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A Double Date With George and Martha

December 9th, 2008 (05:33 pm)

current mood: energetic

I went on a date with my husband this weekend. This is worthy of notice because we seldom go anywhere with just the two of us, sans six-year-old. Sunday night, my mother babysat while we took a candlelight tour of Mount Vernon, arranged by Bob's University of Michigan Alumni Association. Mount Vernon offers these tours by special reservation around the holidays. Except for a few required-by-law emergency lights, the whole place is lit up only by the lanterns and candles that would have been used in George Washington's day.
I had known that the wall colors used in colonial houses seem garish by modern standards because interior lighting was so dim back then that the paint colors had to be bright in order to be noticed. But I'd never been on a candlelight tour so that I could see the effect for myself. It really is true. I remember the jade green dining room walls at Mount Vernon reminding me of my grandmother's laughably bright taste in room colors. But by candlelight, they really do look tasteful. George picked out that color himself.

Each part of the house had a costumed interpreter playing the part of an actual person from George and Martha's household. So, for example, the slave who worked as George's driver described the entry area for us, Martha herself hosted us at the dining table, her seamstress (also a slave) showed us the bedrooms, and George's personal physician showed us the study. Outside there was hot cider (it was a really cold night) and gingerbread cookies. And a camel. Really.

I'm pretty well-versed in early American history, and especially in Virginia history. But I learned some things I didn't know. George Washington was a great admirer of exotic animals. He got a real kick out of seeing them and learning about them, and he thought everyone should have that opportunity. So whenever possible, he'd arrange to have one on exhibit at Mount Vernon and he'd make sure that his family, employees, slaves, and neighbors all got a chance to see it. One Christmas season, he brought in a camel that had been touring with a carnival and arranged to keep it at Mount Vernon for a while so that everyone could have a look. So this year, the staff at Mount Vernon has brought in a camel in order to relive that Christmas season. Personally, I thought the camel looked cold. The seamstress told us that she was pleased that her children had been given the rare opportunity to see a real camel, and that it liked to chew on people's clothing and hair.

Another interesting fact I learned: Martha Washington accompanied her husband when he went to war! I knew some women did so in the Revolutionary War, but I had no idea that she was one of them. I'd like to read more about that. She seems to have been a stronger and more multidimensional person than the supportive wife and dutiful hostess we've seen in the history books. I also didn't know that she was only 4-foot-10.

After the tour, we tried to eat at the restaurant there, but it was open that night by reservation only, and we hadn't had the foresight to make one. So we drove back through Old Town and had dinner at The Majestic Cafe, a place I'd been wanting to try for several years now. It was more expensive than our usual restaurant choices (which are often chosen based on how well a first-grader would fit in) and worth every penny. We felt like we were celebrating some big occasion, though in reality the only thing we were celebrating was the fact that we had a babysitter. Works for me.


Posted by: Allison Stein (astein142)
Posted at: December 10th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)

Sounds like a lovely evening!

Posted by: dragonet2 (dragonet2)
Posted at: December 10th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
What Allison said

I'd like to take it.

Did not know about the exotic animal/George Washington connection.

People have an idea of camels being all unpleasant and angry. They aren't, if their owners treat them kindly. I know the camels at our RenFest only get grumbly when it is too damp. And both variety of camels will grow long hair when it gets cold,

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