I was in familiar territory tonight with the good folks at Bethany Village in Mechanicsburg. I have been speaking there once or twice a year for about five years now. My topic tonight was “George Washington, the Cherry Tree, and Other Myths About the Father of Our Country.” I focused on four prominent myths about Washington:
1). The myth of Washington and the cherry tree
2). The myth of Washington praying at Valley Forge
3). The myth of Washington the evangelical Christian
4). The (partial) myth of Washington the civic humanist
During the Q&A many of them wanted to call attention to Washington’s greatness as a counterweight to the content of my talk, but they also understood that my talk was more about the construction of Washington as “father of our country” than it was about the character of the man during his lifetime. As one might imagine, we spent a considerable amount of time talking about Mason Locke “Parson” Weems.
The residents of Bethany Village are a great audience. During the refreshment time following the talk I was entertained with stories about George Washington’s teeth (from a retired dentist who also gave me four tubes of toothpaste to bring home to my family), a childhood play in which a resident once played George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, and multiple stories of visits to Mount Vernon. As usual, I left with a plate of cookies and some potential topics for another talk. It was great night.