- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

The birthday celebration for the man who started Presidents Day began yesterday with crowds gathered at Mount Vernon.

Many of them were eating hoecakes. The cornmeal cakes, “swimming in melted butter and honey,” were the favorite breakfast of George Washington.

The nation’s first president was born 274 years ago Wednesday.

Nearly 3,620 children, youths and adults walked around Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, toured the mansion, visited Washington’s tomb, watched “America’s Smallest Hometown Parade” and caught a Revolutionary War battle demonstration by the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and Commander-in-Chief’s Guard.

The same show is ready for an estimated 10,000 spectators today, the federal Presidents Day holiday. In addition, a White House representative will lay a wreath at Washington’s tomb at the Virginia estate.

Ticket seller Grace Cummings was not surprised by the crowd.

“It’s cold out there, but sunny,” she said.

Many of the visitors wore wool ski masks.

“I loved it,” said Samantha Walker, 8, of Chicago, who was visiting her friend Christina Kowalski, 10, of Germantown.

Both were impressed by a railing inside the mansion.

“George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both touched it,” they said.

Samantha was showing off a plastic bust of the first president.

It is a “penny bank,” she explained, showing the coin slot in the back.

As the celebration neared its end, several buses lined up at the gate to transport back to Georgetown about 350 students from across the nation who are members of Presidential Classroom.

“It’s an interesting program,” said Mike Celentano, 16, of Long Island, N.Y. “It’s so full of history.”

He and his friend Joseph Marrero, 17, were especially impressed by the tomb built for Washington, who died in 1799.

It had bricks that were made in 1800 and apparently had been engraved with names of friends and family, they said.

Mount Vernon officials were pleased with the young crowds.

Executive Director James C. Rees said a national survey of college seniors showed that 32 percent did not know Washington was the general who won American freedom in the battle of Yorktown, that English enemy King George III called him the “greatest man in the world” nor that Washington turned down an opportunity to be crowned the new country’s king.

A museum being constructed on the estate is expected to open in October. It will include statues of Washington at ages 19, 45 and 57.

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