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Archive for March, 2013

March 28, 2013

March Madness at Mount Vernon


March Madness at George Washington’s Mount Vernon has nothing to do with basketball, but is just as exciting as March is the month that we welcome the lambs and piglets. It is also the time that our dedicated livestock crew suffers sleep deprivation while they monitor the condition of the expecting mommas-to-be 24/7. This year 26 Hog Island ewes are expecting, as well as two Ossabaw Island sows.

Genesis was the first of the Ossabaw Island sows to give birth, and she had seven piglets on March 24th. We’re still watching with baited breath for Annabeth’s piglets to arrive.

So far this year, 18 of the 26 Hog Island ewes have given birth to 26 lambs! Though our livestock crew does not have a lamb bracket to fill out before the madness of March begins, they do have an annual pool for guesses as to how many they think will be born; this year’s guesses range between 34 and 38. After last year’s epic lamb count (a total of 47 lambs were born) the livestock crew vowed, never again.

Besides enjoying the lambs’ playful antics, we also enjoy the yearly naming of the little ones. Each year, a new theme for the names is chosen and the more unusual markings on the lambs are often reflected their names. Some of our favorite names come from the years that the themes were music related. “Bette Riddler” was named for the marking on her side that resembled a question mark, “Waltzing Matilda” had a boomerang marking on her forehead, and her brothers and sisters were named “Sweet Melissa”, “Bernadette”, and “Jumping Jack Flash”.

The naming theme for 2013 is cities. Our two lambs born on St. Patrick’s Day were given the names Dublin and Galway. Some of the other names you’ll hear around Mount Vernon are Honolulu, Dallas, Brooklyn, Savannah, and Bombay. One of this year’s lambs has markings resembling the letters M.I.T. on his side, so it seemed only appropriate to name him Baaaston.

March Madness at Mount Vernon is an exciting time and there are no losers in this event, just a whole lot of adorable baby lambs and piglets. If you are planning a visit to Mount Vernon this Spring, don’t forget to say hello to the newest members of our family who are on display along the paddock road.

J. Dean Norton and the Amazing Livestock Crew
Department of Horticulture


Category: Mount Vernon Animals, Videos from Around the Estate

March 27, 2013

Encyclopedia Entry: Slave Resistance at Mount Vernon



Mount Vernon’s enslaved population resisted their forced servitude in a variety of ways. As argued by Mary Thompson, Mount Vernon’s Research Historian, “The enslaved population at Mount Vernon did not meekly accept their bonded lot in life.” Rather, slaves practiced a mixture of methods of resistance, including tactics such as work slow downs and feigning illness; the advantage of these methods was that “they were often difficult for George Washington and his managers to observe and prove.”

Thompson also points out that “On the opposite end of the resistance spectrum were more active and noticeable actions such as theft, arson, sabotage of crops, and running away.” While these types of actions “might be especially satisfying” for an enslaved person, “they also carried far greater risk of detection and punishment.”

One of the more infamous accounts of resistance at Mount Vernon occurred in 1781 when 17 slaves ran away to the British warship HMS Savage, anchored on the Potomac River close to Mount Vernon. For more information on the HMS Savage see our blog post from February 27, 2013.

To read more about slave resistance at Mount Vernon visit the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington

Continue reading Encyclopedia Entry: Slave Resistance at Mount Vernon »

Category: Classroom Connections, Digital Encyclopedia, Slavery

March 26, 2013

That’s Plaster on the Walls?


Decoration in the New Room

Decoration in the New Room

One of the challenges facing the New Room conservators is repairing and, when necessary, replacing decorative elements throughout the room, including the intricate decoration on the walls and ceiling. At first glance, it might appear as if the bell flowers and swags throughout the New Room are carved from wood; however, carved wood paneling was an expensive choice and was going out of fashion when George Washington was decorating the room. Instead of hand-carving the details, the artisans Washington hired used either plaster or a mixture of animal glue, chalk, pine rosin, and linseed oil called composition or compo.

The raw ingredients for compo

The raw ingredients for compo

Our conservation team is using the same 18th century methods to recreate the details of the New Room. The first step is to make a cast of the existing ornaments in order to create molds that can be used to produce replicas of the pieces that need replacement. In the photo below, orange silicon rubber is used for the mold rather than a wooden mold as an 18th century artisan would have used. Next, plaster or compo is poured into the mold and removed when it has dried. Finally, the reproduced pieces are trimmed and attached to the walls and ceiling.

