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While Washington Slept Here

March 1, 2010

A friend of a friend recently suggested a book that sounded a little strange at first. Called While Washington Slept Here, it was written by a college history professor named Eugenia Ball. I like history so I grudgingly agreed to give Prof. Ball’s book a try. Low expectations are sometimes your best armor against friendly suggestions. Plus, it was hard to say no because this person thrust the book in my hands. Plus, we were outside so there was no place to put it down then scuttle away when she wasn’t looking.

The book does have a somewhat intriguing premise. Professor Ball — she teaches history at the Washington Institution and Substitute Teacher’s College of Northeastern Virginia — has reconstructed the dreams that George Washington experienced at many of the places where he slept during the fateful years of the Revolution and the early republic. Supposedly she did this by sleeping at those same locations, fastidiously writing down her dreams and doing a ridiculous amount of research on  such things as 18th century sleeping customs, nightshirt materials worn by Virginia planters, dream accounts from the time (Patrick Henry evidently recorded a series of salacious dreams he had while taking refuge in a cider mill to dodge creditors), along with a host of other 18th century data (e.g., herring landings in Nantucket, scanning electron microscope analysis of the wood from the underside of Ben Franklin’s bed, average gravestone heights in Boston graveyards of the period, etc.).

Okay, the idea might sound untenable to some. But you’ve got to read the book. I couldn’t believe how compelling it was. I couldn’t put it down — literally.

While Washington Slept Here has been a breakout hit in some unexpected places (in Hungary, Ball was made an honorary Magyar and given her own TV show for a week; in the Czech Republic, they gave her a castle; in Tajikistan it was yogurt-dipped goat dung). Here in the U.S., Washington Slept has yet to hit its stride. I don’t know if it’s because of a lack of publicity, or because it’s not available on the Kindle yet, or because the only cover blurb is by Tiger Woods, but I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before While Washington Slept Here is bigger than The DaVinci Code.

Forget blue people living in a big tree, let’s see what James Cameron can do with this material.

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From → culture, jests

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