Visitors Can Pretend to Advise Abe

Posted October 6, 2009 at 4:25pm

The rolling knolls of a presidential oasis, at first blush, would appear to be the perfect vacation getaway. But for a wartime president laden with the sudden death of a son and the difficult task of preserving a union, Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home offered President Abraham Lincoln only limited solace.

Just over three miles away from the hustle of Washington, this seasonal respite provided Lincoln an unobstructed view in the late 1800s of not only the White House, but also of a national cemetery for fallen soldiers, hastily constructed adjacent to his home. On average, 30 to 40 burials were performed weekly within eyeshot of Lincoln’s retreat.

Instead of relaxing during his visits to the cottage, Lincoln was faced with difficult decisions such as the emancipation of African-American slaves and issues of the Civil War. Today, these controversial topics are open for discussion in the new “Lincoln’s Toughest Decisions— interactive gallery in the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center next to the cottage.

This new program welcomes visitors to join the debate by placing them in the role of Lincoln’s closest advisers. The gallery has about 20 monitors perched on a wooden conference table much like the table used in Lincoln’s time. The interactive computer monitors present letters and other historic documents that help visitors decide how they would advise the president if they were members of Lincoln’s Cabinet, from Lincoln’s strategy for re-election to questions over the Civil War.

Other thematic galleries are nestled into the restored visitor center that showcase documentaries on Lincoln’s presidency and narratives of his ideology and of landmark speeches that are both educational and entertaining.

In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton designated Lincoln’s Cottage and 2.3 acres of surrounding land as a national monument. It opened to the public for the first time in 2008. However, the cottage still remains a “hidden gem in D.C.,— said Alison Mitchell, the development coordinator for Lincoln’s Cottage. “It just opened February 2008, and a lot of people still don’t know about it. So, we are finding a lot of people just still now discovering it and really getting to see another side of Lincoln that they haven’t seen before.—

Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home is located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home and is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.