There's a nice little museum in Bladensburg that no one has visited in a year. No one but the mice, anyway.
"We had some Colonial candles hanging right here," said Bill Aleshire, the volunteer curator, "but the last time I came in, all the wax was gone. Just the string was hanging down.
"Then there were some spring flowers on the trees in this diorama," he said, pointing to a depiction of life in Colonial Bladensburg, "but I guess the mice got them, too. So we gave them something else to eat," Aleshire said with a grin, "and now they're not around any more."
The reason that lately only rodents visit the Prince George's County Museum at Indian Queen Tavern is simple: The place is closed, for lack of money.
"We had about 40,000 visitors when we opened up for the bicentennial," said Aleshire, who was one of the coordinators of what turned out to be the Jaycees' national project of the year in 1976.
But when the history fad inspired by the bicentennial died down, money to keep up the museum and the 240-year-old structure died with it.
In time, most of the tavern, which sits in the median strip of Alternate Rte. 1 just north of Bladensburg's famous Peace Cross, was rented to the Prince George's Post for offices. Then a small card was posted on the museum door saying it was closed.
Aleshire remains willing to provide private tours, but he works the graveyard shift as a D.C. police sergeant in Anacostia and lives in Bowie, so he is not the easiest person to reach.
If it were not such a nice little museum, full of intriguing artistic representations of a time and circumstance long passed and largely forgotten, it might have died quietly. But Aleshire and a few other history-minded folks have plugged away trying to keep it afloat.
Now it looks as if the dozen or so dioramas and other exhibits characterizing the town and county's heritage will be moved soon to the George Calvert mansion a mile or so up the road in Riverdale, where scout troops and schoolchildren can again enjoy them.
So why does anybody care about the history of Bladensburg?
Good question. Bladensburg is hardly a historical tourist attraction along the lines of Annapolis or St. Mary's City. It looks more like East St. Louis -- a dreary hodgepodge of highways and warehouses stuck across the muddy Anacostia River from the big city.
But the community between Hyattsville and Cheverly once was a commercial hub in booming Prince George's, for the better part of a century the wealthiest county in Maryland. At least five pre-Revolutionary War houses stand in Bladensburg, tucked away between the go-go bars and fast food joints.
John Walton Jr., historian for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said it was not until the Civil War did away with slave labor that tobacco-proud Prince George's began to slide from prominence.
"In 1850, for example," he said, "Prince George's produced 40 percent of Maryland tobacco, which was the mainstay of agriculture."
Most of the tobacco went to Europe, and during Colonial days much of it started its journey in Bladensburg. Before the Anacostia silted in, it was the northernmost port for seagoing ships in inland Maryland.
This is the Prince George's the little museum shows in its dioramas: The arrival of Leonard Calvert at Piscataway to negotiate a truce with native Indians; slaves and farmers laboring on a Colonial tobacco farm; the fervid activities at the Bladensburg pier during its heyday; the bloody Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, from which the British marched on to burn Washington.
"The dioramas are accurate and really quite good," said Walton, "which is why we want to keep them available."
For his part, Aleshire would rather see the museum stay where he and his colleagues put it a decade ago, but the foundation that oversees the Indian Queen Tavern is concerned about its declining state and wants to get paying tenants into the museum space in order to generate money for restoration.
Walton said the museum should be set up at Riverdale this summer.