The Tea Party activists have been drawn to Colonial Williamsburg and its portrayal of the Founding Fathers this past year. The executives who oversee the events here have noticed the influx of those who are trying to discover the founding fathers and connect with them. According to the Washington Post:
“If people . . . can recognize that subjects such as war and taxation, religion and race, were really at the heart of the situation in the 18th century, and there is some connection between what was going on then and what’s going on now, that’s all to the good,” said Colin Campbell, president and chairman of Colonial Williamsburg. “What happened in the 18th century here required engagement, and what’s required to preserve democracy in the 21st century is engagement. That is really our message.”
The foundation that runs the programs at Colonial Williamsburg is nonprofit and nonpartisan, so neither Campbell nor other employees would venture an opinion on the significance of the tea party. But they welcome the business. Like most museums and historical sites, Williamsburg suffered during the recession; even before that, attendance had been dropping for more than a decade. In the late 1990s, annual ticket sales topped 1 million. Last year, that number had dropped to 660,000.
There is a great deal more interaction with the actors who portray Virginia’s prominent ancestors. People don’t always get the responses they want:
Please flip the page….
Campbell’s hope is that such visitors come away having learned something about the nuance and messiness of history — a theme that runs through all of Colonial Williamsburg’s programming.
Sometimes, the activists appear surprised when the Founding Fathers don’t always provide the “give ’em hell” response they seem to be looking for.
When a tourist asked George Washington a question about what should be done to those colonists who remain loyal to the tyrannical British king, Washington interjected: “I hope that we’re all loyal, sir” — a reminder that Washington, far from being an early agitator against the throne, was among those who sought to avoid revolution until the very end.
When another audience member asked the general to reflect on the role of prayer and religion in politics, he said: “Prayers, sir, are a man’s private concern. They are not a matter of public interest. And nor should they be. There is nothing so personal as a man’s relationship with his creator.”
And when another asked whether the Boston Tea Party had helped rally the patriots, Washington disagreed with force: The tea party “should never have occurred,” he said. “It’s hurt our cause, sir.”
[Bold is mine.]
That may not have been the answer the man expected from the father of our country. But even in that spirited crowd, no one was going to tell George Washington he was wrong.
Can you imagine going on an historical tour and having someone in the audience chiming in all the time? The know-it-all types are the bane of a tour guide/actor’s existence. I worked Michie Tavern (Going up the road to Monticello, outside of Charlottesville.) when it was just an historic site; before it was remade into a working historical tavern. We had to go room to room with a scripted speech. The old lady who owned the place used to hide behind the doors and listen to make sure we didn’t go off script. One of the show-offs would crank up at least once a day and get us in trouble with the dragon lady.
It sounds like these costumed Washingtons, Randolphs and Masons are professional actors and welcome the audience participation more than college-age tour guides working for a buck-twenty five an hour or some other slave wages did. It probably makes the day go faster to get some feed back. Usually period actors know their historical stuff backwards and forwards.
Regardless of one’s political persuasion, the sudden interest in Colonial Willaimsburg is a good thing for Virginia. We have been here all along and any money spent in Virginia helps our state and it helps the country recover from the recession.
Meanwhile, Americans continue to flock to historical sites and continue to engage the actors in similar conversations:
“General, when is it appropriate to resort to arms to fight for our liberty?” asked a tourist on a recent weekday during “A Conversation with George Washington,” a hugely popular dialogue between actor and audience in the shaded backyard of Charlton’s Coffeehouse.
Standing on a simple wooden stage before a crowd of about 100, the man portraying Washington replied: “Only when all peaceful remedies have been exhausted. Or if we are forced to do so in our own self-defense.”
The tourist, a self-described conservative activist named Ismael Nieves from Elmer, N.J., nodded thoughtfully. Afterward, he said this was his fifth visit to Colonial Williamsburg.
“We live in a very dangerous time,” Nieves said. “People are looking for leadership, looking for what to do. They’re looking to Washington, Jefferson, Madison.”
“I want to get to know our Founding Fathers,” he added. “I think we’ve forgotten them. It’s like we’ve almost erased them from history.”
It’s a common point of view among tea party activists. They say their unhappiness with Washington reflects how far the federal government has strayed, through taxation and regulation, from the Founders’ intentions.
“They all should come here and listen,” said Bob Rohrbacher, a retired plumber from Floral Park, N.Y., who opposes President Obama and was inspired to visit Williamsburg while watching Glenn Beck on Fox News. “They’ve forgotten about America.”
All history books are not equal. Some, especially ones popular now that are being espoused by political activists, are skewed and represent someone’s point of view, rather than being true to traditional history. Who is to say who is right and who is wrong? I tend to believe the history books that have been around for years, even if they do tend to glorify our local heroes like Jack Jouett and Thomas Jefferson. I have even read a few books in my day where I had to really dig to determine who really won the Civil War.
Hopefully, the Civil War Sesquicentennial will bring in even more tourists with deep pockets who want to learn history. We can only pray that people will open their eyes to what happens when a nation can no longer find common ground.