Byline: GORDON JACKSON
ST. MARYS - News of the death of the nation's first president traveled slowly.
George Washington died Dec. 14, 1799, but the announcement didn't reach St. Marys until Feb. 1, 1800 - 49 days later.
Members of the St. Marys Masonic Lodge assembled two days later and unloaded an empty casket from a ship at the St. Marys waterfront. After an American flag was draped over the coffin, it was loaded onto a cart and hauled by a huge ox named "Big Red" down Osborne Street.
The empty coffin was buried at the intersection of Osborne and Conyers streets and four live oaks were planted at the site in honor of Washington.
Now, a Masonic lodge in St. Marys plans to reenact the ceremony. The event at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 21 - the day before Washington's birthday - will begin at the Masonic lodge on Wheeler Street and end at the same intersection where the casket was buried and trees planted 210 years ago.
Robert Morgan, a junior warden at St. Marys Masonic Lodge No. 109, said the intent is to celebrate a significant yet little-known piece of city history.
Masons held a similar ceremony in 1986, when the last live oak planted in 1800 died from being struck by lightning. Wood from that tree was used to refurbish the USS Constitution, a three-masted heavy frigate named by Washington. Commissioned in 1797, the Constitution remains in operation today as the nation's oldest warship.
Organizers will reenact the original ceremony as closely as possible, Morgan said. While they won't use an ox-driven cart, Morgan said Masons have found a white horse to pull a cart with a casket donated by a local funeral home. They are still searching for an American flag from the period large enough to cover the coffin.
While another casket won't be buried at the site, organizers are waiting for approval by the city's tree board to plant four live oaks to replace the trees planted in 1800. The tree board will consider the request at a meeting today at City Hall. …