Discovering Lincoln’s Washington D.C.

Here’s a list of five sites that are associated with America’s 16th president. He was born 204 years ago today.

-Willard Hotel

The Willard is one of the capital’s most historic hotels (it was formally founded in 1847). With its prestigious Pennsylvania Avenue location, situated only two blocks from the White House, it’s always been considered the gathering spot of the creme de la creme of Washington society. Lincoln first visited the Willard in the winter of 1861 when amid several assassination threats, he was smuggled into the hotel. In the weeks preceding his inauguration on March 4 he held meetings in the lobby and conducted his business from his room. Before the Civil War the hotel was popular with both Southerners and Northerners, although in the tumultuous years before the Civil War began it was said that Northerners and Southerners were segregated by floor as a means of keeping the peace. The hotel is also where  Julia Ward Howe composed the lyrics to the popular song “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

-Mary E. Surratt Boarding House

This building, which is located in what is today’s Chinatown, was the site of meetings of conspirators to kidnap and subsequently to assassinate President Lincoln. Mary Surratt became the first woman to be executed by the United States government for her role as a conspirator in the plot to assassinate the president. The building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and today operates as a Chinese restaurant. (The building was remodeled in the 1920s to transform the first floor into a commercial space.) Although people think that Ford’s Theater is truly the apex of the historical sites for the Lincoln assassination, the boarding house is where the demonic plans evolved.

How the boarding house looked during the Civil War era (it’s the building on the left)

The boarding house today:

-Ford’s Theater

The history of Ford’s Theater will best be remembered as the site of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. After the president’s murder the theater was used as a warehouse and office building, but more than a century after the event, the theater was renovated and re-opened as a theater once more. Today, performances are still given although most visitors to the building are there to see the box where Lincoln was sitting when he was shot from behind by the gunman John Wilkes Booth. The boardinghouse where Lincoln would succumb to his wound is located directly across the street. The boardinghouse (Petersen House) and Ford’s Theater are preserved together and administered by the National Park Service.

-National Museum of American History

From a fashion standpoint the Smithsonian National Museum of American History is the place to go. On display is the famous stovepipe hat that Lincoln wore on the night of his assassination, as well as a silk taffeta dress worn by his wife, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. (The latter is part of the permanent display about the real lives of first ladies.) Also on temporary display there (through September 15 of this year) is an exhibition that investigates the historical background of two crucial events in American history-the 1963 March on Washington and the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation, which happened a century prior. It explores the accomplishments and limitations of both events, as well as their impact on the generations that followed.

-National Archives

This repository of great American documents is the permanent home of the Emancipation Proclamation, an edict that stated”all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” This past January 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although it’s too fragile to be on permanent display it does make appearances to the general public on occasion.

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  • Reply
    JoAnn M.
    February 12, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks for this great post! I hope to get the chance to visit these sites someday. They are a part of our history and everyone should be interested in them.

    Interesting information about The Willard! It is an exquisite hotel! I’d love to stay there!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    February 12, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    I’m most interested in walking by the Surratt house. It’s an utter shame that the National Park Service has never bought it and renovated it especially since it’s so near to the Petersen House and Ford’s Theater. I’m headed to DC later this week so hopefully I can accomplish that.

    Yes, the Willard would be incredible to stay at I’m sure!

  • Reply
    the Martha from Malta diary
    February 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Interesting post! I would actually love to watch Lincoln (the movie) Is it just me or is this president not given the importance he deserves?

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    February 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    It was a wonderful movie-definitely try to see it when it comes your way.

    He was president at probably one of the toughest times in American history and unfortunately the circumstances of the Civil War definitely mar his image and legacy to some. But to me he was definitely one of the best presidents we’ve ever had (him and Franklin Roosevelt are my presidential heroes!)

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