Interview with Photographer Mark Hersch
Mark uses "rephotography" to capture the transformation of places. He reveals how much they have changed but also, in many ways, how they have stayed the same.
George Washington's Mount Vernon worked with Mark Hersch to produce a set of photos that meld historic images from our collection with modern images taken from the same vantage point. By merging the past and present together into one image, we hope to better highlight the long photographic history of Mount Vernon and the vital preservation work undertaken by the Mount Vernon Ladies.
By the 1850s, George Washington’s beloved home had fallen into ruin. In this c. 1858 photograph it is possible to see the poor condition of the Mansion. Timbers and ship masts are being used to prop up the piazza roof. Upon learning of the estate’s condition, Ann Pamela Cunningham founded the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. The organization quickly raised enough money to buy the Mansion and 200 acres and in the 1860s began preserving it.
The combined image shows the mansion both in its former dilapidated state and it current preserved state. The post-Washington balustrades and side porches have now been removed, and most importantly, there is no more need for ship masts to support the piazza roof.
Looking closely at this 1859 photograph of the Mansion, it is possible to see the masts of ships. These were used to prop up the roof of the piazza after several columns had rotted away. Standing with one arm resting a white-painted board fence protecting a small tree is an unknown man - possibly the photographer or his assistant - wearing a dark suit and top hat.
In the far right corner of the combined image is a member of our operations and maintenance staff watering the nearby lawn. Mount Vernon welcomes more than 1 million guests each year and the daily support we receive from our maintenance team is an essential part of our being open 365 days a year.
Original photograph by Israel Biddle Expressly for H.E. Hoyt & Co., Baltimore, Maryland.
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association has owned and operated Mount Vernon since its acquisition in the late 1850s. The Ladies have been fierce defenders of Washington's home ever since. In the historic image, fifteen vice-regents of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association pose on the piazza of the Mansion in 1884. In the combined image, young women exit the piazza, behind the Ladies of 1884. It was through the Ladies' efforts, both then and now, that Mount Vernon remains a place that all can visit today.
Visible in the photograph is the south porch and balustrade on the roof. Both of these features were added to the Mansion after George Washington’s death, so they have been removed, the south porch in 1931 and the balustrade in 1936. On the back of the photograph the names of the woman are listed from left to right: Mrs. Ball, Mrs. Broadwell, Mrs. Eve, Mrs. Sweat; Mrs. Laughton, Mrs. Townsend, Miss Harper; Mrs. Herbert, Mrs. Richardson, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Washington, Mrs. Chase, Mrs. Comegys, Mrs. Mitchell, and Mrs. Pickens.
Original photograph by Luke Dillon, Pullman's Gallery, Washington, DC.
Around the turn of the 20th century this photograph was taken of tomb guard Thomas Bushrod at the New Tomb. In his will, George Washington identified the location and provisions for the construction of this tomb. While Washington died in 1799, it would take decades for this tomb to be built. In 1831, George and Martha Washington and 25 family members were moved from the old tomb to this new one.
George Washington's tomb has welcomed presidents, prime ministers, generals, kings, princes, members of congress, and other dignitaries of all kinds. And as this combined image shows, we all can still visit the tomb and pay our respects to the Father of our Country.
Original photograph by Detroit Photographic Company