On the evening of December 13, 1799, President George Washington went to bed early with a very severe cold, affecting his voice. He was never to rise from that bad. By 3 in the morning he could barely breathe; the air passage of his throat was constricting. By the next night fall he would be dead.
The awesomeness of Washington’s sudden death came home to me with special power almost exactly–to the hour–206 years later on the evening of December 13, at nearly 9 p.m. It was a December night almost as cold as it was for Washington’s death, but without the heavy snow. A small party of family and friends attending a Christmas party at Mt. Vernon were privileged to visit the now silent, but beautifully kept bedroom in which the most beloved warrior and president of our country drew his last painful breaths. We were all filled with awe.
The preservation of Mt. Vernon, down to its least details, has been, as far as humanly possible, preserved in the condition in which George Washington left it. It is an almost miraculous tribute to his memory and a great gift to his national sense of renewal.
My daughter Jana and I, in particular, felt extremely privileged and tremendously moved. We had just sent in the page proofs of our new collaboration, Washington’s God, due out from Basic Books in time for his next birthday in February.