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Celebration in the Snow

Birthnight Ball goes on, despite blizzard.

Light snow and sleet were already falling on Saturday night, but nearly 100 people braved the elements to celebrate the 253rd birthday of America’s first president, George Washington, at Alexandria's Birth Night ball, coming to Gadsby's Tavern from Ohio, Massachusetts and even England for the annual celebration.

"We really didn't want to cancel it if the weather looked at all reasonable," said Gretchen Bulova, director of Gadsby's Museum.

Those who serve as reenactors agreed. "It is important that we make history real, for our children in particular," said Don DeHaven, who has played George Washington for a number of years. "It is important that they see those who lived in Alexandria two centuries ago as real people who did real things like celebrate in this manner."

One young person who has taken that message to heart is Meredith Richard, a sophomore at West Potomac High School. She came to the banquet and ball as Nelly Custis.

"I've been a re-enactor for about two years or so," she said. "I love history and I love acting, and this is a wonderful way for me to combine those two things. Also, Nelly Custis was very special to General and Mrs. Washington and I enjoy portraying her as she must have been at my age," Richard said.

Pat Sowers played hostess as Margaret Gadsby. "Meredith does a wonderful job," she said. "We would really like to get more young people involved."

SOWERS, DEHAVEN, Richard and the other re-enactors sat at the tables with guests and discussed current events, current in Washington's day and today. The talk, like the garb, was colonial.

"My hairstyle has a Greek influence," Sowers said. "I keep it in place with bear grease. My dress and headdress are both a bit of a different look for me," she said. Her charm, wit and knowledge of the era kept everyone at the table entertained.

Monday’s parade celebrating George Washington’s birthday was cancelled. But Grand Marshal John Porter and his wife, Bonnie, were both at the ball, where they received a copy of the mayor's proclamation on the parade.

"Whether we have a parade or not, it has been such an honor to be asked to be the grand marshal," Porter said. He and his wife were dressed in formal but not colonial attire, much to the disappointment of his students at T. C. Williams High School.

There were toasts to the health of General Washington and to the new nation he oversaw, food, drink and dancing. The snow did not begin until the evening had come to an end and everyone was safely on their way home.