The Past is Present at Mount Vernon in Washington, DC
January 12, 2014
WASHINGTON, DC, US – In the pursuit of novel experiences, a persistent world traveler will eventually happen upon a sight not only far from home, but seemingly far from the present day. London’s Kensington Palace, with its well-kept gardens and Orangery that serves a Royal Afternoon Tea, is one. Palm Beach’s Flagler Museum is another, preserved in its Gilded Age glory with luncheons of lemonade and egg-salad sandwiches straight out of an Edith Wharton novel. And The Summer Palace in Beijing conserves the world of vacationing Qing dynasts in pristine condition.
When it comes to wrinkles in time, however, Washington, DC’s Mount Vernon is in a league of its own. The home that George Washington inhabited for forty years is a sprawling estate with all the trappings of its 18th-century, aristocratic context: greenhouses, gardens, a blacksmith’s house, a stone kitchen, servant’s quarters, and the white-and-red wood mansion itself. The property is so thoroughly of the past that setting foot here feels like stepping back 200 years.
Alright, so maybe the immersive atmosphere isn’t completely incidental. There have to be people around to keep the estate running authentically, and to that end, the manor doubles as a living history museum. Rooms are populated by a wealth of character actors playing roles from Martha Washington’s housemaid to a visiting chocolatier. In the Christmas season, the estate even gets a visit from a “Christmas camel” just like the one Washington paid 18 shillings for in 1787.
There’s one other element responsible for the frozen-in-time impression. As a registered Historic Place, Mount Vernon has a behind-the-scenes staff who continually keep things real, 18th century style. From restoring the former crib of Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Nelly Custis, to injecting glue behind peeling paint, preservationists, conservators, and curators are vigilant to make sure there’s nary a wrinkle in the historic illusion. Which means that entering the property feels less like traveling through space than traveling through time.
And that’s a novel travel experience.
Read more about Mount Vernon in our Washington, DC Guide.