A Bunny Tale

How a rabbit suit from Cincinnati ends up in the White House

click to enlarge A Schenz Easter bunny with the Clintons
A Schenz Easter bunny with the Clintons

On Monday, March 28, more than 35,000 people will descend on the White House South Lawn for the 138th-annual White House Easter Egg Roll — kids, parents, eggs, wooden spoons, secret service agents, the Obamas, whoever else won tickets through the public lottery and Cincinnati’s own Jonn Schenz, who, dressed in a dark suit with a coif of bright red hair, will be at the nation’s capitol managing Mama, Papa and Junior — three humans dressed in giant plush Easter Bunny costumes of his own design.Schenz has been supplying the bunny outfits for the White House’s annual Easter festivities for 36 years, starting under the reign of President Ronald Reagan. And after three decades, they’re only on the second set of costumes, each lovingly and adeptly hand-built in his Camp Washington Schenz Theatrical Supply shop. “We got the bunny gig by doing all these characters for different places, and we got a call on a Monday morning that the costumer in D.C. needed a bunny to put a six-foot-two secret service man (into) to accompany Ronald Reagan,” Schenz says. “They had to have it in their hand by Friday.”Back in the ’80s, if you put a mascot head on before the chemicals in the mold were dry, “you’d be as high as a kite, baby,” Schenz says, laughing. But even with the short deadline, the bunny was completed and on the aforementioned secret service agent by the Easter Egg Roll.The next year, Schenz decided to donate a costume to the

White House, and when the White House called and invited him to see his donation in action, Schenz jumped at the chance.

“I took my nephew and we went up and we went out on the lawn and the bunny had a great big green stain on his knees where he knelt down in the grass to talk to the kids,” he says, “and the drawstrings were hanging down the back.”

That was unacceptable, so Schenz marched into the visitors office and asked who was in charge of the bunny. When the answer was no one, he told them he would be. “I said, ‘I will be here next year’ — because I saw the line of people to have their picture taken with the bunny — and I said, ‘I will be here next year with two more bunnies, and I will be in charge,’ ” Schenz says.

He’s been there every year since.

This year, Schenz will arrive at the White House on Saturday; Mama, Papa and Junior made their ways through the mail. He’ll dress the volunteers and stand by while the bunnies start their television appearances at 4 a.m. Monday morning. Schenz has helped get everyone from cabinet members, colonels, executives and “FOBs; Friends of Bill (Clinton)” into the costumes, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese’s wife, Ursula, who loved being a bunny so much she earned the White House nickname “The Meester Bunny.”

When the official Easter celebration starts, all three costumed bunnies will hop out onto the lawn to meet and greet the kids and have their picture taken. “All of our bunnies are told to stand with their back to the White House, so when mama takes the picture, she has not only your picture but the White House in the back,” Schenz says. Rotating bunny volunteers are out on the lawn for about an hour and a half. “That’s about all you can take in this thing,” Schenz says. In fact, when the Washington Post asked Schenz if it’s warm in the suit, he said, “No sir. That suit is not warm; that suit is hotter than hell.”At the change of this administration, Schenz and his team will craft a new generation of bunnies, to maintain continuity throughout a president’s Easter photos, as well as to retire the old suits and rent them out to the public. “Bout time they paid for themselves,” Schenz says. ©
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