By Lani Gering
Aladdin – The Christmas Camel – Is On the Farm
While we love our two legged celebrities – the likes of Barney Barnwell who was featured in the November issue – there is something about a 4 legged dromedary that has graced the grounds of Historic Mount Vernon during the holidays for the past 9 or so years that captured our hearts vicariously last year. While visiting the Inn at Mount Vernon during the Christmas 2016 holidays, we met a few of the members of the team that take care of the livestock at Mount Vernon. During our conversation we found out that there was a camel named Aladdin in residence during the holiday season. My first thought was, “how fun is that”? And…as it turns out, Aladdin is quite the character.
We met with Livestock Supervisor Lisa Pregent and camel handler extraordinaire, Joe Dearmon, behind the scenes at the farm on Mount Vernon. They took us on a tour of the area where the animals are taken care of when not in their “normal” viewing areas accessible to the public. The special enclosure that is home to Aladdin from November 22nd to January 7th had just been erected as they prepared for his arrival. It was interesting to me that they do this every year as opposed to just leaving the shelter and split rail fence in place year round. This is a labor intensive project in that it also has to be deconstructed and each year.
The intricacies of running the operation would probably astound most of you. I was surprised to find that the sheep and pigs that reside here are descendants of the same rare heritage breeds that were residents on the farm when George Washington was manning it and they adhere as closely as possible to the same practices of animal husbandry that they did in the 18th Century. Lisa is a local gal who has been working at the farm since she was 17 years old. Having had an extensive background with horses (she started riding when she was 4 years old) but absolutely no experience with the sheep and pigs when she started, she certainly has found her niche some 22 years later. Joe has also been at the farm for 19 years, of which 15 have been working with the livestock.
Enough about these two fantastic humans, let’s get to the scoop on Aladdin and why he makes his annual trek – all the way from Berryville, Virginia – every year. It appears that in 1787, George Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon to entertain guests at Christmas time. According to historians, “By the man who brot. A Camel From Alexa. For a show….” Is the very limited entry in Washington’s expense ledger and is the only surviving mention of a camel’s visit to the farm for Christmas in 1787.
Wanting to keep in the spirit, the current administration at Mount Vernon decided to procure their very own Christmas Camel 9 years ago. He has been a highlight of the season for young and old alike. Aladdin came to them the first time when he was just 11 months old. He is a bottle-fed baby who has been raised solely by humans so appears to have some of the traits of a human adolescent. Lisa told us that he’s really like a goofy kid in a big “beast” body. His gangly legs and crazy gallop bring lots of laughter to his visitors. He also likes to snatch hats and gloves from onlookers who get just a little too close and, on more than one occasion, the farm staff have had to “monitor his manure” to make sure he passes them – gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Pass the Hat” doesn’t it?
In addition to the occasional hat, we found out that he really likes to eat. Well, who doesn’t…weighing in at around 1400 pounds, on top of grazing in his enclosure, he is fed at 7:30 am and eats 4-6 pounds of grain during the day. He also has a bit of a sweet tooth that is satisfied with a special “sweet feed” that contains molasses that he gets every afternoon.
Aladdin has lived in Virginia his whole life. Jennifer Cossette, owner and operator at Pony to Go – an animal “entertainment” farm outside of Berryville – brought Aladdin home when he was 3 months old and basically took on the role of “Mom”. She says he has the personality of a dog. He comes when you call him and he likes to give kisses-can you imagine a camel kiss? Being the Mount Vernon Christmas Camel isn’t the only gig this big guy has during the year. He entertains at birthday parties and weddings (yes, weddings) and has made special appearances at several Geico events. Remember the “Hump Day” ads? I bet you could hire him for your next celebration.
Aladdin will be at the Farm from now until January 7th and we encourage you to put a visit to the beautiful Mount Vernon and Aladdin on your holiday bucket list! You might even be able to take a “selfie” with him if you remember to take off your hat and gloves!
Now that I think of it, I did kiss a llama in September so maybe I will head over to see Aladdin and give him a smooch.
See the calendar in this issue for information about the holiday events at Historic Mount Vernon and contact information. The estate is gorgeous this time of year and is a real treat for the whole family.