By Michael Pope
Collecting hair from departed loved ones was once commonplace, and after the death of George Washington in 1799 many people made requests for locks from the First Scalp.
But only one piece of his mourning jewelry identified the name of the original owner as well as the departed. Historian Richard Klingenmaier figured out that the inscription, C.P. McKnight, stood for Catherine Piercy McKnight.
"It gives a more personal slant to the story of George Washington, particularly his death," says Klingenmaier.
It turns out that McKnight and her husband attended Washington's burial at Mount Vernon.
"You read in the books, you know, it lists the burial ceremony took place and so forth and the people then went on their way afterwards. But it's seldom that you can actually meet and learn something about the actual participants in such a momentous occasion," he says.
In this case, Klingenmaier says, McKnight's uncle served with Washington at Valley Forge, and her husband, John, was in Washington's Masonic lodge. He wrote details about their lives for the Alexandria Historical Society.