“Sources say Washington was the making of Winchester — and Winchester was the making of Washington.”
— Professor of history emeritus Carl J. Ekberg
“To preserve and interpret the colonial history of the Virginia frontier.”
Mission statement, French & Indian War Foundation, Winchester
WINCHESTER — Linda Ross says the folks attending Sunday’s French & Indian War Foundation address at the George Washington Hotel had better prepare for a treat. “This is not a typical historical lecture,” notes Ross, past president of the foundation dedicated to all things colonial in the Northern Valley and beyond.
But then, from past experience, the man delivering the lecture — “From Disaster to Redemption: George Washington and the Making of Winchester” — has seldom, if ever, been known to induce insomnia. Carl J. Ekberg, former professor of Colonial American History at Illinois State, is a riveting, commanding speaker.
For this effort, he brings many elements to the table — personal (while in the Army in 1962 he was stationed at Fort Belvoir, a stone’s throw from Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and also turned in temporary duty with a surveying crew near Winchester, working on land conceivably surveyed by a teenaged Washington) and professional (his life of scholarship about Colonial America).
“I hate to be cliche, but I fell in love with the place,” says Ekberg, who also married in Winchester a year later.
The city clearly means a lot to him, so presenting a speech in the 275th year of her birth could be described as a labor of love. The free program, which gets underway with a social hour (complete with a cash bar and a chicken plate and a dessert sold at a price) begins at 1:30 p.m. at the George Washington (aptly). Ekberg’s speech, also sponsored by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society in conjunction with the city’s 275th birthday celebration committee, will begin at 2:30.
An added attraction will be the cameras of C-SPAN, which will film the event largely through the efforts of Ross. Both she and her husband, Tom Gibbs, can claim their share of contacts in Northern Virginia and she had attended a number of film sessions at Mount Vernon. But C-SPAN?
Well, why not? Ross made the appropriate salutations, but was met with conditions — for instance, could C-SPAN film on a Sunday? Yes. That piqued their interest until, finally, earlier this week, Delia Rios, producer of C-SPAN’s American History TV, agreed to send a crew. Key to this decision, Ekberg believes, is that the lecture is being held in the hotel’s ballroom, where C-SPANs cameras can shoot from beneficial angles.
Rios informed Ross that C-SPAN’s American History TV will air the program at a later date on C-SPAN 3. Readers can check the program schedule at www.c-span.org/history.
In planning the event, the foundation started with the city’s birthday. Ekberg did not wish to go small, do “little things.” And ensuing thoughts were of Fort Loudoun and Washington’s relationship with the city.
“We need to do something to reach out and educate,” he said. In other words, not a “typical history lecture,” but something that tied man and location inexorably together.
Ekberg lamented that when he read biographies about Washington, Winchester was not always mentioned.
“There’s a lot, of course, been written about George Washington,” he says, “but just some about Winchester. The issue is how they rose to prominence together. That has not been fully developed, or explicated . . . That’s my conceit. That’s what I feel I can add to this.”
But the dots are there to be connected — from Washington sparking worldwide war with his actions at Jumonville Glen to his abandonment (his only surrender) of Fort Necessity to his valor in chaos at Braddock’s Defeat to his construction of Fort Loudoun in Winchester.
“He redeemed himself largely in and around Winchester,” Ekberg says.
And the retired professor is poised to elaborate on these themes Sunday with typical verve and fire.