Archive | January 2017

Happy Birthday, Julia Grant!

Julia Grant was born on January 26, 1826. Wife of our 18th President, President Ulysses S Grant. She loved her role as First Lady and enjoyed entertaining at The White House. She once said, “My life in the White House was like a bright and beautiful dream.”

Julia Grant was the first First Lady to write an autobiography for publication (The portrait was done by Matthew Brady, famed Civil War photographer)

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The Historical Traveler Visits Mount Vernon

 

 

img_5850Yesterday was a perfect day to visit Mount Vernon – the first President’s home. The father of our country.

Everybody knows our first President of the United States of America, George Washington, is famous for many things including being a decorated General and leader during the American Revolution.

While visiting his beloved home, Mount Vernon, I learned more of the “other side” of George Washington, including his early contributions in expert farming and fishing on the Potomac River, as well as his amazing craftsmanship and original architecture. All of which took place on the property of his estate.

It was fascinating to learn that Mount Vernon once housed meetings before and during the
Revolutionary War.

This beloved home of George Washington has since been turned into a museum where millions gather each year to learn about our first President.

George Washington believed that the path to economic growth and success as a Nation lied within the ability to naturally produce agricultural products. Washington studied farming extensively including implementing the new husbandry system which included a variety of fertilization methods and a new crop rotation system.

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George Washington even built a custom barn, inventing a new way to collect grain. He constructed this innovative barn with sixteen sides for circular treading. Horses and mules would trot around in the grain, which would collect below the barn and stay sheltered from harsh weather conditions until it was time
to collect it.

Mount Vernon sits on the Potomac River, which was used for fishing and was part of what then was considered a highway or interstate of the time. George Washington took advantage of this fishing, believing the other path to growth as a Nation was expanding West. In a good season of fishing, Washington would catch more than one million Shad Herring to feed his family, guests, and slaves. Washington would then sell the surplus for profit, running his own fishing business in his own backyard.

 

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(Interesting Fact: While I was on the Potomac River dock on the property I learned that on March 28th, 1785, representatives from Virginia and Maryland met at Mount Vernon to discuss navigational rights on the Potomac River. The representatives wrote the Mount Vernon Compact and the meeting was such a success that it led to many more meetings of the same nature, and in turn led to the US Constitution which was written in 1787 and put into effect in 1789.)

George Washington died in 1799. He had written in his will that he wanted a new tomb to be laid to rest in instead of what is now called the Old Vault which is also on Mount Vernon.

After visiting the tomb, I then made my way to George Washington’s famous home, which I can tell you is even more beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Unfortunately no pictures were permitted inside the house so you’ll have to take my word for it until you visit yourself someday.

The outside of the house is the same color as it was when George Washington was living in it, and if you look closely you can see three false windows on the front facing left side of the house. They are boarded on the inside because Washington was fond of art but wanted to keep the home looking symmetrical from the
exterior. The home included a servants hall on the very left, an art gallery, nine bedrooms including the master bedroom and the many guestrooms, and a kitchen on the outside of the house in a separate structure.

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On the other side of this wall with the fake windows is a room dubbed ” The New
Room” because it is the last addition to Mount Vernon that George Washington added.

The New Room served as an art gallery with original paintings still on display all over the
room. There were maybe two-dozen portraits, most of which were of rivers.

The curators of the home think this is because he was very adamant about expanding West and using the water for business and transportation.

Upstairs and through one of four guestrooms is the master bedroom where George and Martha once slept.

This room particularly was interesting because it has more original pieces than any other room in the house, including a desk where Martha
would sit and do work, and a large linen closet for storing the many towels required when housing several guests; something the Washington’s frequently did.

The master bedroom also still has the bed George Washington died in. President
Washington died of an infection in bed surrounded by his loved ones December 14, 1799.

(Interesting Fact: During George Washington’s last year, Mount Vernon housed over 600 guests!)

Downstairs from the master bedroom is George Washington’s study, which is my favorite room on the tour. In his study, Washington obtained 900 volumes and 1,200 titles containing information on anything and everything he could read and learn about. Washington valued education on a personal and public scale believing knowledge is very important. On display in his study is Washington’s original desk with an invention of his chair designed to fan his shoulders and back during the warmer summers via pedal under the desk.

