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Posts Tagged ‘historic mount vernon’

May 18, 2012

Object Spotlight: Washington’s Decanter Case

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Lonely cowboys had their flasks, but what did people during the Revolutionary War use to sneak a sip?

Washington may have kept his stash of spirits in this personal decanter case, which legend holds was given to the General by Lord Fairfax. It’s also possible the above box was the “1 Small Spirit Case” listed among the items in Washington’s study in an 1802 inventory.

Military officers, officials and travelers carried such cases. The utilitarian and sturdy nature of Washington’s case, which is reinforced with iron straps and an iron lock, makes it seem a good piece of craftsmanship to take into any battle. The middling quality of the glass decanters also suggest it may have been used in less than genteel settings.

Although we don’t know what alcohol Washington imbibed from these bottles, we do know that when he traveled west into the Ohio Valley in 1784, he carried with him Madeira and port wine as well as cherry bounce.

If wine and George Washington sound like an ideal combo, it’s not too late to have a glass on the piazza at Mount Vernon’s upcoming Sunset Celebration. We just can’t let you drink out of the General’s decanters.

To see the decanter case in person, check out Mount Vernon’s Hoecakes and Hospitality exhibit located in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. Recipes for alcoholic concoctions such as cherry bounce, enjoyed by the Washingtons, are available in the exhibit’s companion book Dining with the Washingtons.

Assistant Curator Alison Bliss contributed to this report.

Object Spotlight is a regular feature that highlights household belongings used by the Washingtons. Check out Mount Vernon’s eMuseum to explore more Washington-related objects.

Gift of Mrs. Marsh, 1874 [W-188/A] [W-188/B1] [W-188/B2]

Category: Object Spotlight

May 16, 2012

MV Mailbox: Greetings From 1910

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Approximately 112 years ago on May 27, 1910, a Mrs. Sarah Mendenhall of Yeagertown, Pa., received a friendly postcard from a niece or nephew who visited Mount Vernon. The structure on the front of the note won’t be recognizable to those familiar with the estate today. The “Mt. Vernon Lunch Room” as it was called was a small shack-like station near the entrance to the estate where visitors could grab a bite to eat. In later years the lunch room was replaced by the Mount Vernon Tearoom, located in the same spot, which also happened to be on the trolly line to the estate. When the George Washington Parkway was constructed in the 1930s and the trolly ceased to function, the tearoom was torn down.

The layers of history that exist at Mount Vernon extend even beyond George Washington to the average visitor.

The postcards featured in the MV Mailbox series and hundreds others are part of Mount Vernon’s postcard collection. They range vastly in age and subject matter, but have one underlying commonality: George Washington’s estate.

Category: MV Mailbox

May 1, 2012

MV Mailbox: Greetings from 1931

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Approximately 81 years ago someone with rather unintelligible handwriting sent one Mrs. H a postcard from Mount Vernon. We took her address off the postcard on the chance that Mrs. H is still alive and residing at the same locale (if you’re out there Mrs. H, please give us a shout!), but since even her state was illegible (it appears to have started with an I), this step was likely unnecessary.

While the message, which was sent on April 26 from Baltimore, Md., is not completely decipherable, the “green room” featured on the cover is a little easier to make a few deductions about. It features what is today the yellow room on the Mansion’s second floor. Contemporary visitors learn that the room was used as a guest chamber in George Washington’s time, and they walk through it just before entering the hallway where they see the Washingtons’ bedchamber. The display case and what appears to be a pegboard on the fireplace hearth in the postcard are peculiar for those familiar with the Mansion’s interior today, where only period furnishings are on display.

From the one-cent stamp on the back to the Mansion decor, a lot can change in the course of eight decades.

The postcards featured in the MV Mailbox series and hundreds others are part of Mount Vernon’s postcard collection. They range vastly in age and subject matter, but have one underlying commonality: George Washington’s estate.

Category: MV Mailbox

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

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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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