Thursday, July 20, 2017

VIRGINIA: MOUNT VERNON

George Washington was the son of wealthy planters in Virginia, but his father died when George was only eleven, and as a result the family experienced some financial hardship (which meant George couldn't go to England for his education). However, his father had owned some property he had named "Mount Vernon," and he deeded it to his oldest living son Lawrence (by his first wife--George was the oldest son born to his second wife). When Lawrence died of tuberculosis in 1752, 20-year-old George moved to the estate to help Lawrence's widow manage the place. When she died a few years later, George inherited it. Not long after that, he married Martha Custis, a wealthy widow one year older than he, in 1759.

We didn't waste any time waiting to get to know George, Martha, and their two grandchildren:

After all, they like visitors:

Mt. Vernon consists of 500 acres of prime real estate on the banks of the Potomac River.

The house was built in stages by George himself between 1758 and 1778 in the same spot where the previous home had been since 1735. I'm sure Martha must have bankrolled some of the expenses.

I always thought Mount Vernon was painted white.

We got in a LONG line behind about 1.5 million children on school field trips. Luckily, a colonist had been resurrected so that he could lecture the young 'uns on their behavior (which was, actually, amazingly good):

While we were waiting, we took a look at the "necessary," a three-seater outdoor toilet, and we decided not to drink any water lest we be faced with its actual use. Washington designed the structure to match his mansion:

I love this cupola and weather vane shaped like the dove of peace. I want one of each, please.

The first room we saw was the last one George built and is dubbed "the New Room." With its two-story-tall ceilings and rich jade wallpaper, it is definitely the grandest room in the house:



The room is full of period pieces, some of them actually belonging to the Washingtons. George hung twenty-one pieces of art on the walls of this room:

The room's windows give a good view of the backyard:

The New Room opens into the Central Passage:

Two very impressed tourists posing by George's portrait:

A small parlor with an awesome ceiling is nearby:

This is the "Small Dining Room." Washington believed this color of green was "grateful to the eye." The elaborate plaster decoration on this ceiling took five months to complete:

This is the Lafayette Bedchamber, the room where the Marquis stayed when he visited the Washingtons:

ANOTHER shade of green in the Nelly Custus bedroom, the room where Martha's granddaughter stayed. She lived with the Washingtons from her childhood on.  It's thought that the fussy bedhangings were made by America's most famous seamstress: Betsy Ross!

I'm not sure whose bedrooms these are. There sure are a lot of bedrooms. In fact, Mount Vernon is about ten times the size of the average house of the day.


This is the Washingtons' Master Bedroom, including the bed where Washington died of a throat infection in 1799:

Martha used to spend a lot of time in the bedroom writing letters and reading her scriptures:

This is George's "Man Cave." No one was allowed in this study unless he or she was invited:



I hope there was more kitchen than THIS:

I love the piazza, a covered walkway that extends the entire length of the back of the house. George had a wonderful architectural sense:


After touring the mansion, we strolled around the grounds. Washington prided himself on his garden, and his cultivated upbringing is reflected in the cultivated plantings:


Martha was especially fond of flowers, and there are a lot of them:






Nearly 100 adult slaves worked on the Washington farm. This is the women's bunkhouse:


With so many slaves, the estate needed its own shoemaker. This is his shop:

Slaves kept the fires going all day and all night in these hearths to provide heat for Washington's greenhouses during the winter:


The men's bunkroom looks a lot like the women's:

Apparently Santa moonlights as the ironsmith for the Washington estate:

Small homes were made available for the overseer and others who helped the estate run smoothly, especially when George was away:


The gardener was an important man on the estate, and he got a pretty nice house:

In addition to his gardens, George ran several other profitable businesses. He bred sheep for their wool, grew flax for making linen cloth, cultivated hemp for rope, grew cotton, and experimented with making silk. Slaves produced basic textiles for plantation use here in the spinning room. (Of course, the Washingtons purchased finer fabrics from England.)

