The eggs, she knew from school, symbolized “new life.” But as she waited to hunt them, 8-year-old Dakota Young had other things in mind.
“Last time, some of them had money in them,” she said.
That would probably be the green eggs, Dakota figured, but rumor among the park rangers suggested the gold ones. “If I find some money, and y’all are not helping me, I’m not sharing,” she warned her brothers.
Before Saturday morning’s annual Easter egg hunt at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Southeast Washington, a park ranger offered the kids a quick history lesson. The famous abolitionist moved to the home in 1878 — “That was a long time ago, right?” — and lived there until his death in 1895.
“He was born into slavery, so he didn’t get to have a family life like we get to have today,” ranger Brittany Hall said. But in his later years, Douglass entertained his 21 grandchildren on these same sloping lawns that overlook the Anacostia River and Washington beyond.
Dakota lives in a brick apartment building within sight of the 21-room Victorian home. Douglass’s widow preserved the house as a “Mount Vernon to the black community.” Dakota’s mother, Pam Young, also grew up in the neighborhood.
The Lion of Anacostia would surely smile if he could see Dakota and the other children celebrating spring, rebirth and renewal on his property, however he might judge the surrounding world today.
In his day, Abraham Lincoln received Douglass in the executive mansion, to be advised on the need for equity for black Union soldiers. Douglass came away impressed with the president’s apparent honesty, kindness and lack of vanity, he recalled later. Artifacts in the home include Lincoln’s cane, a gift after the president’s assassination from Mrs. Lincoln to Douglass.
The executive mansion’s current occupant also counts himself a Douglass fan. “Frederick Douglass,” President Trump said in 2017, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
But this is all history Dakota will learn in future years. On Saturday, she braced herself for the countdown: “Five, four, three, two, one. Go!”
Dozens of kids raced into the field toward the plastic eggs, hidden in patches of clover and dandelions. Dakota tossed them into her bunny-themed pail until, within a minute or two, a flaw in her preparations became clear — she should have brought a bigger bucket.
“I’m full!” she shouted, before turning back up the hill. But with the commotion and the uneven grass and her pail overflowing, she stumbled, and the eggs spilled in front of her.
“Oh, my eggs,” Dakota cried.
Then she smiled again. “It’s an egg avalanche!”
She refilled the pail and rejoined her mother. “Look at how many I got,” she said. They headed to the other lawn where the younger kids, including Dakota’s 2-year-old cousin, would hunt.
Dakota set her eggs aside, but on the home’s wooden front deck, 8-year-old Audrey Donahue sat down with her brother and sister to open theirs. Their parents drove 12 hours from Indiana, as they have several times, to let the kids take in the sights and history of the nation’s capital.
“Why are these so hard to open?” Audrey said, digging her fingernail into the narrow slit that divides an egg in two. But soon she had a pile of stamps, stickers and candy next to a pile of broken eggs.
The line for face-painting was long, and the sun grew hot enough that a breeze was welcome, even when it blew all the construction-paper rabbit ears off the arts-and-crafts table. When things were winding down, Audrey loaded into the minivan to see more sights with her family, and Dakota headed with hers to the apartments around the corner.
Dakota, who loves to draw but gave it up for Lent, had plans.
“When I get home,” she said, “I’m going to draw.”