MOUNT VERNON, Va. — George Washington never had air conditioning, but he knew how to keep cool: a mansion with lots of windows elevated on the banks of a wide, rolling river — and lots of ice cream, maybe with a little brandy.
It was a little like the old days without electricity Wednesday, as the nation's capital region celebrated Independence Day the better part of a week into a widespread blackout that left millions of residents sweltering in a 90-plus degree heat without air conditioning. Utilities have slowly been restoring service knocked out by a freak storm Friday from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, and at least 26 people have died in the storm or its aftermath.
At George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, one of the most popular Fourth of July attractions was a demonstration of 18th-century ice cream making, one of Washington's favorite desserts.
Washington was his own architect at Mount Vernon, "and he was very good at it," said Dennis Pogue, associate director for preservation at Mount Vernon.
The location, atop a sloping hill along the Potomac, catches cool breezes. Lots of windows and shutters allow for the regulation of sun and wind. And the distinctive cupola on the mansion roof serves as the mansion's air conditioning unit, funneling hot air out the top and drawing cooler air in at the ground level.
Visitors on Wednesday gathered on the mansion's back porch, a piazza overlooking the Potomac where breezes rolled through. The piazza, which runs the length of the mansion, is "kind of California living in the 18th century," Pogue said.
Up the river in Washington, President Barack Obama attended a naturalization ceremony at the White House, this one for active service members from 17 countries. Military families were invited for a barbecue and to watch fireworks on the South Lawn.
Obama said the varied backgrounds of those taking the oath typified America's long tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world to its shores.
"Unless you are one of the first Americans, a native American, we are all descended from folks who came from somewhere else," he said. "The story of immigrants in America isn't a story of them. It's a story of us."
Presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has spent most of the week off the campaign trail with his family in Wolfeboro, N.H., but took time Wednesday to march in the town's Fourth of July parade.
In New York, about a dozen disabled soldiers — most triple or quadruple amputees — visited ground zero ahead of the usual throng of tourists. The visit was intended to salute service members who survived the post-9/11 wars to become miracles of modern medicine, and to promote two charities raising money for homes custom-built to ease their burdens.
Change in plans
Many Americans abandoned their holiday plans after going without power from violent storms that hit Friday across the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
Jeanette Oliver had planned to have her relatives over to her Vineland, N.J., home, but the ongoing power outage forced her to change those plans on the fly this week.
"They had been saying most people would have (electrical) service back by Wednesday, but we didn't want to risk having a big party in a home where you couldn't turn on the air conditioning, you couldn't turn on a TV or a computer," Oliver said outside a supermarket early Wednesday. "Several people in our family are elderly, and you don't want them suffering with the heat and being uncomfortable."