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Life, liberty and the pursuit of vampires

Posted June 25, 2012, at 3:49 p.m.

It makes sense that Abraham Lincoln, known for his youthful rail-splitting abilities, would be a top pick to take on vampires, as he does in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which opened Friday. But go back a generation and you’ll find that some of our local Founding Fathers (and one Mother) had the goods to take on an army of bloodsuckers.

The Brawn: George Washington

You need a special abilities set to fight vampires, as even the casual “Buffy” viewer knows. “Washington has all those skills,” said Dennis Pogue, vice president for preservation at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic home in Alexandria, Va. “He’s 6 feet tall. He’s 200 pounds. He’s a good rider, he’s outdoorsy, he’s got a military background. And he’s got lots of swords and pointy objects he can use.”

Washington wasn’t just a bewigged ball of colonial muscle: His military experience went beyond the battlefield. “One of Washington’s real strengths [was] his ability to coordinate activities,” Pogue said, most notably an elaborate spy network that was key to his success in the Revolutionary War.

Washington’s famed leadership didn’t come solely from the fact that he looked good in uniform — should a vampire invasion come, he’d be out there, stakes in hand. “He was not just somebody who liked to be on the parade ground,” said Pogue. “He was into the nitty-gritty.”

The Brains: Thomas Jefferson

“Jefferson was a pretty cerebral guy,” said Will Mackintosh, assistant professor in the Department of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. “I wouldn’t think that hand-to-hand combat would be his forte.” But TJ could have been an important figure in an anti-vampire campaign. “Vampire fighting is often a collective activity,” said Mackintosh. “I think Jefferson would have been good at [joining in]. But being a lone hunter … he was uncomfortable with the idea of the exceptional leader. That smacks too much of King George. But I’m not making the case Jefferson was modest. The dude had an ego.”

That ego is partly why Mackintosh suggests Jefferson might be convinced to leave the sun behind. Like, permanently. “He overlaps a lot more closely with the vampire characters. He lives this sort of solitary life, he’s not known as an emotional character, and he’s so committed to that kind of enlightenment rationality.

The Heart: James Madison

First things first: James Madison will not be kicking any butt. “He is not a physical force to be reckoned with,” says Sean O’Brien, chief operating officer and executive vice president at Montpelier, Madison’s home near Orange, Va. Madison was somewhere between 5 feet 2 and 5 feet 6, and weighed 100 to 110 pounds. But little things come in heart-filled packages: Madison is the only sitting president to ride into battle (at the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812). “He has the bravery to battle any foe,” said O’Brien.

Still, combat isn’t where Madison’s strengths lie. “He’s the only president who, in a time of war, did not curtail constitutional freedoms.” So if you’d like to keep your freedom of speech when the vampires come, Madison is your man.

The Girl: Dolley Madison

“Dolley Madison would be the forerunner of frivolously named women who are vampire slayers,” said Catherine Allgor, professor of history at the University of California at Riverside. “Truthfully, the action part wouldn’t be her style. She was very in tune with people and very empathetic, so she would probably turn the tools of the vampire against them and kill them with kindness.”

She wasn’t all sweetness, though. “After the invasion of Washington [in 1814] she waited in the White House until the last moment,” said Allgor. “In preparation for this, she said to her cousin, ‘Though I’m a Quaker, I always keep a Tunisian saber within reach.’” Upon her return to the smoldering city, “when she saw the smoking ruins, she said, ‘I wish we had 10,000 soldiers to sink our enemies into the bottomless pit.”

There’s one more reason you want Dolley on your vampire-fighting squad, said Allgor: the aftermath. “After the battle is over and the vampires are vanquished — or not — Dolley Madison will throw the party.”

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