35 Charming Vintage Photos of How Easter Used to Be Celebrated
From early White House Easter Egg Rolls to churchgoers' finest hats along the Fifth Avenue parade, these Easter photos make you want to step back in time.
Atlantic City, Easter Parade, 1905
This parade, which started in 1876, is said to be the oldest official Easter Sunday parade in America. At its peak in the 1930s, up to 500,000 people promenaded along the boardwalk. Prizes, which were awarded in categories like best dressed and best bonnet, were handed out by another Atlantic City icon: Miss America. Take a look at these myths and legends that sparked Easter traditions.
Bright smiles at the Easter Parade, 1952
Miss Jean Leonard, Air Force Sergeant Harry Logan, and Mrs. Harry Logan celebrate Easter in style as they celebrate in Harlem, New York. For the special occasion, the sergeant made sure to have his uniform pressed and to wear his medals. These are the most glamourous vintage photos from the ’50s.
“For Easter, my mother always made the same dresses for my three girls and my sister Lila’s two daughters. She’d walk the girls uptown, in Johnstown, Ohio, to show them off in a sort of miniature Easter parade,” says Kathleen Lewis of Newark, Ohio.
A mother and daughter wear festive outfits to celebrate Easter in 1959. Notice the flowers on the mother’s shawl and in the daughter’s hairpiece to honor the start of Spring.
“This is my brother-in-law, Steve Broussard, displaying his Easter loot in his family’s yard in Lake Charles. Steve was lucky, with three baskets filled with candy and eggs—and even caught the Easter bunny at work,” says Roland Bodin of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Ready for church
A mother holds the hands of her two little girls as they head to church on Easter Sunday morning. They’re all smiles and happy to be wearing their pretty dresses.
Austen Gray and wife Alice Munroe Burnham, New York City, Easter 1913
While Atlantic City may be the oldest official Easter Parade, New York City’s unofficial Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue is older—it’s been taking place since the 1870s. Fifth Avenue was where the well-to-do worshiped. As Easter displays at the stretch’s churches became more elaborate, so did people’s clothing. Churchgoers would stroll along the avenue after services, to show off their attire and to admire the flowers at other churches. By the 1880s, New York’s parade had become one of the best known Easter traditions in America.
Easter Sunday was the time of the year for people to display their finest hats; the couple shown here both don stylish toppers. (Fun fact: Nine years before this photo was taken, the pair was the cause of nationwide scandal because they wed in secret in Newport, Rhode Island. The reason? Burnham’s parents disapproved of Gray).
A colorful Easter
Little Kerri Reed is all decked out, complete with bunny, for the Easter parade. Kerri’s aunt, Lavonna Bouressa of Sacramento, California, vividly remembers those days when she and her sister, Helyn Reed, made colorful Easter outfits for their young daughters.
Stars and stripes for Easter
Charlene Derby finally formally thanked her Aunt Agnes for the Easter dresses the three nieces were proudly wearing.
A young boy is practicing his Easter Alleluias on a piano in Loyang, China. You’ll love these adorable printable Easter cards and gift tags.
Fifth Avenue Parade, New York City, Easter 1912
At its height of NYC’s Easter Parade, up to one million people attended, either to walk in it or to gawk at the well-dressed throngs. Today the parade, which runs between 49th and 57th Streets on Fifth Avenue, is also full of other species of paraders: dogs and birds.
Smiles and new outfits welcome the spring. Andrews’ sisters, from left, Colleen, Kathleen, and Maureen, and brother, Jim, show off their mom’s sewing skills in matching outfits in Coventry, Rhode Island, in 1962.
Just before Easter in 1959, Peggy Oels, age four, now of Glendale, Arizona, and her sister, Kathy, seven years old, look up briefly from their egg-dyeing duties at their home in Tucson. This is the real reason bunnies are so popular for Easter.
Dressmaker sketching the gowns at NYC’s Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, undated
Dressmakers, like the one shown here, would knock off the outfits they saw on the women walking by on the street. People still parade along Fifth Avenue these days, although their clothing is a lot less formal.
New church outfits
Martin Lee Klug and big brother Richard, posing here with their father, Leo Klug, always looked forward to Easter in the 1950s. They would wear their new outfits to church, then they’d get baskets before going to their grandparents’ house in Baltimore, Maryland, for Easter dinner.
Fashion show bunnies
In 1949, Dyla Greenlaw and her friends were bunnies in a fashion show in Waterville, Maine. “My aunt Gwendolyn Foster sang ‘Easter Parade’ as each bunny escorted a model down the runway,” Dyla writes from Yemassee, South Carolina.
Loving Easter morning
There’s no doubt Roxie Kump was happy on Easter 1965. “She was thrilled with her basket,” writes her mother, Joan, of Aspers, Pennsylvania. Check out these easy Easter crafts you can make with stuff around the house.
“My aunt Penelope Sweeney was a decorator at the Heidelberg Candy Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” says Richard Barron of Tampa, Florida. “She’s on the left in this 1949 photo. On Easter morning, my brothers and I each were given our own two and a half-pound chocolate egg, which she had decorated with our names.”
