Lifelong search for George Washington turns into piece of Americana

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 1, 2012 

Only in America.

Sea Pines property owner William B. De Lorenzo Jr.'s father was born in a cabin on the side of a mountain in Serino, Italy, to parents whose living came from growing chestnuts.

He came to America at age 12, was salutatorian at Hackensack (N.J.) High School seven years later, graduated cum laude from law school, taught the foreign-born at night, served on the school board, became a judge and was the first non-native American elected a New Jersey assemblyman. He spoke six languages and loved opera.

Years later, when his son came home from college with a degree in science, the elder De Lorenzo told him he needed to know American history.

"He told me not to forget the founders of this wonderful country," said De Lorenzo, who followed his father into the law practice and has wintered on Hilton Head Island since 1978. "He wanted me to know the people who got it started, the people who did things."

De Lorenzo did as his father said, and kept crossing the path of George Washington. His respect grew, and when he moved from Hackensack to Oakland, N.J., he asked his wife, Anne, if a portrait of Washington could go on the empty dining room wall.

"From there on in, I ended up buying this and buying that," said De Lorenzo. For almost half a century, he and Anne have combed antique shops and flea markets buying things linked to George Washington.

Now almost 84, De Lorenzo says his collection of memorabilia exceeds 7,000 pieces.

It ranges from toothpick holders to a document called a ship's letter signed by Washington while he was president. He has stamps, busts, lamps, hatchets, pin-back buttons, jewelry, sheet music, razors, beer trays, cigar bands, watches, milk bottles, cherry trees, portraits and posters -- but no wooden teeth. Washington didn't have wooden teeth, he said.

De Lorenzo has tried to document everywhere Washington slept. He has collected stacks of books on Washington, all of which teach him something new.

The collection has been shown to elementary school students, and adult students of history.

For the past seven years, De Lorenzo has photographed and cataloged each piece and put it on a compact disc, along with a list of the events of Washington's life, excerpts from books about Washington, and his own writing on a man he respects for his integrity, intellect, leadership and faith.

The CD is called "In Search of George Washington: A Pictorial Journey." It is available for $19.95 through his website, www.washingtonsretreat.com.

De Lorenzo hopes it will help future generations learn what his immigrant father knew: America did not happen by accident. And it should not be taken for granted.

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