Keeping Washington Alive, by George

Article excerpt

George Washington lives.

America's first president died 200 years ago today, but James Renwick Manship of Mount Vernon has dedicated himself to keeping Washington's memory alive.

"I've had Washington on the brain for years," says Mr. Manship, 46. "I've had an interest in history that my grandparents instilled in me."

That interest has led Mr. Manship, a former Navy officer, to a second career portraying Washington in living history presentations for school, church and civic groups.

"I've given over 100 presentations this year, including over 6,000 high school kids from all across America," he says of his costumed performance titled "George Washington Lives."

Mr. Manship, who was named last year to the Mount Vernon Board of Visitors by Gov. James S. Gilmore III, believes that teaching about the life and beliefs of Washington helps promote greater unity among Americans.

"Telling about George Washington . . . is the best way to reunify the nation," he says. "That's basically the goal, to tell about the principles of George Washington and the founding fathers, and how they created a nation unique among all other nations on Earth and throughout history."

Mr. Manship first donned his gray wig, tricorner hat and blue-and-buff Colonial uniform in 1997, when he participated in Alexandria's Washington Birthday Parade - and won the George Washington look-alike contest.

In 1998, he gave presentations about Washington's life at Christ Church in Alexandria, where Washington attended. This year, Mr. Manship began giving presentations for visitors to the Washington area for tourist companies, including American Christian Tours.

Mr. Manship says he tries "to present a three-dimensional George Washington." He says historians usually present only the founder's public career and his private family life, neglecting Washington's Christian faith.

"George Washington was definitely a man of faith," says Mr. Manship, noting that when he was first inaugurated as president, Washington concluded his oath of office with "so help me God," a phrase that has since become a traditional part of the inauguration ceremony.

In presenting the spiritual aspect of the "three-dimensional" Washington, Mr. Manship has reprinted a 1919 book by William J. Johnson, "George Washington, the Christian." He has also distributed thousands of fliers calling attention to the record of Washington's faith:

* On July 8, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was read to the Continental Army, Washington wrote to his troops, "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier. …