PHILADELPHIA: Archaeologists have finished a dig that discovered where George Washington kept slaves while he served at the first president of the United States.
Officials held a ceremony Tuesday to mark the end of the dig, which revealed remnants of a hidden passageway used by Washington's nine slaves so that guests would not see them slipping in and out of his house.
Washington lived at what is now called the President's House during his presidency in the 1790s, when Philadelphia was the U.S. capital. The house is just yards (meters) away from the Liberty Bell, one of America's most enduring symbols.
"It's the only place in America where black slavery and white freedom literally stand side-by-side — mere inches away from each other," said Michael Coard, an attorney who leads a group that worked to have slavery recognized at the site.
The archaeological dig was begun as a prelude to a new exhibit about the President's House. The original plans called for filling in the ruins of the house and building an abstract display and exhibit.
The discovery of the slave passage prompted city and park officials to change course. The new site will incorporate the archaeological findings into the exhibits, said Emanuel Kelly, principal of the design firm working on the project.
In addition to the passageway, archaeologists found the remains of a basement that was never noted in historical records, and a bow window that was the architectural precursor to the Oval Office of the White House.
Park officials estimated that 250,000 people visited the dig in the four months since it opened. More than 100 people attended the closing ceremony — many of them crowded onto a small wooden platform overlooking the ruins.
Officials ended the ceremony by putting remnants of slave history into the dig: water from the Nile River, sand from the Nile's banks and small plaques with the names of Washington's slaves.
"I know many people will be aghast that we can talk about George Washington the slave-holder and George Washington the president in the same breath," said Cheryl LaRoche, a cultural heritage specialist.