Heels pointed toward the Soldiers' Home Cemetery in Petworth, runners in the Freedom XC 5k on Saturday will cross near the home where the Emancipation Proclamation was conceived and then continue further. Leg muscles expanding and contracting, they’ll move along the paths, normally closed, that wind through the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, passing a golf course, community gardens and fishing ponds.
Or, they could scrap the running idea and walk it instead.
The grounds south of Abraham Lincoln’s summer home are today a veteran retirement community, and the general public isn't usually allowed any closer than the fence that surrounds the compound.
“I have a few friends running ... and I told them to just walk [to see the scenery]," Hilary Malson, the marketing and membership coordinator for President Lincoln’s Cottage, joked. “I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for the public to experience these grounds.”
Still, there is incentive to finish with the best time.
First place winners will receive a private wine and cheese party in the cottage where the Lincolns spent June through November for three years from 1862 to 1864. How many people do you know who can say they partied like a Abe Lincoln? (And we don't mean 'National Union Party.')
Second and third place winners will get private tours of the cottage.
More than just a pretty trail, runners will see the Capitol, framed in the distance by the now-mature trees on the grounds. Lincoln would have been able to watch as the Dome was constructed.
It’s “commonly accepted that it was a symbol of the Union staying together,” Malson said, explaining the multitude of factors that may have affected Lincoln’s thinking while at the cottage.
The nearby cemetery, where dead Union soldiers piled up, would have been in sight of the place where the president wrote the document that announced freedom for millions of people. He would have seen camps for escaped former slaves on his daily 45 minute commute to the White House.
The stewards of the cottage today try to stay true to that legacy of freedom.
“One of our big initiatives is to use this site as a space to engage the public about human trafficking,” Malson said.
While the $40 registration fee for the 5k on Saturday goes towards funding the cottage operations in general, President Lincoln’s Cottage hosts a program for high school students to raise awareness of different types of trafficking, including domestic servitude, sex trafficking and farm labor.
“Teenagers are a vulnerable demographic,” Malson said, explaining why the program targets high school students.
On the cross country style trails this weekend, participants will be joined by Boston Marathon winner and the first women’s Olympic marathon champion, Joan Benoit Samuelson. The run starts at 8 a.m. this Saturday at Lincoln's Cottage, located less than a mile from the Georgia Petworth Metro station.
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