It's George, by a nose

When history is re-created, whether in movies or on television, I think as much attention should be paid to the details as is paid to the big picture. It bothers me, for instance, that a generation of American children may grow to adulthood believing that George Washington looked like Barry Bostwick, the actor chosen to portray our first President in a recent television series.

In theory, the program had a firm foundation in historical accuracy. The information of Washington's life was taken from a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. (The program's dialogue, I trust, was not.) The actor who played Washington shared many of the latter's physical attributes: great height, large hands, same hair and eye color. But what about the face?

George's face graces United States currency and postage stamps; it is carved into the stone of Mt. Rushmore and has appeared in countless history books. Yet, in the representation of this important historical figure, no one gave his face a thought. It was bad enough that Bostwick's jaw is far narrower than George's was, but there was no excuse for the inattention to Washington's most prominent facial feature - his nose. Bostwick's nose was simply too small for the role.

I learned the importance of such details during a recent trip to Arizona. While visiting my parents, I met their neighbors, Betty and Eldredge Ball. As the five of us chatted in the Balls' living room, I was aware of the strange sensation that I had met Eldredge before.

I learned his background - where he was born and where he'd lived before Arizona, but it seemed our paths had never crossed. As conversation continued, I noticed a photo album on the coffee table. During a pause, I picked it up and leafed through it. It was a family album - a complete pictorial record of Eldredge's heritage.

About two pages into my study of the album, I saw a print of the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.

Startled, I held up the page and said, ''Eldredge, what on earth is this doing in your album?''

''We're related,'' Eldredge said. ''Washington's mother was Mary Ball.''

That was certainly worth thinking about. I looked at Eldredge. As he turned to pick up his glass of iced tea, his profile was clearly outlined by the late afternoon sunlight coming through the window.

And then I saw it. And it explained why I'd been so sure we had met before. His nose. It was George Washington's nose.

''Yep,'' said Eldredge, reading my thoughts. ''George Washington had the 'Ball' nose, all right.''

So there it was - a small detail perhaps, but one that had survived for many, many generations. George Washington's nose - alive and well in Mesa, Ariz.

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