Saturday, December 8, 2007

Historic Holiday Open House

Last night was a holiday double-header for us. We started at the Rising Sun Tavern’s holiday open house, and then moved on to the college-community orchestra Pops concert at Mary Washington (more about the concert later).

The event at the Rising Sun Tavern was lovely. Just a smidgeon of history stolen from the website: Built by George Washington’s brother Charles in 1760 as his home, this building was later operated as a tavern, the only "proper" tavern in the bustling port city of Fredericksburg. Today, the "tavern wenches" entertain visitors as though they have just stepped off a stagecoach in a lively interpretation of 18th-century tavern life. We were greeted on the porch and in each room by these tavern wenches, all cheery and animated guides who gave lively presentations, answered questions happily, and made everyone feel welcome. We were treated to music by an a capella chorus who sang from the staircase in the foyer, and ended our tour with colonial cookies and hot spiced cider in the kitchen. And although this free open house tour was an abbreviated version of the regular tour for which admission is charged, it never felt rushed.

This was in stark contrast to our visit last weekend to a similar event at the Mary Washington House. I hate to give bad reviews to historic attractions that operate on shoestrings and need all the business they can get, but this event was a disappointment. In the first room, a dour docent gave us a perfunctory overview of the room as if it were the last place on earth she wanted to be. And as for the poor visitor who absentmindedly set her purse on a chair, well, she was given an old-fashioned schoolmarm scolding. I half expected the guide to fish a ruler out of her petticoat and whack the hapless visitor across the knuckles. In the second room, a cheerful guide made us feel more welcome, but made it clear we were not getting the full treatment given to paying customers. There were colonial carolers on hand to serenade us, but as soon as they opened their mouths to sing, another guide came along to direct us out the back door. What, were they paying the carolers by the note? The entire tour took less than ten minutes. This was an opportunity to give visitors a good feeling about the place, but instead we got the bum’s rush. Hopefully they treat the tourists better. Note to the Mary Washington House folks: talk to the people at the Rising Sun Tavern about hospitality.

Luminaria in the backyard garden of the Rising Sun Tavern (I'm not so sure how colonial these are, but I thought they were cute):

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