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Read All About It: Fake News is Nothing New

Although “fake news” makes headlines today, it is actually nothing new and even affected George Washington.

On April 15, 1861, three Days after the Civil War began, an article appeared in the New York Herald that caused a commotion in Alexandria and Washington. The article stated that the body of George Washington had been removed from his tomb and taken away to the mountains of Virginia. This story could be interpreted as an early form of “click bait” to sell more papers, or given the political climate at the time, a move to increase tensions between the North and the South that would also in turn increase sales.

The New York Herald in 1850 (Wikimedia)
The New York Herald in 1850 (Wikimedia)

Upon reading the article, Sarah Tracy of Troy, New York and secretary of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, wrote the following letter immediately to the National Intelligencer, a leading Washington Newspaper:

We are requested by the ladies of the Mount Vernon Association to state that the assertion which appeared in the New York Herald of the 15th instant to the effect that Col. J.A. Washington had caused the removal of the remains of General Washington from Mount Vernon is utterly false and without foundation. Never, since first laid in this, his chosen resting place, have the remains of our Great Father reposed more quietly and peacefully than now, when all the outer world is distracted by we alike thoughts and deeds. And the public, the owners of this noble possession, need fear no molestation of this one national spot belonging alike to North and South. Over it there can be no dispute! No individual or individuals has the right, and surely non can have the inclination, to disturb this sacred deposit. The Ladies have taken every necessary precaution for the protection of the place, and their earnest desire is, that the public should feel confidence in their faithfulness to their trust, and believe that Mount Vernon is safe under the guardianship of the Ladies of the Mount Vernon Association of the Union.

Throughout the Civil War, Miss Tracy was the main driving force in keeping Mount Vernon neutral ground. No troops were placed at the estate, and those who visited were not allowed to enter armed or in uniform. The estate continues to stand as a symbol of American values and unification.

Washington's Tomb at Mount Vernon

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