One aspect of America that has always been clear to me, but emphasized since I’ve been in DC, is the pride it has in it’s past. No more so than the pride it has in it’s Founding Fathers and the documents they wrote that set the course for the country the United States has become.
On Friday it was George Washington’s 281st Birthday, and to celebrate the day GWU had organized a free trip to his Mt. Vernon estate and gardens on the Potomac River, around 40 minutes from campus. 40 or so years after General Washington passed away, the Washington family went to Congress, asking them to buy the property, as the family could not maintain it. Congress refused, but the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association was formed by a group of women who saw the need to preserve General Washington’s home and to this day they own and manage the Estate. Over 80 million people have visited the Estate since 1860, when it was first opened to the public.
Mt. Vernon sits on a beautiful part of the Potomac, with the Mansion itself looking across the river to a National Park in Maryland. The Estate, including formal and informal gardens, Mansion, outbuildings, woods and farmland is kept as it would have been during Washington’s lifetime. There was even a man in character as a gardener in the Conservatory when we were wandering the gardens! I gather in the summer there are may more people in character around the property. Their attention to historical accuracy is so detailed that currently they are restoring the formal dining room in the mansion because they have discovered there was a slight error with the wallpaper borders they had previously.
Though the weather was a little gloomy and grey, it was lovely to wander the grounds and see a place where history was made. A guide in the Mansion told us they planned the Battle of Yorktown in the dining room currently being restored, and the banister we held as we walked up the stairs has been touched not just by Washington himself, but by other founding fathers like Jefferson and Adams.
The central activity of the afternoon at Mt. Vernon was at his Tomb, adjacent to the unmarked graves of the slaves who worked there, and the more recent plaque acknowledging those graves, in the middle of some of the woodland. GW students were able to participate in a special "wreath laying ceremony," in commemoration of General Washington’s birth, life, and death. As well as an introduction by an Assistant Curator there (a GW alumni too), we had students read the pledge of allegiance, and General Washington’s prayer and a member of the GW faculty lay the wreath within the Tomb.
It was a peaceful moment, along the banks of the Potomac River, remembering a man who died so long ago, whose legacy lives on not just in the story of GWU, or of DC, but in the story of America more generally.
After the bus trip home, I made a quick visit to the Bonfire at U-Yard in commemoration of George Washington and had my first S’more, which was a delicious end to a lovely day.