Mount Vernon visitors get a chance to be George Washington, the decision-maker
By ANN CAMERON SIEGAL | Special to The Washington Post | Published: January 31, 2018
Do you have what it takes to be a leader like George Washington? Two new programs at Mount Vernon might help you find out.
"Be Washington," opening February 12, combines 18th-century reenactments with 21st-century technology as participants test their ability to make split-second decisions, tackling four challenges faced by Washington during the Revolutionary War and into his presidency - battle strategies, military pay, America's neutrality, and a tax revolt.
Recently, local home-schoolers ages 8 to 16 previewed "Be Washington." Beyond the "who, when and where" of history, they learned the "why" in Washington's decision-making process.
As events unfold on a 30-foot screen, students at touch-screen consoles choose which advisers to consult and rate their advice. As Mark Lyons, 13, of Alexandria, Virginia, was about to make his decision, new information in the form of dispatches arrived.
"Oh, those dispatches! They changed everything," Mark said. "They showed how the story evolved and the stress that must have been felt."
David Earwood, 9, of Alexandria, said, "I like all the different ways that you get information to help you decide - the big screen story, the advisers and the dispatches made it easier for me to understand and remember the information."
At the end of each 17-minute segment, students have 10 seconds to choose one of three actions to take. Then, they compare their choices to what George Washington did and to what other kids in the group chose.
"I was surprised at how hard it was to make a decision that felt 100 percent right," said Aurora Dennison, 11, of Silver Spring, Maryland. "Getting new information almost made it harder to decide."
Allie Fiul, 14, of Springfield,Virginia, said, "It makes you understand that you can't just act on your own opinions - you need to listen to others."
"I was expecting just another museum exhibit and was so excited to see the touch screens!" said Alex Geyer, 9, of Alexandria, who noticed other special flourishes. "The way the windows change color was really cool and unexpected. It shows how much detail they put into making it feel dramatic." Lightbulbs in the room also flickered like 18th-century candles.
Next was the "Revolutionary War 4-D Experience" movie. While learning more about the why of Washington's actions and strategies, snow, wind and fog brush your face. Flashes from cannon and musket firings whiz around the room as your seat rumbles from the barrage of battle.
Alex said, "The way they show the troops and maps was like they knew exactly what I was thinking next. The snow, the fog and the sound effects make you feel like you're actually there crossing the Delaware" River.
"Washington was confronted by some truly challenging crises, and he used the input of trusted advisers and others to reach the best decisions," said Rob Shenk, who's in charge of Mount Vernon's visitor engagement. "He sought out and weighed differing viewpoints so that all sides could be fully considered. It's our hope that people will be inspired to 'Be Washington' ... or to be better leaders in whatever capacity available."
If you go
What: "Be Washington" and "Revolutionary War 4-D Experience."
Where: Mount Vernon's education center, 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Virginia.
When: "Be Washington" opens Feb. 12. The Revolutionary War 4-D movie is open. Programs will run on a loop during regular Mount Vernon hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through March.
How much: Included in admission price. $12 ages 6 to 11, $20 adults, age 5 and younger free. (Tickets to visit through this Sunday are half-price because the mansion is closed.)
For ages: 8 and older.
For more information: mountvernon.org.