A real stuffed bunny
“My cousin David and I sat for this picture in 1954 at our grandmother’s house in Clifton, West Virginia. It was my first Easter, and as you can guess from my present, my dad was a taxidermist—a good one I might add,” says Kathy Dalton of Rutland, Ohio.
Waking up to see our outfits
“Each spring, Mom took the Easter hats, headbands and dresses from the previous year to make them new. She bought new flowers, ribbons, and lace, and stayed up late finishing her creations. I remember getting up on Easter morning to see our outfits ready for us to wear to church,” says Kathleen Surma of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Easter Parade, Chicago, 1941
In the Windy City, churchgoers also showed off their best on the streets after attending church services.
Sporting rounded cat-eye frames in 1955, Florence Houseman shows off her homemade Easter bonnet at a family gathering at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Florence’s daughter-in-law, Joan, says the women in the family would try to outdo one another with their outrageous hats.
Sunday best in the middle of the week
“In 1962, our minister asked us to pose for an Easter picture for the Herald-Whig in Quincy, Illinois. So Norbert and I and our children, Paul, Mark, and Diane went to church at midweek wearing our Sunday best. The kids were confused by it all,” says Sandy Frankenbach of Palmyra, Missouri.
Warren Sonnemann with a prize basket, White House Easter Egg Roll, 1923
The White House’s first unofficial Easter Egg Roll was thought to have taken place during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration, although the first official Roll was held there on Easter Monday in 1878 during Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency. (Side note: Between the Lincoln and Hayes Egg Rolls, people rolled eggs on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. But because it attracted such large crowds who damaged the lawns, Congress passed the Turf Protection Law, which decreed the Capitol grounds should not be “used as playgrounds or otherwise.”) During the Egg Roll, kids race eggs by pushing them with a long-handled spoon.
President and Mrs. Harding’s dog Laddie Boy, White House Easter Egg Roll, 1923
The Presidents’ pets usually make an appearance at the White House Egg Roll. In 1923, neither President Warren G. Harding nor First Lady Florence Harding attended the Easter Egg Roll, but their Airedale terrier, Laddie Boy, took their place. Laddie Boy is considered to be the first White House celebrity pet. The press covered his every move, the White House threw him birthday parties, and he had a hand-carved chair to sit in during cabinet meetings. He would accompany the president during golf outings, where he’d fetch errant balls. It is said that he howled for the three days before the president died in summer 1923 because he somehow knew his beloved master was about to pass away.
First Lady Grace Coolidge with pet raccoon Rebecca, White House Easter Egg Roll 1927
One of the most unusual animal companions to appear at the White House Egg Roll had to be Rebecca, owned by First Lady Grace Coolidge. The raccoon had been destined to be served as a dish at the White House Thanksgiving dinner table, but she was so playful and friendly that the Coolidges decided to keep her. She had a little house built in a tree on the White House grounds, and she was also allowed to roam unfettered through the White House. She ate her meals—shrimp, chicken, persimmons, cream, and eggs—on the floor of the first lady’s bathroom, and the president liked to play with her after he was done working (he’d walk around with her draped around his neck). After Rebecca escaped from the White House a few times, the Coolidges moved her to Rock Creek Zoo where it was thought she’d be safer.
Tennessee Easter parade
“With our new hats, my brothers, sisters and I are ready for the Easter parade. This was in Morristown, Tennessee, in 1941, when I was seven,” says Alice Sheets of Central City, Nebraska. These vintage photos prove that childhood hasn’t changed that much over the years.
White House policeman Edgar E. Porter and lost children, 1923 Egg Roll
The Egg Roll is a perennially well-attended event since it’s open to the public. In 1899, over 8,000 people attended; in 2015, 30,000 were invited. Today, tickets are given out by an online lottery, and at least one family from all 50 states is chosen. In addition, tickets are distributed to 3,000 public school students from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, as well as 4,000 children from military families. Here, White House policeman Edgar E. Porter was assigned in 1923 to care for kids who became separated from mom and dad.
Hunt for eggs
“Many things in addition to our new clothes made Easter special in the 1960s,” says Vincent James of Elmont, New York. “Shirley, Richard, and Raymond would rush home after services at St. Mark AME to hunt for eggs, and then we’d visit with grandma and grandpop downstairs.” For the curious, here’s why eggs are synonymous with Easter.
Who will collect the most?
“My brother Thomas, sister Cynthia and I are going Easter egg hunting in 1962. Our mom made those dresses,” says Susan Kreiss of Rosenburg, Oregon.
Children with U.S. Air Force personnel, England, Easter, 1942-1945
During World War II, U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in England took some local children under their wings. Here, they’re seen cheering on their young friends who were battling it out in an Easter game of tug-of-war. The kind-hearted military men saved candy from their rations for one month to award it to the kids who participated. For those who like to go out to celebrate the holiday, here are the six golden rules of Easter brunch.