What’s New at WDS – May 13, 2020

Below you’ll find three weekly columns to keep you informed and entertained.

Washington Returns to WDS, Part 1

Many of you know that George Washington arrived in Wethersfield in May 1781, and, while staying at the Webb House, he and French General Rochambeau planned the military campaign that led to the end of the Revolutionary War.

But did you know that many stories about Washington are merely myths? In our school program “George Washington Actually Slept Here” we debunk some Washington legends, the best known concerning his teeth. Washington did have false teeth—five sets! —but they were made of cow’s teeth, hippopotamus ivory, gold and lead. Ouch!

Unable to open WDS to the public due to COVID-19, our staff have taken the liberty to invite “George” back for a 21st-century visit. For the next three weeks we’ll share highlights of George’s private tour of WDS and some interesting facts about the museum.

Collections A to Z – “E” is for Elephant

The theme of childhood is one of the interpretive threads explored throughout WDS. Anyone who hasn’t visited in recent years will be surprised by our charming collection of 19th and early-20th century toys and games! Highlights from this collection—ranging from rocking horses to miniature arks filled with animals—are exhibited in the Stevens House.

Among the playthings exhibited is a game titled “The Elephant of the Maharaja of Hindostan: Instructive Amusement for Children of All Ages.” Beautifully chromolithographed cardboard cutouts of an articulated elephant, a variety of ornate robes, howdahs (a type of large saddle used on elephants and camels) and riders are included. The elephant can be dressed in various robes and different riders can be attached. As the subtitle suggests, like many toys and games of the late 19th century this example incorporates both educational and playtime activity.

Often described as the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire, India held a fascination for people in Europe and America. This is reflected in the fact that, although the game was likely manufactured in Germany, it includes instructions in English, French, Italian, as well as German.

As currently displayed the elephant carries the Maharaja himself, replete with a silver tea service. Now that’s traveling first class!

Around the Grounds

We’re digging into details in this week’s “Around the Grounds.” Property Manager Dick Agne explains that the first photo shows a view towards Main Street of the utility trench which will hold drainage pipes and electrical, gas, and a water line to the new Education and Visitor Center. We’re very excited that a generator to service essential electrical needs for the entire WDS campus is also part of the new construction.

The other two images, taken in the new mechanical room, show the complex design of heating and water piping in the new addition. These utilities are much more energy efficient than the previous ones and will enable us to stay open for programming and events year-round!