Octagon House reps are devoted to keeping its history alive

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How can we preserve the past for a better future?

Margaret Phalen, Octagon House manager and Marci Reed, executive director of the Architect Foundation

On this week’s episode of Leaders and Legends in Government, host Aileen Black welcomed Margaret Phalen, the manager of the Octagon House and Marci Reed, executive director of the Architects Foundation.

From winter escape to one of Virginia’s wealthiest plantation families to the residence of James and Dolly Madison to site of the American Institute of Architect’s philanthropy office: The building has a rich history. Those in charge of its upkeep bare all, both positive and negative aspects, of the historical building’s story. And they do provide tours.

“When you come on a tour of the Octagon, you can go into the basement, the first floor and the second floor. The entirety of the basement was slave space originally. So we interpret it as slave space and we point out the areas where the slaves would have been sleeping, where they would have been working and the work they would have been doing,” Phalen said. “Then we try to carry that throughout the house.”

Phalen said tourists can even experience laying on a former slave’s mattress outside of the master bedroom. It still rests on the cold, wooden floor.

During the course of the show, the women talked about the building’s construction and current restoration efforts, Washington in the 1800s  and rumors of a ghost on premises.

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