Mr. Irving comes to tea

A special guest graced afternoon tea with the Irving Heritage Society. Washington Irving, the city of Irving’s namesake and acclaimed author of Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, cleared his busy schedule to conversate via computer with some of his local fans.

To make the ‘Real Tea with a Virtual Washington Irving’ event as interesting as possible, John Anderson, a scholarly expert on Washington’s life and work, dressed in period clothing and adopted the persona of Washington, who died in 1859.

Guests gathered in time for tea at the Glory House on Main Street on April 25. A portrait of Mr. Irving was mounted near a computer projector set up to facilitate the cross-country conversation. Unique floral arrangements served as each table’s centerpiece, surrounded by personalized flower-themed place settings made by artist Pete Fernandez.

An attentive catering staff served a variety of teas and coffees. Friends old and new gathered to visit and talk history while enjoying items from the buffet including chicken salad sandwiches, mini-quiches, cheese and veggie kabobs and mini-cakes.

“This is kind of an experiment,” Mary Higbie, a member of the Irving Heritage Society, said. “We didn’t know if anyone would join us or not.” She said she was “thrilled” with the turnout.

Anderson appeared on the projection screen, quill in hand. While in reality, he was telecommuting from Boston’s Emerson College, the room was decorated as a replica of Washington’s writing space in New York’s Sunnyside, complete with an antique desk and bookshelf. Anderson requested event runners turn up “something called a microphone,” before settling into his detailed and informed Washington Irving impression.

“Irving” regaled the tea’s audience with a biographical speech about his “superfluous observations of an odd, old fellow.” He detailed his life’s journey and major works while calling one competitor a “withered, little apple-john.”

The guest of honor took questions from the crowd, including one about the definition of “apple-john” (a less than intimidating physical specimen.) Other questions concerned Washington’s writing habits, favorite characters, fiancé, appointment to Spain and notable figures he interacted with. One question imagined a sequel to Rip Van Winkle in which the sleepy title character wakes up in modern times.

Higbie closed the presentation with hopes to do a live version of this event in New York. She thanked the associations that co-sponsored the event: the Irving Public Library, the City of Irving, the Irving Black Arts Council and the School Board.