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George Washington Really Did Sleep at Longfellow National Historic Site


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1868 portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron. Photo by Sandahl via Wikipedia.

If you can prove that “George Washington Slept Here,” your house is
Historic with a capital “H”. Washington really did sleep at the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The house is the focal attraction of Longfellow National Historic Site, which celebrates its 36th anniversary October 9.

Nearly everyone has heard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). Sure, you know him. He’s the literary genius who wrote Paul Revere’s Ride (1861), the epic Song of Hiawatha (1855), and Evangeline (1847), to name a few.

At some point in junior high school (middle school hadn’t been invented back then) I was forced to memorize a good bit of Paul Revere’s Ride:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
Yadada, yadada, yadada

Being from Michigan, a Great Lake State, I was also expected to be able to recite the opening stanzas (if that’s what you call them) of the Song of Hiawatha:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

(I forget the rest, but I can tell you that Gitche Gumee is Lake Superior.)

I do not recall a single word of Evangeline, but I do recall that the professor who taught the English lit class I took at Western Michigan University 47 years ago this fall lectured that Evangeline was by far the most popular of Longfellow’s poems during the great man’s lifetime.

Now then; a confession. As much as I appreciate Longfellow and his works, it’s George Washington’s association with the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House that really grabs my attention. Don’t tell my faculty colleagues, but I like Revolutionary War history a damn sight better than poetry and literary history. Always have and always will.

George Washington, as you may know, got around a lot. His gentleman planter lifestyle, his military campaigns, and the grand tours of the country that he took during and after his presidency gave him occasion to bide a while and overnight in an amazing assortment of mansions, homes, taverns, and inns. And those stays provided each of those structures with an everlasting claim to fame. Nearly forty places in the state of New York, for example, have historical markers proudly proclaiming that Washington paid a visit.

The house at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge -- the fine-looking house that we know today as the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House -- served as headquarters for General Washington when he commanded the Continental Army during the Siege of Boston (July 1775 - April 1776). Washington did indeed sleep at Longfellow National Historic Site. In fact, he slept there a lot.

All kidding aside, folks, this is a great little national park. Even if George Washington had never set foot in the place, it would still be History with a Capital H. For a complete list of the many other good reasons to visit Longfellow National Historic Site, and there are plenty, see the park’s home page.

Post script: A comedy film titled George Washington Slept Here was released in 1942. It starred Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan as New Yorkers who purchase a dilapidated farmhouse where George Washington was rumored to have spent the night. The flick, which was based on a 1940 play of the same name, was actually pretty good. In fact, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.

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