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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Students follow in Washington’s steps at Van Cortlandt House

By Shant Shahrigian
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
The Van Cortlandt House Museum.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
The west parlor room.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
A replica of an 18th-century printing of the Declaration of Independence.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Delft tile surrounds the fireplace in the west parlor.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Period items in the west wing parlor.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
The east wing parlor.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Michael Grillo, 52, a museum educator, stands between portraits of Eve Van Cortlandt and Augustus Van Cortlandt in the east parlor room.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
The west master bedroom, where George Washington once stayed.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
A wash basin, toothbrush and shaving items in a guest room.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
A third-story room in the Van Cortlandt mansion recreates the inside of a modest 18th-century house.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
An image of George Washington’s famous dentures.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
An old spinning wheel sits in the attic of the Van Cortlandt House Museum.
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Clarification appended.

Let’s say it is October 1776. You are lucky enough to be part of America’s high society; but unlucky enough, depending on how you see it, that you have to take a stance on whether it’s wise to dissolve the political bands which have connected you with your mother country. Ah, well. At least the carriage ride out of the reeking city, up Albany Post Road and into the wide country is an invigorating one. Your friends the Van Cortlandts always show good hospitality at their plantation mansion.

The long road lands you in front of the Van Cortlandts’ Georgian-style mansion after nightfall. A few torches illuminate rows of small Celtic-looking masks on the front of the house as you walk in. Is the lion at the far end of the building encouraging, or mocking you? A Medusa with a snake coming out of one of her eyes is definitely not a friendly sight here beyond the outskirts of urban life. There must be something funny about the Van Cortlandts!

After a morose indentured servant relieves you of your travel things, music from a pianoforte summons you to a parlor where you find men and women doing a country dance. Here is what you came for! Happiness, levity, life itself! You toss off your coat and prepare to hop in without even introducing yourself. But then a tall, wig-less man turns and faces you and your smile goes blank as you remember why you came here, having to make a tough decision….

The imagination is wont to run wild during a visit to the Van Cortlandt House, which has hosted visitors not personally acquainted with the Van Cortlandts since the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York gained a license to operate the building as a museum in 1896. The Colonial Dames are a historic preservation, service and educational non-profit group.

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