News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Washington’s Birthplace celebrates first president’s 280th birthday
BY COLLETTE CAPRARA
Among the many priceless historic treasures of our commonwealth is George Washington’s Birthplace, a national monument in the care of the National Park Service.
This weekend, the park rangers cordially invite families to join them in celebration of our nation’s first president’s 280th birthday.
“Families will get a multisensory experience of what Colonial life was like,” said ranger Dick Lahey. “It’s a very concrete presentation of the era, and on hallowed ground.”
The celebration, with demonstrations presented by interpreters of all ages, will be coordinated by the George Washington Birthplace 4H Heritage Club—the only chapter that is associated with the National Park Service.
Daylong demonstrations on Saturday and Monday will include hearth cooking and blacksmithing, as well as Colonial dance and manners. The presentations will debut on Saturday and continue throughout the day on Monday.
“The kids are fascinated with the demonstrations, especially when the sparks begin to fly in the blacksmithing shop,” said 4H leader Deb Lawton. Her 18-year-old son, Nate, (the club’s president and student ranger of the park service) will help with the demonstration, and daughter Elizabeth, 16, will assist with the exhibits.
Lawton, who typically presents the hearth cooking demonstrations, culling recipes from cookbooks of the period, says that birthday treats will include apple fritters (apple rings dipped in batter and fried) and cherry tarts.
Among the skills she teaches participants is translating Colonial measures to their modern-day equivalents. For example, a “gill” of flour is equal to about two cups, while a “walnut-sized chunk” of butter would be listed today as a tablespoon.
Visitors will also have an opportunity to decorate gourds—grown in the property’s garden—with African motif designs. Lawton explains that in the Colonial era, slaves would paint gourds with traditional images and patterns as a way to express their cultural heritage and would create maraca-style musical instruments from them called “shakeras.”
Though the demonstrations offered this weekend are fun-filled and fascinating, they are also the product of in-depth training and preparation. Presenters have traveled to numerous historic sites throughout Virginia and participated in workshops ranging from historic context to training in the art of interpretation.
“The National Park Service has been very generous in teaching us about the history of the site, and our club has access to the full resources of the NPS, their equipment and training,” said Lawton.
“The demonstrations provide a view into unique aspects of history,” said Lawton.
“So often in school, because of time constraints, we just teach dates and names. We don’t teach what it smells like to cook over an open hearth or about the fascination of the sparks flying at the blacksmith’s forge or how much fun you can have romping around with period dances.It’s hard to appreciate those things until you experience them firsthand.”
What: Celebration of George Washington’s 280th Birthday
Where: George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument, 1732 Popes Creek Road, (on Route 204, two miles off Route 3, 38 miles east of Fredericksburg, 11 miles west of Montross)
When: Saturday, Feb. 18 and Monday, Feb. 20, from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. (Birthday cake celebration at 1 p.m. Monday.)
Cost: Admission and activities are free of charge on Feb. 18 and 20.
Info: 804/224-1732; nps.gov/gewa
Collette Caprara is a local writer