A View from History

April 27, 2012

I was a little surprised at how touched I was to be standing in a spot where George Washington probably stood and looking at the same view he would have enjoyed … and what a beautiful, peaceful view it is.

He owned enough land that he would have had innumerable spots he could have chosen to build his house, but I can’t imagine that this wasn’t the clear favorite if nothing else because of the view.

What an admirable and interesting man … and an interesting place.  Maybe when he was fighting a war and then governing a new nation and had to be away from home for long periods of time, his memory of this peaceful home and this beautiful view gave him a few moments of peace.

I’ve just started reading a biography of George Washington.  This visit to his home has made me want to know more about him than what we learned from history books in school.


“Shooting” an oxen … not so easy!

April 23, 2012

As we walked along a wooded path from the Mt. Vernon home to one of the adjoining farms, I heard what sounded like a cow bell and looked around to see where the sound was coming from.

I saw two people leading a pair of oxen along a path that was on a ridge above us.

Glimpses of the oxen were fleeting between trees, so I didn’t get a really clear picture.  What a disappointment.

But, when we arrived at our destination a few minutes later, lo and behold there they were!  But, again, by the time I got my camera ready, they had already passed us, so I only got a shot of their “rear view”.

But luckily a few minutes later they turned around and came toward us again.  This time I was ready … I got the shot.

I know you, like me, probably think of oxen as slow, plodding animals.  But I found this pair particularly quick footed and wily at avoiding having their picture taken.

That is my story and I’m sticking to it.  I refuse to admit that the problem might have been that I was “slower and more plodding” than them!


A Peaceful Resting Place

April 19, 2012

Mt. Vernon looks wonderfully tidy and well-preserved when you tour it today.  But not too long after Martha Washington’s death, when Mt. Vernon had passed to the possession of a nephew, it fell into disrepair.

The story goes that a group of wealthy couples were on a boat going up the Potomac.  But when they passed by Mt. Vernon especially the ladies were shocked that it was so run-down … especially noticeable was that the veranda looking out to the river was falling down and was partially held up by an old boat stood on end.

The result was that the women organized a group that purchased George Washington’s home, restored it, and to this day the society they began is still the owner and conservators of Mt. Vernon.

So today it is beautiful and well-maintained,

including the little brick building that is the tomb of George and Martha Washington.

There were alot of people trying to see into the tomb, so I only got a brief glimpse of inside.

I heard a story while I was there that I think is worth repeating:

During the Civil War, soldiers from both sides would come to Mt. Vernon to pay their respects to George Washington, sometimes at the same time.  So the woman who was then the head of the society that owned Mt. Vernon, made a rule that any soldier coming onto the property must leave his gun at the gate.  A perfect momentary solution that allowed all the soldiers from both sides to pay their respects to the Father of Our Country.

And early on, the soldiers started carving their names in the bricks of the tomb.  Eventually, it wasn’t allowed any more,

but the name John Brown is carved in one of the bricks and the guide said there is reason to believe it is “the” John Brown.  Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia about him:

John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was an American revolutionary abolitionist, who in the 1850s advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to abolish slavery in the United States. He led the Pottawatomie Massacre, during which five men were killed, in 1856 in Bleeding Kansas, and made his name in the unsuccessful raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859. Later that year he was executed but his speeches at the trial captured national attention. Brown has been called “the most controversial of all 19th-century Americans”[1]and “America’s first domestic terrorist.”[2]

I find it fascinating to “walk through history” in places like Mt. Vernon, so I’ll have one or two more stories from there and then I’ll move on to our second day in DC.  Just kidding … this was the second day.

Bored yet?  I hope not.


Mules’ Work

April 15, 2012

On one of the several farms that make up George Washington’s estate, there was this octagon-shaped barn.

Inside, Washington had created a timesaving way to thrash grain.


The floorboards around the outside wall of the upstairs have spaces between them.  That was so that grain could be thrown down on those boards and then mules walked around and around on it so that the grain would fall between the boards into the bottom of the barn and the straw would stay on the floor. (I assume that when this was done, there wasn’t a bench setting in the way of the mules, as this one seems to be positioned.)

What an interesting man President Washington must have been.  Anyone with such a creative mind must have been a wonderful conversationalist.


Mt. Vernon’s Necessary

April 13, 2012

My favorite tour in DC was at George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon.

As we walked up a path to the house, this cute little building was off to the left.  I wondered what it was and was told that it was the “necessary” — the outdoor toilet.  Fancy, huh?

And we were also told that it is just one of the examples of George Washington’s ingenuity.  There is a drawer under the little building that caught waste and then it was spread on the family garden.  More information than you wanted?  I thought so too, but a great example of George’s “waste not, want not” (pun intended) attitude.  A recycler before they were called that.


We “got around” in DC, thanks to the Metro.

April 12, 2012

When I was in Washington, DC last week with my SIL and a friend, we stayed in a suburb and took the Metro anywhere we went that wasn’t on the tour bus.

This map made it very easy to figure out which line to take to wherever we were going.

The stations were mostly underground, but the trains travel both underground and above ground.

You got your ticket from a machine.  And if you decided to go on to somewhere further than your original destination, you could put your almost depleted ticket into one of the machines and add money to it.

Someone I’ve talked to since we got back said that they had heard that the DC Metro was “scary”, but I never felt that.  Of course, I was never traveling on one alone and we rode them almost exclusively during daylight.

When we had questions the “regulars” sitting around us were always very helpful.  When I was talking to one young man about how we could make sure we didn’t miss getting off at the right stop, he told me that for our stop we should count three stops after daylight!   Then he explained, because it was obvious we weren’t “locals”, he meant get off at the third stop after the train went from underground to above ground.

The trains were always on schedule and clean and the passengers were friendly and helpful.  This was my first experience with a metro train system and it was a very positive one.


Arlington Cemetery: Touching Tributes

April 11, 2012

It was so interesting to me to see the reality of places which I had previously only seen in pictures while I visited Washington, DC.

One of those places was Arlington Cemetery.  I only remember seeing pictures of Arlington that were of a flat field filled with row after row of white crosses.  A very striking picture and I can understand why that would be an appropriate photo to represent Arlington.

But I was surprised when I saw it in person and realized that it is actually quite hilly.  I found it much more beautiful in reality, with not only a more interesting landscape than the flat I had envisioned, but with trees everywhere I looked, many flowering early because of our unusual Spring.

 One of the facts I learned while I was there was that originally the markers were as varied as any other cemetery.  But at some point it was decided that no matter how rich or poor were the people who had served our country who were buried there, they all deserved the same respect, so from then on simple white crosses were used for everyone.

We were at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the changing of the guard.

It was arranged ahead of time that four students from the group of eighth graders we were with, would participate in a wreath-laying ceremony.  I would think that that will be memorable for all of the class, not just those who participated.

If I ever knew, I had forgotten, that the remains of the Unknown from the Viet Nam War have been removed because DNA has allowed the military to identify that soldier.  And I was told that because DNA can now be used to identify remains, there won’t be any more burials with the Unknowns.

The viewing of so many graves was, of course, sobering, as well as the ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but I think the sight that touched me most was this:

Old tombstones with rocks or sometimes coins laid on them.  It’s one thing to look at many graves of men and women who sacrificed for my freedom but whom I did not know, but quite another to look at a tombstone that has been somehow singled out like this.  I could picture a person standing at one of  those tombstones laying a token on it while picturing what the person was like and remembering family stories about them.  It made the whole experience feel a little more personal for me.

If you haven’t visited Arlington, I recommend it.