Washington Relics

As may be supposed, this interesting building is filled with relics. The most valuable of all of them hangs on the wall of the central hall, in a small glass case shaped like a lantern—the Key of the Bastille—which was sent to Washington, as a gift from Lafayette, shortly after the destruction of the noted prison in 1789. This is the key of the main entrance, the Porte St. Antoine, an old iron key with a large handle of peculiar form. This gift was always highly prized at Mount Vernon, and in sending it Lafayette wrote: “It is a tribute which I owe as a son to my adopted father ; as an aide-de-camp to my general; as a missionary of liberty to’ its patriarch.” The key was confided to Thomas Paine for transmission, and he sent it together with a model and drawing of the Bastille. In sending it to Washington Paine said : ” That the principles of America opened the Bastille is not to be doubted, and therefore the key comes to the right place.” The model, which was cut from the granite stones of the demolished prison, and the drawing, giving a plan of the interior and its approaches, are also carefully preserved in the house.

The Washington relics are profuse—portraits, busts, old furniture, swords, pistols and other weapons, camp equipage, uniforms, clothing, books, autographs and musical instruments, including the old harpsichord which President Washington bought for two hundred pounds in London, as a bridal present for his wife’s daughter, Eleanor Parke Custis, whom he adopted. There is also an old armchair which the Pilgrims brought over in the “Mayflower” in 1620. Each apartment in the house is named for a State, and cared fer by one of the Lady-Regents of the Association. In the banquet-hall, which is one of the wings Washington added, is an elaborately-carved Carrara marble mantel, which was sent him at the time of building by an English admirer, Samuel Vaughan. It was shipped from Italy, and the tale is told that on the voyage it fell into the hands of pirates, who, hearing it was to go to the great American Washington, sent it along without ransom and uninjured. Rembrandt Peale’s equestrian portrait of Washington with his generals covers almost the entire end of this hall. Here also is hung the original proof-sheet of Washington’s _Farewell Address. Up stairs is the room where Washington died; the bed on which he expired and every article of furniture are preserved, including his secretary and writing-case, toilet-boxes and dressing-stand. Just above this chamber, under the peaked roof, is the room in which Mrs. Washington died. Not wishing to occupy the lower room, after his death, she selected this one, because its dormer window gave a view of his tomb. The ladies who have taken charge of the place de-serve great credit for their complete restoration; they hold the annual meeting of the Association in the mansion every May.

As the visitor walks through the old house and about the grounds, solemn and impressive thoughts arise that are appropriate to this great American shrine. From the little wooden cupola there is seen the same view over the broad Potomac upon which Washington so often gazed. The noble river, two miles wide, seems almost to surround the estate with its majestic curve, flowing between the densely-wooded shores. Above Mount Vernon is a projecting bluff, which Fort Washington surmounts on the opposite shore—a stone work which he planned—hardly seeming four miles off, it is so closely visible across the water. In front are the Maryland hills, and the river then flows to the southward, its broad and winding reaches being seen afar off, as the south-ern shores slope upward into the forest-covered hills of the sacred soil of the proud State of Virginia. And then the constantly broadening estuary of the grand Potomac stretches for more than a hundred miles, far beyond the distant horizon, until it becomes a wide inland sea and unites its waters at Point Lookout with those of Chesapeake Bay.