Take a day to be a tourist in your own backyard. Don’t be like me, and let seven years pass before you decide to visit. If I’m not too cool for George Washington, neither are you. Plus, boosting your brain power and being a bit of a history nerd feels pretty empowering.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home and estate, is situated on the Potomac River in an idyllic scene. In many ways, Washington was ahead of his time—he created the seven-year crop rotation plan, and was a conservationist before that was even a thing (#ultimatehipster). But despite his leadership and ingenuity, Washington was still a slave owner. A detail that, in the past, was often glossed over to protect the decency of our Founding Fathers. The museum and information presented at Mount Vernon, though, does a good job of reminding patrons that this is part of the history here—the lush gardens and bountiful crops didn’t flourish on their own. It’s an enlightening daytrip, and you just might learn something (that has nothing to do with being a real housewife of [insert city of choice here]).
Money Score: Good
Twenty bucks will get you access to the interactive museum, mansion and grounds, and they do offer senior, youth and web discounts. Living in D.C, where most museums are free, the price stings a bit, but the grounds upkeep and sheer amount of information thrown at you justifies it. I felt like I deserved a master’s degree in George Washington after about 20 minutes. While I love history and the value of education that museums provide, I held back on a score of excellent. It missed it by the skin of Washington’s wooden teeth (myth buster: none of his teeth were actually made out of wood. Not-so-fun-fact: this is what his dentures were actually made of). A score of excellent is reserved for those rare gems, like the National Gallery of Art, which is both free and incredible.
My one complaint is that the ticket is only good for the day. My family and I simply could not absorb any more information by the time we reached the museum. It’s full of short films, 4-D experiences, and tons of visual and interactive exhibits charting Washington’s whole life. It’s pretty cool, and well-done, but looks deceivingly short. As you walk through, it opens into a maze of exhibits that could take anywhere from a week to a lifetime to absorb.
Consciousness Score: Excellent
After coming off the high of March for Our Lives, I was pumped to learn more about our Founding Fathers. Reading about Washington’s character, and his full quotes and texts in context opened my eyes. We are a country founded on rebellion and protest. To be American is to exercise your right to free speech, and take to the streets to demand change when justice isn’t being served. It also became clear that opposing political parties like to twist the words of the Founding Fathers to suit their political opinion. At his core, Washington was very democratic in his thinking: A nature conservationist (he hated cutting down trees for fences, and insisted on using dense shrubs instead), a proponent of public education, and a patriot. A rebel after my own heart.
Although I’ve lived with Mount Vernon in my backyard for seven years, it took studying in France for me to care about American history. As I studied the Marquis de Lafayette and the influence the Revolutionary War had on the French Revolution, I was suddenly ravenous for information about my Washington, D.C. home. I full-on geeked out when the tour guide pointed to the massive key on the wall in Washington’s foyer, and explained that it’s the key to the Bastille in France. Lafayette had it pulled out of the rubble after it was burned to the ground, and sent it to good ol’ rebel rouser George. How punk rock is that?
Since eighth grade (the last time I came to Mount Vernon), a few things have changed. I no longer have bangs or wear braces, and I certainly do not announce my love for the Backstreet Boys. For Mount Vernon, more emphasis has been placed on the 317 slaves that lived here. You can look into a typical living quarter, and walk to a slave memorial in the forest near Washington’s tomb. All necessary and good changes for a more honest look at history.
‘All the Feels’ score: Good
I felt so stimulated and awakened while I was here. The Potomac widens to an unrecognizable body of water just outside of Alexandria, with no development or trace of the modern world along the banks. If you gaze at the river from the back porch of Mount Vernon, you can almost see what Washington saw on a similar picturesque spring day in the 1700s. Untouched beauty.
One point of complaint? The excitement I expressed at being on the tour was equally matched by the bored delivery of facts from the tour guides. And, I wish they’d told us a few more neat points about each room. But, I get it, when you shuttle disinterested school kids through a house without wifi, you probably start to lose your flair for theatrics.