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Utah twins join in White House Easter Egg Roll

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WASHINGTON — Salt Lake City brothers Kanu Ragula and Viku Ragula joined 22,000 people on the White House South Lawn Monday for the annual Easter Egg Roll.

Using large plastic spoons, the 6-year-old twins joined the other children in rolling colored eggs down a small section of the White House lawn, continuing a tradition that dates back to 1878.

The boys and their parents, Ragula Bhaskar and Sanch Datta, made the trip from Utah to the capital specifically for the annual event.

"You have to be under 7 years old to go, so this was their last chance. We said we have to do this," Datta said.

The family came on Saturday, getting tickets to the event through Salt Lake resident Ron Fox, who has done work with the White House advance office since 1972 and knows the organizers. They had seen portions of the event on television before and saw photos in the newspaper and knew it was something they would like.

The brothers said they liked the egg hunt the best.

For those not fortunate enough to have a White House contact or other connection, a make-shift campground sprouted on the Ellipse outside the White House beginning early Friday morning.

Free tickets to the Easter Egg Roll were available on a first-come first-served basis starting Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m., so the first person got in line Friday at 3 a.m., and a collection of tents, coolers and folding chairs continued to grow long into the night in anticipation of tickets. Getting the ticket is almost as much of a tradition as the roll itself for some families.

Around 4 a.m. Saturday, the National Park Service handed out vouchers securing a place in line, and all camping gear had to be gone by 6:45 a.m. Each person who waited in line got two adult and three child tickets. The rules are that one child in the group must be under 7 years old. Some were also available early Monday morning before the event. In total, 22,000 tickets were given out. The American Egg Board provides roughly 15,000 eggs for the event, according to the White House.

In addition to rolling the eggs, and the egg hunt section, the White House lawn was bursting with activities from face-painting and egg-coloring stations to a concert by the Jonas Brothers, performances by Zoe and Elmo from Sesame Street with their friend Gordon, and clowns from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Photos with Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, Strawberry Shortcake, and numerous Easter bunnies — and even walking eggs — were also part of the fun.

Brittany Candrian Richman from Sandy wore one of the official egg costumes and greeted guests just steps away from the egg rolling.

"It's always just this happy day," she said.

She estimated she posed for about 100 photos during her hour and a half shift in the wooden egg costume, which she admits does keeps her warm but is also very heavy.

"They either loved you or were scared of you," she said of the kids at the event. One little girl pulled on her arm and said "Hi, I like you," Richman described, saying the only thing she could think of quickly to reply was, "I like you, too!"

This was her third year volunteering at the event, and her second as an egg greeter. The 2004 Brigham Young University graduate first came to Washington to work for Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt — a former Utah governor — then worked at the White House in President Bush's speechwriting office.

Richman has since moved to Richmond, Va., this year with her husband but still decided to come back to be a giant egg after the White House invited her to wear the costume again.

"It's fun to see how it grows every year," Candrian Richman said. "It's a great thing to be a part of."

As part of her official egg duties, Candrian Richman was part of the backdrop for former NFL quarterback Troy Aikman's interview on Fox News. Aikman was one of the many celebrity readers at several story areas on the lawn. First lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush, Education Secretary Mary Peters and other cabinet members, including Leavitt, took turns reading stories to the children.

Other costumed characters included people dressed as Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy, who are credited with starting the tradition. Hayes allowed children onto the lawn in 1878 after the Capitol grounds were declared off-limits to children looking to play with their Easter eggs. By 1889, 8,000 children showed up to play on the lawn and it has since grown to the event that took place Monday.

Then starting in 1994, the White House Visitors Center has a display of decorated eggs representing each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including one from Utah painted by Joyce Marble.

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com