Mount Vernon, the historic home of the first U.S. President, George Washington, celebrated the opening of new galleries and theaters on its property Friday. As VOA's Susan Logue reports, officials at Mount Vernon hope the changes will help attract even those not interested in history.
Mount Vernon, which has been open to visitors for 150 years, is already the most popular historic home in the United States. One million people pass through its gates every year. Despite those high numbers, one demographic group has been difficult to reach until now, says Jim Reese, executive director of Mount Vernon: "Teenagers, one of the most difficult audiences of the entire world, are going to be attracted, where they might not have been before."
Mount Vernon's new Donald W. Reynolds Education Center has 13 galleries and three theaters that are specifically targeted to teens and children with levers to pull and buttons to push
"This is fun -- just pushing and watching the lights light up," said one young man.
Even more popular with young people is the new Revolutionary War Theater that highlights Washington's role as commander-in-chief of the American troops during the 18th century war for independence. During one winter scene, snow falls on the audience. 17-year-old Collin Wilson describes it as "in your face." "There are a lot of special effects going on: cannon shots, snow falling, smoke drifting up. It's a great learning experience."
Jane Forehand, who homeschools her children drove more than 300 kilometers to bring them to the opening. "Sitting in the theater and having snow fall on you, sitting in the seats and feeling them shake from the cannons. I couldn't teach that,” she says. “It's something they can experience."
The multimedia experience not only gets teens and children in the door, but helps them to learn, says Ann Bay, Mount Vernon's Associate Director in charge of Education. "We believe that providing an experience that really speaks to the way children this age are accustomed and attuned to taking in information is necessary."
All visitors to Mount Vernon, regardless of their age, will learn that Washington's life, even without special effects, was an exciting one, from boyhood to military leader, to President and beyond. There is much more to Washington than the old man whose face is on the dollar bill:
"Washington was the most robust, the most adventurous, the most exciting, the most athletic, the most attractive of all the founding fathers,” says Jim Reese. “He wasn't just the most important and powerful man of this important period; he was also the most fascinating."
That is the story that couldn't be told in George Washington's home, but is now being told at the new visitor and education center at Mount Vernon.