Lonely Planet Writer

New 4-D film at Mount Vernon brings the Revolutionary War to life

Ever wonder what it was like to be in the middle of battle, with George Washington as your general? This experience can now be yours, thanks to a $2 million renovation at George Washington’s Mount Vernon that includes a brand-new 4-D film bringing you straight into the action of the Revolutionary War.

The Mount Vernon home of George Washington
Mount Vernon, Virginia, United States. Image by: Jaap Hart/GettyRF

“After 10-plus years, the old theater became tired,” said Robert Shenk, Senior Vice President for Visitor Engagement at Mount Vernon. “We needed to invest to make it more exciting, more cutting edge, more current.”

The new 22-minute media presentation, located in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center on the Mount Vernon grounds about 20 miles south of Washington, DC, takes you on three pivotal campaigns that led to victory in the War for Independence: Boston, Trenton, and Yorktown. You are there with General Washington as he heads the Continental Army, firing on the Redcoats, crossing the Delaware, meeting with his advisers to determine the next step.

Model of George Washington on his horse
Life-size model of George Washington astride his horse Blueskin at the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. Image by: Dayna Smith/The Washington Post/Getty Images

But it’s more than a historical recounting. You are submerged in the woes of the soldiers, as they suffer through cold winters, with fog wafting, wet snow falling, and wind blowing in the theater. You are on the battlefields with them, as bright flashes feign gunfire and your seat vibrates and shakes as if cannon are exploding nearby. Artillery shells appear to fly overhead.

State-of-the-art technology includes a wide aspect ratio screen and a 4k resolution projection. More than 100 actors took part in the filming, with locations throughout Virginia, including Fuqua Farm, Richmond; Gadsby’s Tavern, Alexandria; Welbourne House, Middleburg; Goose Creek Stone Bridge, Loudoun County; and, of course, George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Exhibit at Mount Vernon

Visitor views a scale model at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, February 17, 2014 in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Image by: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The renovation also includes a state-of-the-art experience called “Be Washington, It’s Your Turn to Lead.” Sitting at an interactive desk facing a 30-foot-long screen, you are presented the details of one of four defining moments Washington had to face (Battle of Second Trenton, Newburgh Conspiracy, Genet Affair, and Whiskey Rebellion). You hear from different advisers, all historically accurate, who provide their own insight into the situation. From there, you decide how you would act and then see how Washington handled the same situation. “It’s an interesting mashup of the 18th and 21st centuries,” Shenk said.

Note that you can play “Be Washington” on your own device at home.

What is Mount Vernon?

George Washington’s Mount Vernon is the plantation house and grounds where the first President of the United States and his wife, Martha Custis Washington, resided on the banks of the Potomac River, about 10 miles south of Alexandria, Virginia, in the latter half of the 18th century. Owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association since 1858, it’s open every day of the year and includes the accurately restored mansion, colonial revival gardens, Washington’s tomb, a museum and education center, and the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.

By Barbara Noe Kennedy