Mount Vernon provides new look at George Washington

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he mansion still overlooks the Potomac, looking much as it did in the late 18th century. Sheep still graze in the pastures, and mules help work the fields.

But carefully tucked into four acres of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate are two new 21st-century buildings that dramatically alter the experience for visitors at one of America's most important historical sites.

The new orientation center, and a second building housing a museum and education center, opened October 27 with attractions that portray Washington as the "nation's first action hero." A 20-minute adventure film called "We Fight to Be Free" highlights his career as commander of the Continental Army. Wax statues -- meticulously created with age-regression technology -- depict Washington as a young man. His false teeth are on display, but so are his pistol and sword.

Mount Vernon officials made the changes after concluding that the estate was perpetuating the image of Washington as a stodgy, impersonal icon. They sought to change that image, particularly among school children who make up a third of the 1 million annual visitors. They also wanted to push Mount Vernon to the vanguard of museums and historical sites telling stories in a multimedia age.

"It's definitely an improvement," Anuj Verma, a senior at Irvington High School in Fremont, California, who was making a return visit to Mount Vernon when he joined thousands of sightseers there on the new attractions' opening day. "Before, they didn't give you much information about George Washington himself. You kind of just saw the house."

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