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Gadsby’s Tavern Museum Society’s Spring Fling Boosts Endowment Fund

Spring Fling Emcee Daniel (Danny) Smith pranks the crowd by auctioning off a $20 bill to get the live auction started. The winning bid was double the face value and the bidder donated it on the spot. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)

Alexandria, VA – From the plein air of the spacious patio in the rear of the historic building to the second-story Assembly Room and third-floor Ballroom, the 2024 Spring Fling hosted by the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum Society brought together more than 100 ticketed supporters and board members in a common goal to build the endowment of the historic building where George and Martha Washington once danced and colonists gathered to consider weighty matters of the time.

Following the well-worn wooden steps, the attendees of the April 20 event gathered in its large halls where seven presidents and Ben Franklin all climbed the same curved stairway and enjoyed the same freedom to converse in the famous tavern located at 134 N Royal Street in the heart of Old Town.

Vice President Ron Vassello (in a deep purple plaid jacket) reads a display at the silent auction. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)
Gourmet dinner donors Anthony and Lesa Costanzo stand at the bid station for a gourmet mocha cake, which was baked and donated by Lesa Costanzo. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)

“All of us have our day jobs, but we just love showing the city the value that the community places on our historic gems like Gadsby’s,” said Jennifer Warner, the current president who also served as president in 2023. Warner, who works in government affairs for Lockheed Martin, said the GTMS board was eager to raise the endowment of $150,000, before the Spring Fling and a separate tea, to $250,000.

“At the end of the evening, I was so inspired by the Alexandria community coming together to recognize the importance of history represented through the role of Gadsby’s Tavern, as the Alexandria place where history happened,” said Warner. “The board, the GTMS membership, and the city of Alexandria’s volunteer docents are all committed to ensuring that Gadsby’s Tavern Museum remains recognized as the historic gem it is.”

She noted that the fund’s growth will continue to support the acquisition of historical records and items that belong to Gadsby’s, among other goals.

At Warner’s side to kick off the 6:30 p.m. start, GTMS’s Vice President Ron Vassello, a small business owner of Kamtivate LLC, said he was looking for “an opportunity for a real preservation effort” to support historic taverns that served as meeting venues.

“Civic discourse was central to community life throughout the colonies,” said Vassello. “Like today, it was a period of divisiveness and raucous debate. The tavern was the place where you could debate and support one vision of the community. Preserving a place like this reminds us of that past.

(From left) Gadsby’s Tavern Museum Society’s “serial volunteer” Peggy Harlow with former president Linda Lovell and current president Jennifer Warner enjoy the silent auction and greet attendees. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)

Board member Anthony Costanzo and his wife Lesa share Warner and Vassello’s enthusiasm about the historical museum’s growth. Together, the husband-wife partnership donated a Gourmet Italian Dinner for eight for the Spring Fling’s silent auction. In 2023, the Costanzo’s Gourmet Italian Dinner drew a winning bid of $1,200.

During the active bidding at the 2024 event on Saturday, the high bidder‘s offer of $1,700 drew thunderous applause and whoops for the private gourmet dinner for eight with wine pairings. Winning bidder Denise Dunbar, publisher and executive editor of the Alexandria Times, persevered by calling out her higher bid to Daniel “Danny” Smith, a former GTMS president, as the amount steadily rose to the delight of audience applause in the historic ballroom.

Bidders around tables filled with silent auction items. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)
Jazz singer Yvette Spears’ wide-brimmed yellow hat would have garnered a top prize at any spring fling in Old Town. The Yvette Spears Jazz Quorum elevated attendees’ spirits at the GTM Spring Fling event on April 20. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)

The Costanzos were pumped when the bidding broke the 2023 donation of $1,200 for the private dinner for eight they offered for this year’s event. They hurried over to meet the high bidder’s table after the bidding closed.

“We’re a fan of Alexandria history—I’ve been here in Alexandria for almost 38 years,” said the dinner’s high bidder, Denise Dunbar, who was accompanied by her spouse William “Will” Dunbar, who works for Core Capital and who was invited to join the GTMS board to help advise on the endowment.

Others supporting the endowment were “serial docent” Peggy Harlow, a society volunteer for over 30 years, and Linda Lovell, a society docent for over 40 years. Their enthusiasm was palpable and they said they hoped the event would help reach the endowment’s goal.

Attendees enjoyed Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s outdoor grounds (behind the museum) during the event. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)

Between a First Ladies Tea held in March and the April Spring Fling event (which included the live auction, a silent auction with various exciting items and services, and its ticket sales), Warner reported that the endowment was grateful to see the goal in sight. “We’re closing in on $190,000. So, we have $60,000 to go to meet our goal for this year!” she reported a day after the event.

Bidders and Donors: (From left) Denise Dunbar, Anthony Costanzo, Lesa Costanzo, and William (Will) Dunbar congratulate each other on the Dunbars’ $1,700 bid for a gourmet Italian dinner donated and hosted by the Costanzos at their home in Old Town. (Photo: Susan Sullivan)

Among the most intriguing items at the live auction was a “charming oil painting” promoted with other items on the GTMS website. The painting, titled The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, was donated to the auction by Mary Riley. It was bequeathed to her by Henry Cunningham, who wrote a novel based on the famous story of the Female Stranger, a mysterious young woman who died at Gadsby’s Tavern (then the City Hotel) and the gentleman who accompanied her but refused to reveal their names. She is buried in an elaborate table tombstone in St. Paul’s Cemetery on Wilkes Street. Each October, Gadsby’s Tavern honors the Female Stranger around the anniversary of her mysterious death.

ICYMI: Get Ready to Paint the Town Beautiful! 

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