George Washington's birthday celebrated in style


February 07, 1993|By Dorothy Fleetwood | Dorothy Fleetwood,Staff Writer

George Washington's Birthday celebrations get top billing on the weekend calendar. One of the biggest takes place in Alexandria, Va., where birthday celebrations have been a tradition ever since Washington was elected president in 1789.

This year's celebration includes a parade, musical production, 10K footrace and one-mile fun run, an 18th-century-style banquet and ball, a Revolutionary War encampment, a history presentation, walking tours and a wreath-laying ceremony.

One of the weekend highlights is the annual Birthnight Banquet and Ball on Saturday evening, a tribute to the many grand balls held during Washington's time. The evening will begin with cocktails and dinner at the Old Town Ramada Hotel. Portrayers of George and Martha Washington will be there along with 30 other actors playing guests who might have attended the 1796 celebration. Toasts made to Washington on that occasion will be repeated. A Colonial menu will be featured and dancers will entertain during dinner. Later, guests will attend the ball at Gadsby's Tavern Museum, site of the original birthnight ball. On one floor you'll find an 18th-century-style ball with instructors to teach the dances, while on another floor there will be music for modern dancing. Tickets cost $40 per person. Advance reservations are necessary. Call (703) 683-4391.

The following day a Revolutionary War encampment will be held at Fort Ward Museum from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eight or more living history units, including the First Maryland, will be on hand to demonstrate camp life of both Colonial and British soldiers. Camps open at 10 a.m. and a skirmish is scheduled at 2 p.m. Admission is free. Fort Ward is located at 4301 West Braddock Road in Alexandria.

The big day is Feb. 15. The festivities begin at 10 a.m. with a performance by the Mount Vernon Guard, a youth fife-and-drum corps, on the steps of the Lyceum, 201 South Washington St., followed by a dramatic reading of Washington's Farewell Address. The museum will then welcome visitors with complimentary hot spiced tea and cookies from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., while the Colonial Recorders play classical music. Admission is free.

Alexandria boasts the largest Washington's Birthday parade in the nation. Some years it has attracted crowds of 75,000. The parade consists of some 200 units, including marching bands, floats and military re-enactment units. It begins at 1 p.m. and winds through the streets of the Old Town historic district for about 90 minutes. A reviewing stand will be set up adjacent to Gadsby's Tavern, North Royal and Cameron streets, from which George and Martha Washington will review the parade. At 3 p.m., Opera Americana, an Alexandria-based professional repertory company, will present "Washington Goes to the Theater" at Gadsby's Tavern Museum. This free 45-minute program describes the theater of Washington's time and features brief musical excerpts and a discussion of theater customs. Call (703) 836-0621.

Other activities on Monday include the grand opening of the Friendship Firehouse, a newly restored 1855 firehouse building. The Friendship Fire Company was established in 1774 as the city's first firefighting organization. It is rumored that George Washington was one of its founding members, though no evidence has been found to substantiate the claim. The building was dedicated as a shrine to Washington in 1954. Historic firefighting equipment and interpretive displays on the history of firefighting in Alexandria will be on view from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Other city museums will be open that day, and a costumed guide will lead a walking tour of the Old Town historic district at 11 a.m. The tour emphasizes Washington's contributions to the city. Tickets: $3 for adults; $1.50 for students age 6 to 17; free for under 6.

On Feb. 21, a living history presentation, titled "Alexandria Promenade," will be held at the Lyceum at 2 p.m. It features a slide show with costumed interpreters depicting the city's history and social customs. Admission is free. Call (703) 838-4994. The final event is a wreath-laying ceremony Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Callahan Drive at King Street. For information, call (703) 838-4200.

At Mount Vernon

The public will be welcomed to Washington's home, Mount Vernon, Feb. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. free of charge. It is the only day of the year admission is waived.

A wreath-laying ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. at Washington's tomb. After the ceremony the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps will perform. The mansion is eight miles south of Alexandria in Mount Vernon, Va. For information, call (703) 780-2000.

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