In addition to salt, the salt house was used as a storage room for fishing nets and farm equipment:

Martha was particularly proud of her smoke house, and often gave a nice smoked ham as a gift:


Of all the chores on the estate, working in the wash house sounds the worst. Slaves who did the laundry rinsed the clothing in scalding water and scrubbed it with lye soap before hanging it out to dry. They they used irons heated in the fire to press the clothes. Each load of laundry required 25 to 30 buckets of water, which had to be hauled up the hill from the river.


We walked around the mansion to the backyard:


. . . where there is quite the view. I'm sure that when George and Martha lived here, there were ships traveling these waters, but when we were there, it was serenely quiet.

Lucky us! Several of the Washingtons' friends had dropped by for tea!

This man shared stories about his experiences with George:

Next we made our way to Washington's tomb, a five-minute walk from the mansion. Washington directed in his will that he be buried in a tomb to be built on the estate.

I liked this sign, similar to the one at the Lincoln Memorial:

Various relatives of the Washingtons are also buried here, and the obelisks in front of the main tomb honor them. The one below marks the grave of Bushrod Washington (Oh my! What a name!), George's nephew who served as a Supreme Court Justice for 30 years. He inherited Mount Vernon after Martha's death in 1802. Another obelisk bears the name of Bushrod's nephew, John Augustine Washington, who inherited Mount Vernon from his uncle and was the last private owner of the estate.

The remains of George and Martha are in what is called the "New Vault," a relatively small and simple brick structure:

A small marble tablet over the arched entry bears the words "Within this Enclosure Rest the remains of Gen. George Washington."  It's moving in its simplicity:

Another plaque notes that the Tomb of Washington was "erected in 1830-3, site and material specified in Washington's will."

Contrasting this simple crypt with some of the grandiose tombs we've seen (and would see later on this trip) only increased my love for the Father of Our Country.

The marble sarcophagus that contains the body of our first President was created in 1837.

The sarcophagus for the first First Lady appears to be identical in size and shape but lacks the extra ornamentation on the lid:

A familiar scripture (John 11: 25-26) is printed on a sign on the back wall of the crypt:

Two fresh wreaths were on display in front of the tomb, one donated by Licking Heights Central Middle School 8th grade (in Pataskala, Ohio), and the other from Pryor Junior High School (in Pryor, Oklahoma). It would be fun to know a little bit more about how those wreaths got there. I wonder if those 8th graders were on the same school trip our son took to Washington, D.C.?

We enjoyed more time walking around the 500 acres of the estate:

At least some of the food grown at Mount Vernon is used in the restaurant where we had our lunch:




In addition, there is a good selection of livestock:

Sheep are always my favorites:

These fellers look ready to be shorn:



I'm not the only one who likes sheep:

Next up, the Museum and Education Center that is part of the $20 Mount Vernon admission fee.

Washington's "skinny jeans" are back in style:

In the area where we had purchased our ticket, we admired this stained glass window depicting the famous story of Georgie cutting down the cherry tree:

However, the "Reconstructing George Washington" exhibit in the Mount Vernon Museum debunks the myth:


We have seen the original Grant Wood painting at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Dallas, so this was an extra fun exhibit.

We loved the section of the museum that highlights the results of a three-year forensics study trying to determine what Washington really looked like:


There was a super awesome hologram of the "mature" Washington:

A life mask and bust of 52-year-old George by French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon was reverse-aged to create a figure of 19-year-old George as a surveyor in 1751. He was 6'2" tall and weighed about 175 pounds:

Here is Washington in 1777 at age 45 as a Revolutionary War General. Experts studied his uniforms to determine his body proportions.


The museum has excellent, informative displays about Washington's career in the colonial army, and about his return to Mount Vernon and his marriage to the lovely widow Martha Custis:

There is a recent portrait of Martha (2004), and her actual jewelry, and reproductions of her wedding gown and [not very comfortable-looking] shoes:

There is a lot of information about the Revolutionary War:




Visitors can try to decipher the originals of letters written by General Washington. Look at that beautiful handwriting!

