Washington's Final Farewell, 200 Years Later

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A re-enactment of George Washington's funeral yesterday at his Mount Vernon home stayed true to the original, from the design of the mahogany coffin right down to the shoes on the smallest children.

A long, winding procession of soldiers, relatives and acquaintances marched with solemn faces - some sobbing into their hands, others staring straight ahead - just as the actual mourners had done exactly 200 years earlier.

About 250 re-enactors took part in the procession, then listened to eulogies near the edge of the Potomac River before "interring" the nation's first president on the grounds of his Virginia estate.

Three hundred had gathered here to pay their respects under a cloud of national mourning on Dec. 18, 1799.

"The wisdom and virtue of George Washington transcends the boundaries of time and place," Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III said in a keynote speech before the re-enactment. "George Washington was truly the indispensable man."

Two days before his death at age 67, Washington was out in the cold, wet weather for hours and refused to take medication, said the History Channel's Roger Mudd, the master of ceremonies.

On Dec. 14, 1799, the former president awoke in the mansion's master bedroom about 2 a.m. with a high fever, sore throat and labored breathing.

Doctors bled the statesman four times, draining up to a third of his blood, and gave him a mixture of molasses, butter and vinegar, which nearly caused him to suffocate.

Washington attended to his will and papers during his last, painful day.

At one point he told Dr. James Craik, "Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath cannot last long."

Fearing he could be buried alive, Washington asked his secretary, Tobias Lear, to wait three days after his death. He died of a viral throat infection that closed his windpipe.

Long revered as "the Father of Our Country," Washington played one of the leading roles in the birth of the United States.

In 1775, at age 43, he took command of the ragtag Continental Army that won American independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. He headed the convention that wrote the Constitution, then was twice elected president of the new nation, serving from 1789 to 1797.

Americans of his day loved Washington, who stood tall, strong and broad-shouldered. From the Revolutionary War on, his birthday - Feb. …