Photos of Mount Vernon – A Long-Standing Tradition

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Mount Vernon, Virginia, home of the Washington family, has been attracting tourists for over two hundred years – even before the mid-19th century when Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association purchased it, renovated it, and turned it into one of the United States’ first historic house museums.   That means it’s one of those places that pops up in museum collections all over the country, from postcards and souvenirs to photo albums and scrapbooks.

Full disclosure: I love Mount Vernon. The house, its history as a museum, and the Ladies Association all served as the basis for many of my grad school research papers, and I have a small collection of historic guidebooks and vintage souvenirs.  (You, kind readers, are saved ‘enjoying’ proof of my collection only because I forgot to take photos this weekend.)  I’m always delighted to find yet another vintage photo of someone’s long-ago visit to Mount Vernon. I visited the estate a few weeks ago, to help welcome a friend to her new role as Martha Washington, and afterward I was inspired to look through the JMM’s collections to see what I could find.

“Mt. Vernon, Va.” Taken August 14, 1925.  From an album created by Lee Labowitz of Baltimore. Donated by Paul and Janet Kramer. JMM 2003.94.5.17
“G. Washington’s Home.” Taken in the early 1920s. From an album created by Miriam Dannenberg Hecht of Baltimore. Donated by Eleanor Hecht Yuspa. JMM 2015.8.10
“Mount Vernon, Va.” Taken October 20, 1930. From a collection of photos taken by Harry Klawan of Baltimore. Donated by Pete Lesher. JMM 2005.9.515

Photographs of popular tourist destinations have a delightful sameness across the decades.  Everyone wants a good photo of the house (or the waterfall, or the giant tree, or the building shaped like an elephant), and the same views of the same places can be found in album after album after album.  I noticed that a photo I took on April 21st this year is, coincidentally, pretty much the same angle as one of Mr. Klawan’s photos from October 1930:

Left: A side view of Mount Vernon, October 20, 1930, by Harry Klawan. Gift of Pete Lesher. JMM 2005.09.515.  Right: The same view, minus a bench, a few trees, and a side portico, 87 ½ years later in April 2018, by the author.

And everyone takes a picture of themselves or their kids, as two of my colleagues helped demonstrate:

Left: “Isaac & Alan [Hecht] at Mt. Vernon,” early 1920s. Gift of Eleanor Hecht Yuspa. JMM 2015.8.10.  Top right: Alan and Anna Pinkert at Mount Vernon, summer 1994. Courtesy Marvin Pinkert. Bottom right: Lucas and Elan Mann, January 2016. Courtesy Lorie Rombro.
Lee Labowitz (right) had someone take this photo of herself and her friends – one of whom looks less than impressed – in 1925:

“Entrance to kitchen, home of Geo. Washington” on August 14, 1925. From an album created by Lee Labowitz of Baltimore. Donated by Paul and Janet Kramer. JMM 2003.94.5.17

In more recent decades, as the museum added character interpretations, opportunities for visitor photographs expanded. Now, for example, on the right day you can have your photo taken with Martha Washington and her family, or one of the many other historical interpreters – though I hope you will also listen to what they have to say, and ask questions, as well as posing for a selfie.

Yours truly – the one NOT wearing a cool hat – with the first family, April 21, 2018.  You too can visit with the younger Mrs. Washington, Monday-Thursday at Mount Vernon!
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