- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

Mount Vernon, George Washington's ancestral home, has begun an $85 million campaign to boost the image of America's first president.

"While scholars continue to acknowledge that George Washington's character and leadership were the best the nation has ever known, many contemporary Americans, unlike previous generations, have lost touch with the real Washington," said Jim Rees, executive director of the plantation.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal survey of scholars, George Washington is considered the greatest president in U.S. history. But in a general poll, he was voted only the seventh most popular one.

Coverage of Washington's exploits in history textbooks has declined to less than 10 percent of what it was in the early 1960s, according to a report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Only 34 percent of college seniors at 55 of the nation's top universities replied correctly that Washington was the victorious general at the Revolutionary War Battle of Yorktown, the report also noted.

Mount Vernon's campaign, "To Keep Him First," is planning new ways to introduce the personality of Washington to its 1 million annual visitors.

The facilities at the riverside plantation educate visitors about Washington's retired life as a gentleman farmer, but the No. 1 visitor complaint has been frustration with not learning enough about the real George Washington.

Three buildings an orientation center, an education center and a museum will be built on the edge of the plantation, which is 16 miles south of the District.

A fast-paced 15-minute film, to be produced by Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks SKG, will preface the mansion tour.

The film, to be screened at the orientation center, will try to help visitors find the man behind the face on our money.

"Most Americans envisage George Washington as a stoic elder statesman, as he appears on the dollar bill. But Washington at age 23 was already the action hero of his times," Mr. Rees said.

Washington once described the sound of whistling bullets as "charming."

Thirty thousand artifacts, ranging from Washington's dentures to his diaries, will be dusted off for the five galleries in the new museum.

One gallery will display artifacts related to his years away from Mount Vernon, at war and as president.

Another gallery will feature artifacts that illustrate his relationships with family and friends.

A third gallery will be devoted exclusively to Washington's books and manuscripts, demonstrating his wide interests and sharp intellect.

An educational kit with videos, textbooks and CD-ROMs about Washington will be distributed to every fifth-grader in the United States.

Elementary and secondary teachers also will be invited to Mount Vernon for the free George Washington Teachers Institute to be held from July 22 to July 24.

Those who complete a visit to the institute will be required to hold George Washington seminars in their communities. Mount Vernon will also sponsor internships, an annual conference for George Washington scholars, a program for members of scouting organizations and hands-on history programs for younger children.

Groundbreaking for the buildings will be next year, and completion is expected in 2006.

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