Donna Cronk photo // What does a camel have to do with presidential history? George Washington kept a camel on his Mount Vernon estate --presumably as a novelty. This camel is also something of a novelty, as well as a celebrity, and yes, lives at Mount Vernon. It's the Geico Insurance "Hump Day" camel! "Hey Mikey, Mikey, Mikey! What day is it?" I think the commercial is my favorite of all time. I have to laugh every time I see it or find it on YouTube.
This concludes my two-part column series on a historic Christmas tour I took with my husband, our close friends Tom and Char, and about 120 other Hoosiers, organized by Tom and Sue Saunders to Washington, D.C. and Virginia. This piece appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 New Castle Courier-Times and is reprinted as follows.
By Donna Cronk
As a modern motor coach dropped 120 Hoosiers off at the homes of three Founding Fathers' estates earlier this month, we were transported 242 years into the past.
First stop on our initial Virginia leg of the journey was to Montpelier, home of President James Madison and his wife, Dolley. We learned how the wealthy William and Annie DuPont family purchased the home in 1901 and had it until 1984 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation took it over.
It was the will of the DuPont family that the estate of the nation's fourth president be opened to the public. It was renovated and restored to 1820 decor and appearance after a 2003-08 redo.
Madison composed the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights as well as oversaw the Louisiana Purchase.
When he and Dolley owned the estate, 100 enslaved people lived on the grounds. Slave quarters are located on the property and today, their roles are recognized in a public way as "Slavery-Madison's worst regret."
Other areas explored in a tour include Madison the man, The Constitution and Bill of Rights and America's First Lady Dolley Madison, who insisted that White House staff save the portrait of George Washington on the wall before the mansion was burned by the British in the War of 1812.
We were then able to see the painting in the East Room of the White House later in the week, below.
After lunch at Michie Tavern, an 1784 18th-century inn, which several of us agree was the best meal of many delicious ones on the trip, we headed to Monticello, home of President Thomas Jefferson.
We had the unique experience of seeing the mansion at night, beautifully decorated for Christmas. Monticello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a national treasure that reveals much about the third U.S. President and his brilliance — as well as his complexities.
We were told that the second floor is rarely open to the public but we got to see its bedrooms and the large Dome Room which gives Monticello its iconic look from the outside.
Ironically, Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, died on the property on July 4, 1826. Also on that date, another Founding Father President, John Adams, also died.
There is also a tour, Slavery at Monticello, available to the public.
Father of our Country
At Mount Vernon, the estate of George and Martha Washington, we learned about the architecture and how the wooden home is sided to resemble stone.
Most of the rooms' furnishings are original, and the house has been restored to how it was when the Washingtons lived there. It may come as a surprise to see what may be considered the "back" of the house has a nice veranda furnished with chairs overlooking the Potomac River where fishing was a source of estate revenue.
The Washingtons are buried in above-ground vaults in an outbuilding on the property. The orientation film was excellent in the visitors' center, and talked about Washington's roles in American history as a general in the Revolution as well as being first President and Father of our country.I