Halftime Leisure

Free in DC: Part IV, The Hillwood Museum

November 11, 2014

Sometimes, you feel the urge to go back in time. Back to the time of grand mansions and artfully kept gardens; the time of opulently shiny wallpaper, pastels, elaborate china, four-post canopy beds and portraits of old white men; the time where an heiress to a cereal company could buy art from around the world. When this urge strikes, I have just the place for you to go…

The Hillwood Museum is the estate of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune. Back in the early 1900s, Marjorie inherited her father’s fortune and proceeded to galavant around the world buying expensive art. She married four times and divorced four times. The most interesting of her spouses was probably the ambassador to Russia, which explains why her collection consists of a good deal of Russian art and more than one fabrigée egg (the fact that interested me in the collection in the first place). So this past weekend, I grabbed a fellow Russian student and headed off on an adventure into the waning light of a Fall afternoon, in search of a new culture.

The Hillwood Estate is located near the Van Ness metro stop and is nestled amongst some stray embassies and college-prep schools. Upon arriving at the Estate, we headed over to the visitor center to buy tickets. I was ready to pay the $10 student fee advertised on the website, but the kindly cashier said the beautiful words “you can pay whatever you want.” So, feeling too guilty to take a free ticket but wanting to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity, I pretended to only have $5 on me and called it a day. I will someday build up the courage to enter the estate for free, but perhaps those of you in search of free culture are already prepared to do so.

My friend and I found the mansion entrance by climbing up a flight of stairs and out into the open; when we opened the modest white doors, we found ourselves in a different era. To the right, we walked into a room covered with fancy dishware etched with cyrillic, and tiny decorative cups with tiny jeweled spoons. In another room, walls of purple velvet emitted a 70s feel that contrasted with the room’s massive oil paintings and Uzbeki furniture. Outside, we found a glass display case of tiny colorful animal statues. On the top floor, we particularly enjoyed the exhibit of Russian religious garments studded with massive diamonds, and the eccentricity of the pink and frilly master bedroom. We decided that the only real way to walk down the staircase was slowly, with one hand on the massive, curved banister, our heads held high with the sense that we owned all of this and that it wasn’t a big deal.

But the best part of the Hillwood Estate was by far the gardens. Ranging from a Japanese stone garden (with no koi, disappointingly), to a putt-putt green, to a pet cemetery, the grounds had everything. We quickly learned to slow our city strides and stop to smell the roses (or the decorative seasonal cabbages). It was almost hypnotising to walk around in circles amongst the hidden treasures of the gardens, under the protection of the looming and bronzing deciduous trees above us. It was quite a feat to dodge the small children running away from their parents, but there were enough garden paths to escape down that we found ways around them.

I couldn’t believe that I’d found this oasis so close to campus. The entire journey, excluding the infrequent metro availability on weekends, could have taken less than 45 minutes. And as I was showered in the beauty of fall and times long gone, I could do nothing but smile and relax. Whenever I find these places, I’m reminded of how magical the world outside of the Georgetown Bubble can be. And for $0, you can enter that world as well.

Photos: flickr.com

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