Maryland Outdoor Club
Sun, Dec 28 2008 - Christmas at Mount Vernon (View Original Event Details)

Event Organizer(s): Beverly Hoeftman
Participants:Beverly Hoeftman, Joe Caudill, Aimee Morris, Jessica Martinez, Richard Martinez, Scotia Mortensen, Hung Huynh, Marian Lee

Write Up:
This year's festivities included a "Christmas Camel", a concept that hadn't been fully explained on the website. Turns out, George Washington had a strong interest in exotic animals, and had once paid $1.75 (quite a handful of cash at the time) to see an elephant. In keeping with this interest, he once rented a camel for the amusement of his Christmas guests. This role was recreated for us by Aladdin, a very friendly year old camel. He seemed to enjoy being petted, and approached several of our group members to get better acquainted.

Near Alladin's enclosure, we viewed a demonstration of chocolate making. Watching the dizzying number of steps needed to produce a cup of hot chocolate, we all gained a new appreciation for Swiss Miss.

The group then joined the line to view the Mansion, and used the waiting time to get better acquainted. Along the way, we enjoyed viewing the reconstructed "Necessary", better known as an outhouse. It was locked and roped off, presumably against attempts to use it on days when the lines are even longer.

We were all impressed by the decorative elements in the formal dining room, many of which were chosen by Washington himself. The work took more than a decade to complete, and including a delay of several years spent fighting the Revolution. The many agrarian symbols revealed that Washington had considered himself a farmer, rather than a soldier or politician. Most of us were less impressed with the paint choices in the informal rooms. Bright colors were then the height of fashion, as demonstrated by a "verdigris" green that we could almost feel vibrating in the air.

Our holiday tour also included the rarely seen third floor, where Martha took up residence after George's death. While we found this section interesting, we could tell why it was rarely opened. Accessing it required two-way traffic on a stairwell that was at best four feet wide. This passage in itself was a bit of an adventure. The close quarters on the stairs made us especially glad to check out the Portico's sweeping view of the Potomac. We also very much enjoyed the expansive lawn with its many impressive trees.

Many exhibits highlighted the lives of the estate's slaves. The laundry house was especially impressive, thanks to interpretive signs describing the extent of the labor required, and the amount of their lives spent performing it. A reconstructed slave cabin gave further insight into their lives. It stood in stark contrast to the many amenities of the Mansion. Like many of his contemporaries, Washington was ambivalent about keeping slaves. His will ordered that they be freed them at the end of Martha's lifetime. A display in the Museum revealed that she sped up the process, and freed them a year after his death. The estate includes a monument to all the slaves who worked on the estate.

We also viewed the estate's fruit garden, where a disembodied recorded voice told us about Washington's experimental farming techniques, reconstructed from archeological findings. Another innovation was his sixteen sided threshing barn, which allowed the processing of grain even in bad weather. Other agricultural highlights included some now rare "heritage breeds", such as furry hogs, and cows with large horns. Once the mainstay of American farming, these breeds aren't compatible with the standardization required for modern factory farming.

The tour concluded with a visit to the Museum. The holiday highlight was a gingerbread depiction of the Mansion, complete with sugar figurines of Washington and many of the farm animals. Other group favorites included an animatronic squirrel that appeared to be pooping, and a recreation of Washington's horse. (No horses were harmed to create the exhibit, though. A taxidermist sought out one of the appropriate description among the Amish, asking to be notified when one wasn't doing well.) The group found this extensive museum worth a visit in itself.

We were all pleased by the insights into Revolutionary-era farming life, and its impact of Geroge Washington's career.

- Beverly

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