How ‘George Washington Slept Here’ Became a Real Estate Cliché

There are no shortage of places where the nation’s first president “slept.” According to popular real estate site Zillow, of all the homes and real estate listings that boast celebrity provenance, Washington holds the record for most mentions.  Flickr has an entire photo pool entitled “George Washington Slept Here,” devoted to pictures of properties and historic sites that Washington visited. The pool contains 333 photos, though the group does leave room for a little more leeway, specifying that although sites Washington actually “spent the night at are preferred,” “any site he has a historic tie to is permissible.” And according to Barlow Burke’s Law of Real Estate Brokers, the claim of a Washington sleepover can even have a “significant” effect on home prices. In an article about George Washington from the December 1999 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Timothy Foote expanded on the phenomenon. An excerpt is below:

Eventually the father of his country would sleep in a very great number of beds, so that one of them seems suitable enough as an object at hand. All through the 1750s he traveled the Western wilderness, first as a surveyor, then as a colonial officer. He had two horses shot from under him in battle, helping England fight France for possession of the continent. After some years building up Mount Vernon as a farm, in May 1775 he was off to Philadelphia as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He would be back soon, he wrote Martha after he left Mount Vernon, but it was eight and a half years before he got home for good.

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He was unanimously elected President in 1789 and headed for New York City, chosen as the first seat of the new government. His job? To set sound political precedents and show how the first President of the world’s most promising but precarious political experiment ought to behave.

Driven by duty to present himself to the citizens of the shaky new union, he spent the night in so many inns and private houses that “George Washington Slept Here” became a real estate cliché, as well as the title of a clunky 1940 stage (and screen) comedy by Kaufman and Hart. Our object at hand was not one of the many beds Washington slept on while upon his travels. It is rather his first ‘best bed,’ as a particularly fine bed was then described, inherited, like Mount Vernon itself, from his half-brother Lawrence.

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