by Waverly Winchester, 9 years old, Kiditor in Chief at kidsnewsnyc.com
(With a little help from Mom!)
Do you ever feel like going back in time? Or do you ever get bored reading about the past in history class and wish you could actually go to some places you read about? By George, I think I’ve got the place for you! My class is studying The American Revolution right now and when my mom and I read about how George Washington gave his famous farewell speech at Fraunces Tavern right here in Manhattan, we knew we just had to go see it for ourselves. So we planned a visit to Fraunces Tavern Museum. And guess what? There’s way more inside the museum than there was in my book, and in our imagination!
My mom and I were lucky enough to get a private tour of the museum led by the amazing Mary, who literally knows everything! She is full of interesting facts and taught us both things we never knew and made us think about things we never thought about before…like, “Why is Pearl Street named Pearl Street?” We started our tour by walking through the very doorway George Washington walked through, into the Long Room, where he said, “With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you” to his officers back in 1783. My mom was so excited to be there that she actually forgot to take a picture! Here is a picture the Museum sent us:
It felt so awesome to be standing in the exact same room where George Washington stood and where the history that I’m learning about right now was made. On the long table we saw how things were set up so that people could go hang out together and eat, drink spiced rum that they passed around in bowls, and play cards. Hmm…we saw a bowl of oyster shells on the long table, so there’s a clue for you to figure out why Pearl Street is named Pearl Street!
Then we went into a little room filled with all different pictures of George Washington, plus a statue of his head that he actually had to get covered in plaster and breathe through straws for them to make! That’s called a “Life Mask” and because of it we know how Washington really looked. That didn’t stop other artists from making him look kind of like a potato face sometimes! In this room we saw many different looks for our first President, including the one we see every day! Recognize this one? If you do I’ll give you a dollar! 🙂
Another room at Fraunces Tavern is named for New York’s first governor, George Clinton – the Clinton Room. This was for more fancy dinners, like the one Clinton hosted for Washington to celebrate the British troops leaving New York in 1783. It’s a very beautiful room and the Zuber wallpaper you can see in this picture is extremely rare! The Clinton family donated it. People did not hang around in this room as much as they did in the Long Room, probably because they were charged by the candlestick!
Fraunces Tavern Museum is packed with history – and there’s more to it than George Washington’s farewell speech. The building itself is living history. It was built in 1719 by Stephen De Lancey, who wanted to use it as a house. Samuel Fraunces bought it in 1762 and it became a place for colonists to go during the American Revolution to hold meetings. This is where a British Sea Captain was brought to apologize for trying to sell taxed tea to them! Also, Alexander Hamilton’s office was in the tavern when he became the first Secretary of the Treasury. How cool is it to be in the rooms where all of this happened? Very cool! Thankfully, the building was saved by the Sons of the Revolution℠ in the State of New York, Inc., a group that was actually founded right in the Long Room of the Tavern on the 100th anniversary of Washington’s speech. Because of them, you can also stand in the room where it happened, hundreds of years later!
Let me tell you about the other rooms and other things I saw and did. There’s the Valuable exhibition, where they have an actual shoe owned by Martha Washington. Wow. And they also have a panel (like a window covering) from the coach (the old version of a car with horses) that carried George Washington to his inauguration in 1789. Another wow. Even more “valuable” than those things, I think, is something you can see in the Museum’s McEntee Gallery: the actual memoirs (mom says it’s like a diary) of Benjamin Tallmadge, a spy during the American Revolution, who was there during the famous speech and wrote it all down! That’s how we know exactly what happened and who was there, and the memoirs are the reason that Fraunces Tavern still exists today – without them, there would be no actual proof that all of this history really happened there. My mom always tells me it’s important to keep a journal and I guess she’s right!
If all this history still isn’t enough, what if I told you that they also have George Washington’s actual hair, a piece of wood from his coffin and a fragment of his actual tooth? Where else can you see that?
If you like art, they even have a room filled with 47 really beautiful paintings, all by John Ward Dunsmore, that go in order describing the American Revolution. Plus a room with lots of flags, where I learned that North Carolina was the first colony to declare independence. My mom and I were very surprised to hear that! Check out their flag – don’t mess with the hornet’s nest! They were pretty tough and wanted their flag to show it.
Seeing history is cool, but living history is awesome! I had so much fun when I got to the Colonial Costume Photo Booth, where I got to dress up like a colonial girl! I learned that having an apron was really important to women back then, and that you had to have a bonnet to keep the sun off your face because back then, having too much sun on your face meant you spent a lot of time working outside and did not have a lot of money. That’s so different from how we feel these days – having a tan means you must have gone away to a really expensive island!
I had more fun after dressing up when I went to the Confidential exhibition and used a cipher wheel to uncover the secret messages! Washington had many brave spies that helped us win the American Revolution and this room made me feel like I was one of them.
After my tour was done, I got to do my favorite thing of all – a scavenger hunt! I love following clues and was so excited when I got to go on “Hamilton’s Hunt” with my mom. We went back into the museum to solve 7 really fun clues and ended up right back where we started, in the very doorway that George Washington walked through to make his famous speech, only I was there to collect my little prize for finishing the hunt!
So the next time you’re in history class reading about the American Revolution, ask your teacher to take the class on a trip to Fraunces Tavern Museum where history is alive and just waiting for you to experience it – or do what I did and go with your family. You can all see and live history for yourselves! And the next time you’re eating takeout, you might want to thank Samuel Fraunces, who “invented” it by giving George Washington his potpies and favorite soup (turtle!!) to go when there was no room for him to eat dinner there. (Thanks for those fun facts, Mary!)
Seeing history is cool, living history is awesome, but MAKING history is even better! I want to thank Fraunces Tavern Museum for the amazing tour and also for posting this as their first ever ”Kid’s Corner” blog post! My mom and I are so honored to be part of this “inaugural event” and hope it inspires you to visit the oldest and most awesome building in Manhattan.
With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you.