Also in his study, Washington has a portrait of his half-brother, Lawrence Washington. Lawrence mentored Washington when he was young before the Revolutionary war.

(Interesting fact: George Washington inherited Mt. Vernon from his older half-brother, Lawrence, after Lawrence inherited the estate from their father.)

Through the next rooms and the other side of the house in a separate structure was the kitchen. Thankfully pictures were allowed here because it’s not part of the home.

The idea in moving the kitchen outside away from the house was to keep extreme
heat and hazards away from the main building. The kitchen includes stairs in the back that lead up to where the kitchen slaves lived. The downstairs was used for cooking and cleaning and early methods of food storage.

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After leaving the tour of the home, I made my way to the museum because I read online there was a new exhibit called Lives Bound Together. Pictures were again not allowed inside the exhibit so I couldn’t take any inside. Lives Bound Together displayed the many stories of slaves who resided and worked on Mount Vernon and the way President Washington was influenced by their lives. Throughout the exhibit were virtual life stories of slaves who labored varying from different parts of Mount Vernon including kitchen staff, farm hands, and George Washington’s personal butler. I think the exhibit is definitely worth going through when you visit Mount Vernon and I think everyone should see it – the exhibit speaks for itself.

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(Interesting Fact: George Washington was having ethical dilemmas regarding slavery later in life. Washington prioritized national unity over abolition believing that abolition would divide the country. He went on to free 123 slaves in his will immediately following his death.)

My day at Mount Vernon was an experience I am very happy I had. George Washington is the original American hero and visiting his home along with learning about what an amazing man he was makes me personally proud to be a citizen of the country he helped establish roots for.

I’ve barely scratched the surface with how much there is to learn and experience here at Mount Vernon. New exhibits are still on the way so plan your visit to Mount Vernon by visiting http://www.mountvernon.org where you can see learn about new exhibits and special events! They even have a military discount!

~ Trevor 

 

 

The Historical Traveler

We are so excited to welcome Trevor Bruce as our Historical Traveler.  Trevor will be traveling to many historic places and will be writing about his experiences and also talking to interesting people along the way.

We can’t wait to read about your adventures, Trevor!

~ Coleen

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Happy Birthday, Robert E. Lee

Today in American history…Robert Edward Lee was born at Stratford Hall plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1807. His had a great pedigree: his father was Major General Henry Lee III aka “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Governor of Virginia, and Anne Hill Carter Lee of the prestigious Carter family who resided at Shirley Plantation in Tidewater, Virginia.

I have always been fascinated by Robert E. Lee.  It could be the many school trips that I went on as a child to his Arlington home, known as Arlington House or the Custis-Lee Mansion that sits on a steep hill overlooking Arlington Cemetery. Or maybe it was his connection to George Washington that intrigued me (Robert E. Lee married the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis who was George Washington’s step-grandson and eventual adopted son).

As with my love of all things related to Abraham Lincoln, I have always had an affection for Robert E. Lee as well.

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Even today, his name brings controversy because he was – after all – a Confederate General. He went against the United States of America and was considered a traitor. He went against all that he believed in, as a career Army officer, to fight for a cause that he felt that he needed to fight for: the protection of his homeland, the Commonwealth of Virginia.  You can almost feel his angst when he wrote his resignation letter to General Winfield Scott:

Arlington, Washington City, P.O
20 Apr 1861

Lt. Genl Winfield Scott
Commd U.S. Army

Genl,
Since my interview with you on the 18th Inst: I have felt that I ought not longer to retain any Commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has Cost me to separate myself from a Service to which I have divoted all the best years of my life, & all the ability I possessed. During the whole of that time, more than a quarter of a century, I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors & the most Cordial friendships from any Comrades. To no one Genl have I been as much indebted as to yourself for kindness & Consideration & it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry with me, to the grave the most grateful recollections
of your kind Consideration, & your name & fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native state shall I ever again draw my sword. Be pleased to accept any more [illegible] wishes for “the Continuance of your happiness & prosperity & believe me

Most truly yours
R E Lee

Robert E. Lee was not only a famous Civil War General. He was also the President of Washington College (later renamed Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia from 1865 until his death on October 12, 1870. He was also a family man who truly loved his wife, Mary Lee, and their seven children.