Washington's sword, a gift from Lafayette, a sample of the muskets used by the colonists, and a model of the Bastille, presented to Washington in 1795 share a display case:

Washington made some pretty remarkable decisions when elected the first President of the United States:

There are also exhibits about the running of the Mount Vernon estate, including this cart showing the crop rotation schedule:

Washington owned a lot of slaves and treated them quite well, as you might expect, at least relative to others at the time:


As Washington aged, he grew more uncomfortable with the institution of slavery, believing (rightly) that it would ultimately tear the nation apart. His will called for all of his slaves to be freed upon Martha's death, but she freed them all a year before she died.

The Potomac River at Mount Vernon was known for its abundance of fish. This diorama notes that 1.5 million herring were caught during one seven week period! (Who counted them?)

In spite of practicing the best dental hygiene of the day, poor George had chronically bad teeth and suffered through a lifetime of inflamed gums and abscessed teeth. By age 57 he was wearing full dentures. Although he was fitted with the best dentures money could buy, they were still painful to wear. He had several sets. These are made of human teeth, cow teeth, and ivory.

Washington's key role at the Constitutional Convention led to his selection as our first president:

I love that Washington was so universally adored by the entirety of his constituents. It's probably the only time in U.S. history that has been the case:

We learned that when Washington became the first President of the United States, he placed his hand upon a Bible and recited the exact same 35-word oath of office that all of his successors have spoken:
The Oath of Office was executed by Robert R. Livingstone, one of the five men who drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Chancellor of New York, where the inauguration was held.  The Bible was an afterthought and was fetched from the Freemasons, a group to which Washington belonged. It was held by Samuel Otis, Secretary of the Senate:



Over 225 years later, political cartoonists are finding fertile ground in Washington's first years as President:



I didn't know that Washington chose the location for the new capital city and played a significant part in designing the city that would be named for him.

Washington refused to serve more than two terms as President. His Farewell Address was issued as a letter in 1796 and circulated around the states. It is now read into the Congressional Record each year, and the museum has a seven-minute video that shows a number of U.S. Senators reading from the Address.

Perhaps my favorite sculpture of all time of President Washington is this one by Avard Fairbanks (1897-1987), a member of the LDS Church and prolific sculptor. He has three sculptures in the U.S. Capitol, as well as more in the Utah and Wyoming state capitols. He created several sculptures of Abraham Lincoln. He also designed the Angel Moroni statue on the LDS Temple in Washington, D.C. and on other temples. (True Trivia: He designed the Dodge ram symbol.) This bust of George Washington, placed near the exit of the museum, really captures Washington's strength of character.

Before we left we stopped for lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn and Restaurant, located on site.  At some point during the tour I had heard of Martha Washington's Peanut and Chestnut Soup, and I wanted to try it. Oh. My. Goodness. It was rich and thick and creamy. Small chunks of peanuts and chestnuts gave it some texture. It was divine. I found a recipe here and am looking forward to making it when the weather gets cooler.

We ordered some other dishes, but the soup stole the show. What a way to end our visit.


READING:

I saw this book in the museum gift shop by an author best known for writing mysteries. First published in 1969 under the title Aspire to the Heavens, this was Clark's debut novel. It didn't sell well, and so she turned her efforts to writing mystery novels instead of historical fiction. It has been recently republished under its new title.

It was a quick, enjoyable read, cleanly focused on the relationship between George and Martha, but spiced with details about the Revolutionary War, the formation of the new country, and the trials of the early Presidency. It was fun to see George as a truly devoted husband first and a President second. 

3 comments:

  1. Ok - I am sure that Mt. Vernon was white when I visited 50 years ago. When did it change?

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  2. Incredible detail. Great job.

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  3. This is a place I've been hoping and wishing to visit for years. Having seen it on your blog, I want to see it even more.
    Those three seat necessaries? I've seen (and used) them at local girls' camps for years. I didn't know Washington had them first-I may have been a little more impressed if I had.

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