Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reflections on September's Vintage Game Night

Guests playing a round of croquet in the garden.
Photo Courtesy of Diane Barber.
Last Wednesday, The President Woodrow Wilson House invited guests to experience what life was like in the Wilson-era. Visitors to September’s Vintage Game Night were able to sample food, music, and games from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Additionally, many guests were visiting the Wilson House for the first time and, as a result, were excited to get a glimpse into the private life of the 28th President of the United States. Museum staff was on hand to inform guests about notable objects in the library, drawing room, solarium, and dining room. Similarly, guests were able to explore the terrace and two-tier garden, which are not included on the general tour.  One of the most exciting aspects of the event was the wide variety of early 20th century games that guests were able to choose from. Many people were surprised to learn that several of the games that were popular in Woodrow Wilson’s lifetime are still played today, such as Mahjong. In fact, Mrs. Wilson owned a number of Mahjong sets and often entertained friends with the game. The Wilson House still has her Mahjong set, along with other games, in its collection. 
Mrs. Wilson's Mahjong set in WWH's collection.
Photo Courtesy of WWH. 
Mahjong was first played in the United States over 90 years ago but it remains a popular game today. Mahjong is a four player gambling game that was first played in China in the late 1800s. It is unclear how the game was created because there are many conflicting theories about its origin. One such theory suggests that Confucius created the game, while others contend that the game simply evolved from other similar tile games. Regardless of its origin, Mahjong quickly spread across China and many subsequent variations were made to the game rules. In the early 1920s, Mahjong was discovered by the “West” and quickly gained popularity in North America and Europe. Despite its ancient origins, Mahjong remains a popular game today and many of the Vintage Game Night guests enjoyed learning how to play. While there are many variations on the traditional Mahjong rules, Vintage Game Night guests who had never played before were introduced to the most basic version. If a guest was an experienced Mahjong player, they were encouraged to share their knowledge of the game with others and play a harder version. Mahjong uses 144 tiles with five different suits (bamboo, wind, dragon, circle, character).  The object of the game is to form a Mahjong, which consists of four sets of three and one pair. A set of three can be a “chow,” a run of three tiles, or a “pung,” a set of three identical tiles.
Vintage Game Night guests truly enjoyed their step back in time. Their night in the Wilson-era was filled with fun and excitement! Please join us for our next Vintage Game Night on October 1st from 5:30 to 8pm. In addition to Mahjong, guests can choose from a wide variety of vintage card, lawn, and board games. Tickets are currently available for purchase here. They are selling quickly, so get yours before they’re gone! We hope to see you in October!
Guests playing games in the Drawing Room.
Photo Courtesy of Diane Barber.

-Madison Keller, Fall 2013 Intern

 “Mah-Jong – History and Useful Information,” The Online Guide to Traditional Games, accessed September 4th, 2014, http://www.tradgames.org.uk/games/Mah-Jong.htm

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