Autumn at Mount Vernon


It had been some time since last I visited Mount Vernon. During my recent trip back to visit my wife's family, we made an excursion over to see the newly updated Mount Vernon Visitor's complex.

A while back, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association had spent a good deal of time and effort updating the shops that flanked the entrance to the estate. They did this while retaining the Colonial feel of the Mount Vernon Inn and created a pleasant mix of the modern and the historical.

Since that time, they have spent a great deal of time and effort building a magnificent new annex and entrance to the estate. Entering one is exposed to a wonderful statue of the Washington Family--George, Martha, Martha Custis, and John Parke Custis (Martha's daughter and son by a previous marriage). (I must admit these last two identifications are speculative because in later life the couple raised at least one, and I think two grandchildren.)


In this wing one can watch a brief film that traces some of the high points in the life of George Washington--Fort Necessity, the Death of General Braddock, etc.

What is most wonderful of all about this, is that the new wing was build without any obvious intrusion upon the estate itself. What was once a lengthy gravel road walk is now an entrance through the visitor's center and from the grounds the center is not visible.

In addition to the new visitor's center, the estate has added two small buildings that represent the living conditions of the slave workers on the plantation. Over time awareness and acknowledgment of Slave life at Mount Vernon has increased and so has the willingness to own up to this problematic situation.

One final and truly magnificent addition to the grounds is a small museum complex that features something like 12-15 audio-visual presentations of different lengths on different aspects of George Washington's life and life at Mount Vernon. Among these are four short clips about slavery, a short clip about George Washington and Religion. As short film about the relationship of George and Martha Washington, some information about George Washington's Spy network, and a nicely realized account of George Washington as military leader, from the debacle of Fort Necessity, to the triumph at Yorktown that secured for us our initial independence.

Along with these presentations there are stunning forensic recreations of George Washington at various periods of his life for which there is scant extant documentation of appearance, etc; his "false teeth", which are, in fact, real teeth secured in a metal plate that looks like a truly arcane torture device, and various artifacts both from Mount Vernon and from the time period.

In addition to the permanent exhibit, there is an exhibit hall for rotating exhibitions.

In all, a stunning change from previous visits, and a welcome one. All of this was done and the price of entry was essential the same as it was some five or six years ago, the last time I went to the estate. It is one of the finest small museums you are ever likely to see. What is truly notable in it is the attempt to be as impartial as being part of MVLA could possibly allow, including some clips and moments in movies that actually levy some criticism of George Washington as general and as slave-holder.

What the complex now does is finely balance the true veneration, devotion, and respect always exhibited by MVLA with the (sometimes) unpleasant historical facts to create an all-round picture of the life of George Washington that only embues more respect and appreciation in the visitor.

One last note, MVLA has added a round of historical personalities who show up on the grounds. I was able to visit with Martha Washington and with the chief of George Washington's spy organization for about half an hour. Each gives a short presentation and then engages in conversation with the audience in character and in time. Thus, they can't answer question about events after 1799, the death of Mr. Washington.

If you're in the area, or you plan to visit the area, you really need to stop by the new complex. It is fascinating, detailed, and multifaceted. With the house, the grounds, and the museum, you have the equivalent of a theme park, with a great deal more grit, gusto, hard and fast reality, and in some ways entertainment. (And this you're hearing from someone who truly enjoys what Disney has to offer us.)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 2, 2007 6:48 AM.

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