Making plaster casts: Andy pouring molding plaster into a silicon rubber mold (left). The bellflower casts have been removed from the mold and are ready for trimming (right).

Making plaster casts: Andy pouring molding plaster into a silicon rubber mold (left). The bellflower casts have been removed from the mold and are ready for trimming (right).

You can read more about the work the New Room conservators are doing and the processes they use on the New Room Renewed blog.

Hannah Freece
Outreach Coordinator
Historic Preservation & Collections

Category: New Room Restoration

March 22, 2013

An Ideal Environment


Do wood doors in your home stick in the summer, but not in the winter? Have you ever noticed that the curtains in your windows fade over time? These common household problems are caused by changes in temperature and humidity, and exposure to sunlight. At Mount Vernon, the Collections Management staff is charged with monitoring the environmental conditions throughout areas of the estate where the historic objects we care for are displayed and housed.

Just as wood doors can swell when the humidity is high, so too can the over 200 year old wood furniture in our care. And just as curtains and other household textiles fade with extended exposure to sunlight, so too do the textiles, prints, and furniture we care for. To protect the collection from damage, the Collections Management Staff monitors humidity, temperature, and light exposure in order to maintain a consistent environment.

We use a variety of instruments to monitor the environment our collection lives in, including HOBOs, which log data on a monthly basis, and hygrothermographs, which log data on a weekly basis. These instruments help us ensure that the temperature remains under 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity between 30%-50% is maintained. The data is compiled into monthly reports which are passed to the head of our Operations & Maintenance Department who makes the necessary adjustments to the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning) system to keep conditions consistent.

One of 53 HOBOs monitoring environmental conditions at Mount Vernon

One of 53 HOBOs monitoring environmental conditions at Mount Vernon

A hygrothermograph takes daily measurements of temperature and humidity

A hygrothermograph takes daily measurements of temperature and humidity

To protect the collection inside the mansion from light damage, ultra-violet filters are installed on every window and the four green shutters on the oldest part of the mansion are rotated from opened to closed throughout the day. In the museum, light meters are used to monitor light exposure. Textiles, paper, and lacquer objects have a higher sensitivity to light so they are rotated every three to six months.

Diana Welsh
Collections Management Assistant
Department of Historic Preservation and Collections

Category: Collections, Historic Preservation

March 20, 2013

Encyclopedia Entry: Pilgrimages to Washington’s Tomb


Tomb of Washington, August 4, 1817, artist believed to be Rubens Peale.

Tomb of Washington, August 4, 1817, artist believed to be Rubens Peale.

“Pilgrims from across the country converged on Mount Vernon during the early nineteenth century intent on feeling the aura of America’s first national hero,” explains Matthew Costello, doctoral candidate in History at Marquette University. In today’s featured encyclopedia entry on pilgrimages to Washington’s tomb, Costello points out that the pilgrims visited the tomb “to pay their respects through prayer, reflection, and moments of silence. Many pilgrims, overwhelmed with emotion, wept in the presence of Washington’s remains.”

However, while the tomb frequently elicited outpourings of emotion from visitors, it also became the subject of public outcry. Costello notes that, “The tomb…became a site of controversy, as the poor appearance of the vault prompted pilgrims to lobby government representatives for proper monument construction.”

A new tomb, constructed under the supervision of Lawrence Lewis and George Washington Parke Custis, was completed in 1831 and the bodies of George and Martha Washington were transferred from the old tomb, along with other members of their family.

Pilgrimages to Washington’s tomb continue to the present and participation in the wreath laying at Washington’s tomb is a highlight for many visitors to Mount Vernon.

Read more about pilgrimages to the tomb during the nineteenth century and individuals’ reflections on the experience by visiting the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington

Continue reading Encyclopedia Entry: Pilgrimages to Washington’s Tomb »

Category: Classroom Connections, Digital Encyclopedia, George Washington, Mount Vernon


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Portraits in Schools

Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

The response was overwhelming: thousands of schools submitted letters! Along with the portrait, schools received curriculum materials to help explore our first president’s contributions.

Where has George Washington gone back to school? Click here to see!

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