A loyal reader, or perhaps a group of readers who speak in the first person singular, asks one simple question that takes more than six hundred words to express. The question is about George Washington and his notorious sleeping habits, and it involves a fair amount of alliteration and other poetic techniques:
Dear Dr. Boli: I have always been amazed at the very large number of signs in the Eastern United States purporting that “Washington Slept Here.” Can you please answer one simple question? If anyone will know, you will.
If ever there was a bigger piece of revisionist American history being purposely perpetrated and perpetuated, a perverse and pervasive perpetuation of public and private proportions ever to have been purported to have been purposefully committed by public and private perpetrators, it is these ubiquitous signs which hang beneath so many old porch roofs like lanterns all across the eastern United States; like thousands of little brightly shining lanterns hung out at eye-level to illuminate the tourist’s path to their doors. Thousands of brightly shining lights blinding the tourists’ tired eyes and clothes-lining them across the bridges of their noses; causing them to stumble backwards in time upon their forward-leaning behinds. If ever there were a bigger lie told about a man who could not tell even a little lie.
If ever there were a man who had reason to lie awake at night; to lie awake counting the thousands of reasons, all sharply dressed up in dashing red coats; coating everything in red several layers deep; corps of bursting corpuscles propelled far across the ocean as if having been sneezed from King George’s bloodied powdered nose; advancing steadily across the gently rounded rolling hills within the fields of his vision, and reflecting red out across his eye’s once calm blue pools, while brigades of shadow shoulders trample under-foot the little wild and happy iris playing leapfrog along their gentle splashing shores, everything now in grey-tone, but remaining black and white, an over-exposure of silver-starry lights, off their sharply pointed bayonets and swords drawn and poised for an imminent poking through the thread-bare fabric of his dreams, like a sleeping bird flushed to flight, having been shred of all chance of respite night.
An even bigger poke in the eye, for if ever there were a man who bore more weight of a fledgling nation on his shoulders like so many heavy yokes. Among these, neither the least weighty, or the least of which may have weighed most heavily on him to carry and balance, a very particular weight to which he bore a very particular attachment and a very personal desire to see it remain firmly weighted about and above his neck. If ever there was, there was George Washington. To lie awake contemplating the tracings of grain patterns on the exposed rough-hewn ceiling boards of his room as if they were lines on a map, trails through the woods, stone walls to be breached; formulating a plan to breach every wall but sleep’s. That would come later, or perhaps much sooner and longer, if he failed to get it right. Or maybe they resembled long trenches for burying dead men side-by-side, end to end, would they ever end? Would this night, this war, ever end? (I know what you’re thinking, “Would that this sentence and paragraph, by God’s good grace, ever end?!” Please bear with me a little longer, my loyal reading friend, ever so generous with your time, always so forgiving of my faulty prose and rhyme, sooner than later, I will finish this up and hit send.)
If ever there were signs which perpetuate a grand lie made only grander by their sheer astronomical volume in relation to any reasonably conceivable number of porches on any conceivable number of houses and inns, in any conceivable year, on whose bed Washington could ever have conceivably conceived to lay his head, it is these signs.
Undeniably, he most certainly did lay his head on many a bed in many an house and inn, but on how many did he ever seek to sleep, but to lie awake instead?
Thanks Dr. Boli,
Signed , Signori della Signette.
Now, the question seems to be this: How much actual sleeping did George Washington do, and how does that amount compare with the number of “George Washington Slept Here” signs strewn up and down the thirteen original states?
The answer depends a great deal on George Washington’s sleeping habits. A well-known historian gives us this interesting information:
For most of his adult life, George Washington made a habit of sleeping in two different houses every night. Servants would wake him at one in the morning, and the transfer would normally be completed by two. Except on his infrequent visits home, Washington never slept in the same bed twice. He kept a large supply of small brass plaques to leave with his hosts in commemoration of the signal honor he had conferred upon them.
This explanation does not begin to account for all the “George Washington Slept Here” signs, however, and so an alternative explanation is needed. Since it is well known that Washington could not tell a lie, and since it is further well known that anything engraved in brass is true (for it is axiomatic that no one would endure the expense and trouble of having a brass plaque made to enshrine a falsehood), we are forced to conclude that George Washington was narcoleptic. If, in spite of his cares, he could not prevent himself from falling asleep many times in the course of each day, then the multitude of the signs is explained, and we are not required to suspect either George Washington or the brass plaques of fibbing, which is contrary to their natures.