WASHINGTON — Whether you're interested in Lincoln the president or “Lincoln” the movie, Washington is a downright thrilling destination.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and one of the country's most admired, rising from humble roots in a frontier cabin to become a self-educated lawyer and brilliant politician. As president, he ended slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and preserved the nation despite the Civil War. The story of his assassination is one of the best-known chapters of American history.
Many museums are offering special exhibits for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Other sites can be visited any time: the Lincoln Memorial, the cottage where he summered, Ford's Theatre, where he was shot; and the Petersen House, where he died.
LINCOLN MEMORIAL: The larger-than-life white marble statue of Lincoln, completed in 1922, sits inside a massive columned building. The design, according to the National Park Service, was inspired by the Parthenon, the ancient Greek temple that is considered the birthplace of democracy. About 6 million people visit the memorial each year. Even on a cold winter day, the steps are crowded with visitors from around the world taking pictures and speaking many languages. It is located on the National Mall, http://www.nps.gov/linc/.
FORD'S THEATRE AND PETERSEN HOUSE: Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre in 1865 while watching a play with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. He was brought to a house across the street, now a museum and historic site called the Petersen House. You can see the room where he died and where his war secretary, Edwin Stanton, was said to have uttered the famous words: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
A visit to Ford's and the Petersen House reveals fascinating details of the crime.
Located at 511 10th St., NW, http://www.fordstheatre.org/. Hours vary, depending on show schedules. Tickets do sell out. Tickets for a self-guided walk-through of Ford's and Petersen House bought through Ticketmaster including fees are $9.75.
PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S COTTAGE: This was Lincoln's summer home, where he and his family escaped Washington's heat and humidity. Located on a breezy hill three miles from the White House, it was the 19th-century equivalent of contemporary presidential retreats like Camp David. A statue of Lincoln and his horse evoke his daily half-hour commute to the White House on horseback. He first visited the house three days after his inauguration and last rode to the site the day before he was shot.
It is on the grounds of one of the country's first federally funded homes for soldiers, known today as the Armed Forces Retirement Home. The entrance is at Rock Creek Church Road NW and Upshur Street NW, near 140 Rock Creek Church Road NW. Parking is free. The closest metro station is nearly a mile away, Georgia Avenue/Petworth stop on green/yellow lines. From the metro, the local H8 bus takes four minutes and stops at the site's front gate. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday (first tour 10 a.m., last 3 p.m.) and 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sundays (tours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Guided tour tickets are required, $15 ($5 for children ages 6-12), http://lincolncottage.org/.
SMITHSONIAN'S NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY: Lincoln's famous top hat, brown and glossy with age, is currently on display here in the “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963” exhibit (second floor east through Sept. 15). Lincoln was tall at 6-foot-3 and the hat made him even taller. He wore the hat to Ford's Theatre the night he was murdered.
The museum is between 12th and 14th streets on Constitution Avenue NW, is free and open daily. Go online to http://americanhistory.si.edu/.
SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM AND NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY: “The Civil War and American Art” (first floor west), on display through April 28, offers paintings portraying what the museum describes as the “transformative impact of the Civil War and its aftermath.” An 1865 landscape painting of Yosemite Valley notes that Lincoln set aside the California wilderness as America's first federally protected park. Other works show scenes of soldiers. Many of the most thought-provoking images depict blacks fleeing slavery or contemplating their new postwar lives. The exhibit includes paintings by some of the era's most important artists: Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Frederic Church and Sanford Gifford.
The gallery is found at Eighth and F streets NW, is free and open daily, http://americanart.si.edu/civilwar and http://npg.si.edu.
NEWSEUM: An exhibit here called “Blood and Ink: Front Pages From the Civil War” displays more than 30 front pages from the era, from the founding of the Confederacy through Lincoln's death. “A Nation Mourns,” reads one headline.
The Newseum is at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, the former site of the National Hotel, where Booth was staying when he shot Lincoln, http://www.newseum.org/. It is open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $21.95 plus tax ($12.95 for ages 7 to 18).
DINING: Two excellent restaurants near Ford's Theatre are Jaleo, pricey but fabulous tapas, 480 Seventh St., NW, and Teaism, a local chain offering moderately priced eclectic and Asian-influenced dishes, 400 Eighth St., NW. A restaurant called Lincoln, 1110 Vermont Ave., NW, offers a locavore menu and a floor covered with Lincoln pennies.