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D.C. Site Shows Lincoln in a Human Light

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
President Lincolnís briefcase and son Tad Lincolnís photo album are on display in the visitors center of President Lincolnís Cottage in D.C.

The United States observes Abraham Lincolnís 205th birthday on Wednesday, and after years of celebrating the 16th presidentís heroic accomplishments, the Lincoln Cottage is showing a more human side of the man from Springfield, Ill.

Steven Spielbergís 2012 film ďLincolnĒ and last yearís 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation further cemented Lincolnís mythological status. And while there will never be a shortage of praise heaped on his deeds, this year President Lincolnís Cottage at the Soldiersí Home in Washington is displaying artifacts that remind people there was a man behind the myth.

Last month, the cottage ó where the Lincoln family spent the summers of 1862, 1863, 1864 and which is now a National Trust for Historic Preservation site ó began displaying Lincolnís personal briefcase, which the president used to ferry his notes and other personal and business items back and forth from the cottage to the White House (a 30-minute commute, door to door, on horseback, by the way).

The briefcase ó a weathered, leather satchel embossed with ďAbraham LincolnĒ ó is displayed in the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center next to the cottage. It rests alongside a photo album belonging to the presidentís youngest son, Tad, which contains photos taken by the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers, or Bucktails, who guarded the first family at the cottage.

The briefcase and album are on display through the end of June, when theyíll head back to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., which loaned them to the education center.

ďWeíre trying to get a series of things specific to Lincoln and his time,Ē said Erin Carlson Mast, executive director of President Lincolnís Cottage.

The briefcase could be anyoneís, give or take a bit of wear and tear. This is precisely the point: the president was, like many people, someone who still had to keep his papers in order. Itís only when one sees ďAbraham LincolnĒ in simple lettering across it that it becomes something more than any working manís accoutrement. For anyone who has invested in a nice leather briefcase, itís comforting to know how long a good one lasts.

Tadís photo album was compiled by the Bucktails, who were a constant presence in the Lincoln familyís life, even camping outside the cottage as the Civil War raged only miles away.

Accompanying the briefcase and album are a diary and a portrait of Albert Nelson See, a member of the Bucktails. Seeís artifacts are part of the cottageís collection and will also be on display until the end of June.

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