The fact that hardly anyone in the city could point out the site of the old Morris mansion where the Father of His Country lived during most of the time he was the Nation's first President is one of the oddities that deserves mention on his birthday.
Right now, that site -- formerly 526-528-530 Market st. -- is marked by the following: One 2-by-4 plank, about 12 feet long; heaps of broken brick and concrete; and a rusted iron door. For the three business buildings that occupied the site are gone and bulldozers have been clearing the ground for the new Independence Mall.
Even before the bulldozers came, two of the buildings had disappeared to give way to a parking lot. The other was occupied by a men's clothing store. Once upon a time, there is said to have been a plaque, placed on one of the buildings by the Sons of the Revolution, calling attention to the fact that this was Washington's Philadelphia residence, but nobody knows what became of it.
Unless some one hurries up and notes the location, the site will become an indistinguishable part of an open space in the Mall.
Washington rented the house from Robert Morris. He paid the rent out of his own pocket, because in those days the frugal Government apparently saw no reason for giving the head man his house-rent free when it was paying him a salary. Washington moved in in December, 1790, and lived in the place continuously from then through both his terms, except when he went to Mount Vernon between sessions of Congress, and when he got out of town because of an epidemic of yellow fever.
Incidentally, rents weren't so cheap for a really nice Philadelphia house in those days as you might imagine. The first President paid Morris $3000 a year for the place, generally spoken of then as the finest mansion in the city. Considering that the Continental Congress put out only $160,000 for the whole Revolutionary War, $3000 was quite a piece of change.
The Father of Our Country did not exactly regard the three-story Morris mansion, with its servants' quarters and vast rooms, as a peasant's hut. But he revealed in a letter to his secretary announcing the renting of the place that he had seen better.
"There are good stables," one sentence said, adding a bit disdainfully, "but for 12 horses only."
It may come as a shock to some patriots to learn that the huge Emanuel Leutze painting of "Washington Crossing the Delaware," now on exhibition at Washington Crossing, isn't the original of that historic work at all.
The original, painted in 1851 at Dusseldorf, Germany, a city which the theoretically American Leutze seemed to prefer most of his life to this country, is in the Kunsthalle at Bremen. The one at Washington Crossing, loaned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a replica.
Though it's American's best known historic painting and has been an inspiration to generations of school children, Leutze's masterpiece doesn't rate much with art critics. Most of them say it's "good of its kind," a very small compliment, meaning pretty dull.
Historians have noted that the American flag in the boat hadn't yet been designed when the event occurred, and that the Rhine, which is the river in the picture, only slightly resembles the Delaware. The American soldiers have a solid German look, since Germans were the models. There is an unconfirmed but fairly well-supported tradition that a woman was the model for Washington himself.