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Posts Tagged ‘george washington wired’

April 24, 2012

Whatever Became of the Washington Cockatoo?

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George Washington was more of a dog lover, but Martha Washington appears to have had a soft, feathery spot in her heart for birds. If it weren’t already evident by the green parrot named Snipe that the Washingtons brought with them to the presidency, then it should be apparent by the fact that days before Martha Washington’s death, as she lay ill, a lonely cockatoo was living on the back piazza, just looking for a friend.

Its name is unknown but the extent to which the little guy must have really been doted on by the lady of the house was documented by a visitor to the Mansion. He recorded during his 1802 visit – two years after George Washington’s death – that a female companion sat down and the bird hurriedly left its cage and “endeavoured to gain her favour by a familiarity which thwarted his design. Alarmed at the hurried motions & chattering of the poor fellow, she fled & left him as destitute as before.”

The doctor caring for Martha Washington came along about that time and informed the couple that “this bird was the favourite of Lady Washington, who fed & caressed him daily & being neglected since her sickness, he seemed quite lost & dejected.”

Whatever happened to the feathery companion is unknown, but with his outgoing disposition and the rarity of such an animal during that time, it’s easy to hope that someone might have been willing to take him in.

Research on the Washington cockatoo was provided by Mount Vernon research historian Mary Thompson. The photo of the cockatoo was taken by Duncan Rawlinson/Snowmanradio and was posted to Wikipedia and licensed under a creative commons attribution.

Category: Mount Vernon Animals

April 17, 2012

What’s Blooming in the Garden This Week?

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George Washington’s flowering upper garden is a rich cache of petals and blossoms this time of year, with every week (and sometimes day) bringing a new assortment of blooms. Although everything planted there was known to exist in 18th-century gardens, we’re not exactly sure which species Washington planted in these flowering beds except for fritillaria, larkspur and cardinal flower, all of which are on record as sprouting there. So far this year only the fritallaria has bloomed (see above slideshow), and has almost disappeared from the garden already.

We do have lists from orders that were sent to nurseries so we know the types of flowers that were blooming around the estate generally, although we don’t necessarily know where Washington planted them. Red honeysuckle was requisite for the colonnades that connect the kitchen and servants’ hall to the Mansion and can still be seen there today (see above slideshow). “Sweet shrub” or Calycanthus floridus, whose fragrant blooms smell somewhere on the scent spectrum between apples and strawberry jam, was planted in Washington’s botanical garden where he would experiment with plants. Today, one such shrub can be seen and more importantly smelled in the upper garden, with the rest of its floral cohorts.

Category: George Washington

April 13, 2012

Friday the 13 Superstition Edition: Witch’s Heart

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There’s not much evidence of superstition on record at Mount Vernon during the 18th century. In fact, our historians and curators were hard pressed to come up with any Friday the 13-worthy practices carried out by the Washington household.

People in the 18th century commonly buried items in their walls to ward off evil spirits. Objects included shoes, cashes or even a mummified cat as was the case at Carlyle House in nearby Alexandria, Va. Mourners were also known to cover mirrors after the death of loved ones, but the Washingtons are not on record for this practice either.

All we can say on the superstitious front is that the above “witch’s heart” brooch was found when our archaeologists dug at the sight of Washington’s distillery several years ago. The witch’s heart — almost like a regular heart, but slightly twisted – can be traced back to the 15th century when it was meant to ward off evil spirits. They were often pinned to babies’ blankets for protection, but by the 18th century had also come to stand as a symbol for love. It’s unknown to whom this brooch, made of copper with a pewter wash and glass “jewels” belonged. Whether it warded off spirits or served as a token of love to its owner is equally lost to the ages.

Category: George Washington

April 5, 2012

Washington and His Preference for Pineapple

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If renting a pineapple sounds ridiculous, then it’s only because you’re not from the 18th century.

In George Washington’s day, his compatriots across the ocean in England were known to pay a premium to grace their tables with this most exotic fruit, often putting it atop a decorative fruit pyramid. In such instances the delicious pineapple would not have been eaten, but simply passed from dining room to dining room.

Fortunately for Washington, America’s close proximity to South America – the pineapple’s place of origin – meant that he had slightly better access to the tropical produce, which he was known to particularly enjoy.

When he went to Barbados as a teenager, Washington marveled at what he called China oranges, avagados or alligator pears, and pines, by which, of course, he was referring to oranges, avocados and pineapples. And while he recorded in his diary that the pear was “generally most admired” he professed that “none pleases my taste as do’s [sic] the Pine.”

It was a sentiment that seemed to stick with him throughout life. When ships left Mount Vernon laden with fish, flour and other goods to be traded in the West Indies, Washington would ask the captain to bring back a few pineapples. Local merchants also sold them, except during the Revolutionary War, when trade was disrupted and they became few and far between.

Pineapples were likely consumed raw most of the time, but Martha Washington’s granddaughter Nelly Custis had two recipes for frozen pineapple desserts: “fromage of pine apples” made with minced pineapple and “pine apple cream,” which involved steeping a pineapple rind in boiling cream.

Looks like it’s a good thing the Washingtons weren’t renting theirs.

Research on George Washington and pineapples was provided by Mount Vernon research historian Mary Thompson.

Category: George Washington

March 27, 2012

Washington’s Cherry Blossoms

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It’s the 100th anniversary of Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms, which arrived in 1912 when the mayor of Tokyo gifted the nation’s capital some 3,000 cherry trees. But here at Mount Vernon it’s the 200th-something anniversary of George Washington’s cherry trees. And unlike those at the Tidal Basin, Washington’s actually produced fruit.

Today there are three in the upper garden (see above), but in Washington’s day there were five there that we know of, in addition to those that he grew in his orchard. It’s the fruit for which Washington is best-known due to the fabricated tale of a young George who could not tell a lie. In reality, Washington’s involvement with the cherry tree was strictly culinary — their fruit was eaten fresh, preserved, turned into candy, baked into desserts and incorporated in cherry bounce, a popular 18th-century cocktail.

Grafting of cherry trees was generally done in March and harvesting was done in June. Washington grew bullock hearts, carnation cherries, winter and summer boon cherries, duke cherries and marellas. Cherries, apples, pears and strawberries were some of the most frequently grown fruits at the estate. In sum, Washington planted a good many more cherry trees than he ever fictitiously felled.

Research on George Washington and cherries was provided by Mount Vernon research historian Mary Thompson.

Category: George Washington

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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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