Aladdin the Christmas Camel is Back On the Farm
By Lani Gering
There is something about a 4 legged dromedary that has graced the grounds of Historic Mount Vernon during the holidays for the past 14 or so years that captured our hearts vicariously about 5 years ago. While visiting the Inn at Mount Vernon during the Christmas 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. I thought it only fitting that we revisit him this year.
I met with Livestock Supervisor and camel handler extraordinaire Lisa Pregent at the farm on Mount Vernon the day after Aladdin arrived for the 2022 holiday season. The special enclosure that is home to Aladdin through January 7th had just been erected a few days before my visit. It was interesting to me that they do this every year as opposed to just leaving the shelter in place year round. This is a labor intensive project in that it also has to be deconstructed each year.
The intricacies of running the animal side of the operation at Mount Vernon 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 27 years later.
Enough about Lisa, 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 administration at Mount Vernon decided to procure their very own Christmas Camel 14 years ago and he has been a highlight of the season for young and old alike ever since. 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, huge toes 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? Because of this habit, there is a second barrier that keeps onlookers far enough away that their accessories are out of his reach. Being part of the “press” and not wearing a hat, I was allowed to get up close and personal. He definitely likes to be petted! Full disclosure…I really wanted to give Aladdin a big smooch but just petting him was satisfying enough. I did kiss a llama a couple of years ago so maybe I should have insisted. He is a magnificent animal for sure!
In addition to the occasional hat, we found out that he really likes to eat. Well, who doesn’t…weighing in at around 1500 plus pounds, on top of grazing in his enclosure, he is fed at 7:30 am and eats 4-6 pounds of a grain mixture 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 told us when we talked to her in 2017 that 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 was sad to find out that Aladdin won’t be returning to Jennifer’s animal farm after his Christmas gig but will head to his new home in Fairfax Station. I didn’t have any information other than that at the time of this writing. I am hoping he is headed to another location where he can have visitors.
Aladdin will be at the Farm from now until January 6th and we encourage you to put a visit to the beautiful Mount Vernon and Aladdin on your holiday bucket list! There is also a concession stand next to the camel enclosure where you can procure a beverage and a snack with a seating area just beyond it.