Imagine hopping in the car with your family for a short hour’s drive and emerging not only in a different place but a different era more than 250 years ago when George and Martha Washington enjoyed life on their beautiful Mount Vernon estate. That daydream will be reality this weekend for families who take the opportunity to experience and explore the historic site’s Colonial Fair and Market.
“Mount Vernon has hosted this event for more than 20 years, inviting talented artisans from across the country to demonstrate their talent and display their products, which were crafted using the same techniques employed by their counterparts of the Colonial era,” said spokesperson Matt Briney. “Featured crafts will range from pottery and metal works to clothing, textiles and soaps. In addition, highlights will include 18th-century puppet shows and fire breathing.”
The pyro-theatrics will be performed by none other than the dazzlingly dramatic Dr. Balthasar, who is proud to introduce visitors to his “Miracle Medicines for Man and Beast.” In his comical, interactive performance, the good doctor will have children grateful for visits to their own physicians’ offices after he displays such “cures” as using leeches to initiate the blood-letting to balance the body’s “humours” as well as the use of bellows and a fumigator to resuscitate patients.
Also under the Market Square Stage tent, Professor Thompson S. Gunn will share his discoveries of the “Mystic Arts of Asia,” including displays of jaw-dropping skills that may even include sword-swallowing.
Audiences seated on hay bales around the stage will also be treated to a puppet show by Horn’s Punch and Judy and their slapstick humor, which has elicited gales of laughter from young audiences throughout hundreds of years. Visitors will also be enthralled and fascinated by the deft moves of Mr. Peter Gardiner, 18th-Century Conjuror, who deftly performs seemingly impossible magical feats before their eyes.
“In Colonial days, itinerant fairs and solo entertainers would travel from town to town offering to perform for paying customers. George Washington may have employed these performers to entertain his guests and once employed a traveler and his companion camel, Aladdin, as a special treat for his Christmas visitors.”
Marketplace Amusements & Diversions will also include an introduction to elements of the 18th-century culture and the arts with an introduction to painter Mrs. Robina Schuricht and performances by musician Robert Mouland, Donna Normick and her hammered dulcimer, and the Ship’s Company Chanteymen, who will offer a sampling of nautical music and sea stories. Visitors will also be treated to the tales of the derring-do of Silas Moore, Rat Catcher, and his heroic ventures to rid his town of rodents.
Another highlight of the day will be an opportunity to learn about the challenges and courage invested in the creation of our country, with a presentation by our first president in his tent and a drill by the 1st Virginia Continental Regiment, who will be encamped on-site. The soldiers will be happy to engage with guests, answer any questions they may have and offer them an up-close experience of their equipment, supplies and weapons. Features at that site will include performances by the Itinerant Band with their period instruments.
During the day, visitors may also encounter George Washington, who will be mingling with his guests throughout the grounds, as well as Martha and other residents of the estate, including members of the enslaved community and the president’s personal secretary Tobias Lear.
A short stroll away, the Bowling Green will have a sampling of Colonial games, including 18th-century cricket, and a hot air balloon, which is bound to spark visitors’ curiosity.
“This was a new invention in Washington’s time, and when he was in Philadelphia, he had an opportunity to see one. The gentleman displaying the big paper balloon will periodically light a fire under it to generate rising heat and off he’ll go!” said Briney.
Throughout the day, visitors are invited to explore the estate. They will have the opportunity to take guided tours of the mansion, visit Mount Vernon’s Gristmill and view a demonstration of horses treading wheat in the innovative 16-sided barn that Washington personally designed. Mount Vernon’s Hands-on-History staff will also have activities and crafts for young visitors.
In addition, visitors can experience a dramatic production of excerpts from the wildly popular Broadway musical “Hamilton” with commentary that explains the relationship between Washington and Alexander Hamilton.
“Guests will experience something that they won’t see anywhere else in our area. They will be stepping back into the 18th century and will see what life was like for George and Martha Washington as they learn about the entertainment they enjoyed and see how things are made during that time,” said Briney. “There is so much to see and do, and it’s a great way to do your holiday shopping and an opportunity to purchase unique and memorable gifts created by artists and craftsmen who invest so much care and talent in their work.”