By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
Today is Bastille Day, or the French National Day, honoring the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille. Did you know there’s a connection between that day and our very own Mount Vernon?
The Bastille was a medieval fortress and prison in Paris. At the time it was stormed, it held just seven inmates, but it had come to represent the absolute and arbitrary power of King Louis XVI over the people. The French people had had enough, and on July 14, 1789, commoners stormed this symbol of oppression, set it on fire, and destroyed it. The event marks the start of the French Revolution. Today, celebrations for the French National Day are held all over France including the oldest and largest military parade in Europe on the Champs-Élysées, and a fireworks show.
But back to Fairfax: Did you know the main key to the Bastille is here locally at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home? Shortly after the event at the Bastille, the Marquis de Lafayette — a friend of George Washington who had served with him during our own Revolutionary War, and who was now a leader in the French Revolution — sent him the key on behalf of the people of France. It was sent as a tribute to the first U.S. President as the people of France sought their own liberty. The Mount Vernon Estate website explains the friendship between these two leaders and the detailed history of how the Bastille Key made its way here and the other famous hands that held it en route.
The Mount Vernon Estate is a great family-friendly destination rich in history with beautiful grounds to tour and enough to see and do to keep you busy for several hours. Anytime is a good time to visit, but if you need an “excuse,” going now to see the Bastille Day seems like an especialy good idea. You’ll find the antique cast-iron key prominently displayed in a special case on the wall of the central passage of the home before you go up the stairs during your tour.
If you want your own souvenir of the French Revolution, you can find a Bastille key chain, charm, tie, paperweight, and more at Mount Vernon’s museum shop.
If you want to celebrate virtually with the people of France, you can find out more about the festivities and even watch them online. Heureux jour de Bastille, mes amis!
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