabinet secretaries took turns reading to children throughout the day. After the first lady finished reading "Tom Rabbit," by Martin Waddel, several children rushed up to give her flowers, cards and, in one case, a handful of grass.

The festivities also included egg decorating and appearances by the Easter Bunny, Stuart Little and other cartoon celebrities.

Four-year-old Savannah Byrd of Manassas, Va., said the best thing about being at the White House was having her picture taken with the Easter Bunny because "she has a dress -- it's purple."

But James Stephenson, 6, was more interested -- mesmerized, in fact -- by a real Himalayan dwarf rabbit named Bugs. A dozen tiny hands poked, prodded and almost completely covered Bugs, who will weigh all of 3 pounds when fully grown.

"He's like my bunny that's a stuffed animal," said James, who wore white bunny ears and a blue shirt embossed with his name and a picture of a rabbit.

James, who proudly voted for Bush in his school's mock election, also carried a card he made for the president and a bouquet of flowers he and his 4-year-old brother Brian later delivered to Mrs. Bush. "Thank you for letting us play at your house," the card said.

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