Finding A Founding Father
Burl Gann’s home was featured last Thursday night on the Exeter Woman’s Club’s Christmas Home Tour, but the real gift of the season came last month when he toured the home of our founding father.
Gann said his son, Matthew Gann, who works as a highly classified member of the U.S. Government, planned a trip for him to tour the various monuments and museums of Washington, D.C. He stayed at the Willard Hotel, where Abraham Lincoln stayed as President when the White House was being rebuilt, toured the White House and Capitol Hill, saw the original Declaration of Independence and watched the changing of the Guard at the Pentagon.
But Gann said the highlight of the event was raising the flag at Mt. Vernon, the estate of President George Washington, the father of our Nation. Gann said as a young man he had little time to read outside of work and said when he retired from the title company he would not pick up reading again. But a few years ago he read “Miracle in Philadelphia,” about the four months during which the founding fathers drafted the Constitution. Since then, Gann said he hasn’t been able to put down a book about U.S. history.
“George Washington only spoke twice on the record during the drafting of the Constitution,” Gann said. “He opened the proceedings on the first day and then thanked everyone for coming when he closed them. He had so much political pull at that he could probably make a point without speaking.”
After the “Miracle,” Gann read the biography of George Washington. He learned nearly everything you could want to know about the first president before stepping foot on the grounds of his former estate. He walked the grounds, toured the home, and even took a trip around the home in a boat on the Potomac River. But even an avid history buff like Gann learned something new during his time at Mt. Vernon.
Gann said when George Washington died in 1799, his estate began to fall into disrepair.
In 1850, a neighbor noticed the unfortunate condition of the estate and began coming up with a plan to fix it up. She formed the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association to acquire the property from Washington’s son. The only problem was that women at that time were still unable to own property. So the group began lobbying the legislature to allow them the right, as an association, to own property, all the while raising $200,000 to make the purchase. The sale was approved in 1863 and the group has owned Mt. Vernon ever since. Throughout the course of the last 150 years, the association has taken painstaking efforts to restore the building to as close to original as possible, all without any government funding.
“Even during the Civil War, the Ladies arranged for both sides to respect the property of the first President,” Gann said. “That entire story is just incredible.”
An Historic Six Days
Gann said he arrived in Washington on Nov. 3 and spent nearly all six days taking in as much history as he possibly could. The first day began with the Museum of American History, home of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He spent the entire second day at Mt. Vernon and then Day 3 at the Pentagon where he was especially moved by the memorial there for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A historical anecdote he picked up about where the plane struck the defense headquarters.
“The plan hit directly into the office of a man who worked there 24 years and had never missed a day,” Gann said. “The day the plane hit, just happened to be the one day he missed.
The next day he returned to the Pentagon to watch the Changing of the Guard before heading to the Museum of Air and Space, home to the Wright Brothers plane, the first space shuttle to orbit the Earth, the first to land on the moon and the first shuttle to return to Earth. On the fifth day he toured Capitol Hill in the morning before a much needed break for the rest of the day.
“You do a lot of walking there,” said Gann. “And when someone says it is five blocks away, keep in mind each block is a mile long.”
His last day in D.C., Gann and his son visited the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Warfare. At each stop, Gann said his son had booked a tour well in advance to avoid the lines stretching a Washington block.
“We covered about as much ground as you can cover in six days,” Gann said. “I strongly suggest you do your homework before you go to the capitol.”