~ Coleen

 

Today in History…Mary Catherine Marini was Born in 1909

Who was Mary Catherine Marini? You most likely have never heard of her because she wasn’t a President or First Lady. She wasn’t a poet or an heiress. She wasn’t a famous author. She wasn’t a Queen or a Conqueror.

She was simply my grandmother.

My grandma was born in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania to Italian immigrants who dreamed of a better life in America. My great-grandfather, Joseph Marchesi, came first to America in the late 1890’s/early 1900’s along with a few friends and they worked in the coal mines.  Needing a wife, his friend sent for his sister over in Italy and my great-grandparents were soon wed and starting their family.  My grandmother was the fifth child born (two died in infancy) and soon after the sixth child was born, my great-grandmother succumbed to TB at the age of 29.  My grandmother was only six years old when she lost her beloved mother and it was very hard for her.

When my grandparents met in the late 1920’s, my grandmother was a quiet and reserved teenager and my grandfather, Mario Marini, was a “wildcat” who was an Italian immigrant who stowed away on a ship to America and joined the US Navy as a young teenager. When the Navy found out he lied about his age…they naturally threw him out.  But then he went back in when he was legal and then met my grandmother in a Speak Easy in the hills of Pennsylvania.  He was a boxer in the Navy. Smoked cigarettes and drank beer. Used colorful  language.  He was everything that my grandmother wasn’t but she was totally smitten by him and so was he.  They married in January of 1930 and would go onto have four children (one would be my mother, Anita) and from what my mother recalled, they truly loved each other very much until he passed away in March 1953.

After my grandfather died, my grandmother had to support her young family and immediately went to work.  She was a young girl in the days when America was in the throes of the Depression era and she always had to work from a young age. When my grandfather was in the Navy and in the Pacific during WWII – she worked in a factory to support her family. All of her life she had this strong work ethic – so to work for a living was just something she always did and she never complained.

 

Years later, she became a businesswoman – which is truly amazing. My grandmother who had only an elementary school education, decided that instead of waiting on tables and working for someone else, she wanted to be her own boss and open her very own restaurant. And so she did.  In the early 1970’s she opened up a restaurant/bar in one of the busiest areas of Arlington, Virginia and she was the boss.  When she had to close in 1983 it was truly heartbreaking for her and it was most likely the beginning of her long struggle with Alzheimer’s.

She was opinionated.

She loved watching wrestling on tv.

She only watched football to follow Dan Marino (because that was my grandfather’s name).

She only consumed toast, donuts and coffee.

Never wore pants – only dresses.

Saved every scrap of food (No wasting. She  knew what it was like to starve in the Depression era) and once saved the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving in the refrigerator until Easter (the bones were good for soup, she said).

Now that I am getting older, I wish that I could bottle every memory and every word of wisdom that she had shared with me but unfortunately with time, it all fades into a distant memory. The most important thing that she ever taught me were not words though. Through her, I learned that life is not always easy and you have to be strong to survive it. To never give up. To keep pushing forward and you have to do your best with what God has given you.

I miss her. It has been 14 years since she has passed away and I think of her every day. On her birthday and Christmas, I often come across her favorite candy: chocolate covered cherries, and I smile thinking about her.

Happy birthday to you, Grandma!

All my love,

Coleen

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 16, 1920 – Prohibition Begins in the US

It’s hard to believe there was a time in the United States of America that one just couldn’t pop on over to a local liquor store and purchase your favorite alcoholic beverage. I thought it was rough when my husband and I moved to a “dry county” and had to travel to the next town to purchase wine. I cannot fathom being told that…ummmm…there is none. Anywhere.

Well, actually there was. People still made their own (moonshine, anyone?) and just did things more…under the table.

My grandparents actually met in a SpeakEasy – fun family story. My mother remembers being a very young child and being used (because who would suspect a sweet little girl!) to transport wine in paper bags to certain establishments – always using a certain knock on the door to alert  the potential buyer.

Prohibition ended in December 1933. Lasted nearly 13 years.