two artists, two kids, one dog and lots of adventures...
Looking For Lincoln In Washington DC and Kentucky
September 16, 2016
We have family in Washington DC and Kentucky so we tend to visit both of these places a lot. We've done the National Air and Space Museum and the Capital in DC, the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Kentucky Derby Museum in Kentucky. And, honestly, most of our time gets spent just hanging with the grandparents around the pool, which is exactly what the kids want to do for the most part! But this summer I wanted to try something different. I wanted to find a subject we could explore in both places, something that had history and context in both Washington DC and Kentucky. What did I come up with? Abraham Lincoln. I spent some time with Lincoln recently, at least on stage, when I got to work on a friends script about him. So, he has been on my mind! Since both Lincoln and his wife are from Kentucky, and he obviously lived in DC, he seemed like the perfect choice. And with us being in the midst of a presidential election year, learning about one of our most important presidents is even more relevant and on point. That is how we ended up on our search for Lincoln. Here is what we explored:
This one is kind of a given considering it is such an iconic image of Washington DC. Located on the National Mall, it is overwhelming and magnificent in person. Lincoln sits staring out over the Reflecting Pool, with the Washington Monument and U.S Capital in the distance. Kids love seeing the giant statue and running up and down the stairs. You can try to squeeze in a history lesson too by reading the words of the Gettysburg Address in the walls that surround him. Then walk over to the steps and stand in the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech and feel the weight of what both of these great men fought for.
After visiting the Lincoln Memorial, head over to Ford's Theatre, the site of Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865. It is still a working theatre to this day and houses a museum in the basement dedicated to the Civil War and Lincoln's life, assassination and legacy. After you finish there, go across the street to the Peterson House, where Lincoln was brought after he was shot and then eventually died. The house is quite small but leads to a learning center that is dedicated to Lincoln's legacy and what it means to be a leader. There are interactive exhibits that kids really enjoy and questions to get them thinking about how they can be a great leader. On your way out, you can't miss the tower of books. It is a 34 foot tower of books all about Lincoln! And I am sure it is growing everyday.
I love going to the White House every time I'm in DC. I don't know exactly what it is that I love so much but I try to go by there whenever I can and no search for Lincoln would be complete without a trip to it. It is said that when the Lincolns moved into the White House, they were unimpressed, thinking it was worn down and in need of an update. They did give it a facelift and apparently went way over budget doing so. It has no doubt been through many more updates since (that probably also went over budget). I got to go inside once when I was a kid but haven't been back inside since. Visits are allowed on a first come first serve basis and can be booked up to 6 months in advance. One of these days I'll be on top of it enough to actually book a tour! Or I'll just have to wait until my daughter becomes President ;)
About a half mile away from the White House is a restaurant and bar dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. The floor is covered in pennies and the drinks all have a Lincoln theme as well, with names such as the Bloody Mary Todd and the Gettysburg Address. They even have their own election going on with drink named after each candidate! I didn't get to have dinner there but I did enjoy the Lincoln Sour, a cocktail made with Knob Creek Bourbon, the creek that ran next to Lincoln's boyhood home in Kentucky. Which we went to a week later in Kentucky!
Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, about 60 miles from Louisville, on Sinking Spring Farm. I grew up in Louisville but, embarrassingly, had never been to the birthplace of our 16th president. We drove from my parents house, going through Bardstown, KY, a lovely little town with an old fashioned square and shops, onto beautiful, hilly country roads that make up the Lincoln Heritage Trail. You pass through downtown Hodgenville with a museum dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, who was also from Kentucky, and with two statues of their own of Lincoln, one of him as a boy and one as an adult. A few miles away from downtown is the home itself. It has been enclosed in a memorial, proudly known as the first Lincoln Memorial, which has sixteen windows in honor of Lincoln being the sixteenth president. The log cabin inside the memorial is tiny but interesting to see. After walking through the memorial, you can head down the steps to see the sinking spring that was the Lincolns water source. Then head over the visitors center to walk through the small museum.
Also on the Lincoln Heritage Highway is Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home, only about ten miles away from his birthplace. This is the home where he spent most of his time in Kentucky and is right by the famous Knob Creek (that the very good Kentucky bourbon is named after). The land here is beautiful, with a big open field behind the little cabin (which isn't the original but a replica) and the creek off to the side. There is also an old tavern next to the cabin that will soon be turned into a visitor's center. There isn't a ton to do here but it is really nice to walk the land that Lincoln walked when he was a boy. It's a very peaceful place and you can really imagine what it must have been like for him as a boy here. It is definitely worth a stop.
Ok, so technically this doesn't have anything to do with Lincoln. BUT, it does run right along with the Lincoln Heritage Highway in many places. So make a really nice trip of it, stay the night in Bardstown and visit some of the distilleries! Bourbon is only made in Kentucky and you can taste some really great varieties after you've explored your Lincoln history. And also try the bourbon balls! They are yummy.
We didn't actually make it Mary Todd's home on this trip but I have been there before. Located in downtown Lexington, KY, this is the home of the former first lady where she was born and raised. She lived in Lexington, at the time a very wealthy and sophisticated city, until she followed her sister and moved to Illinois, where she met Abraham Lincoln. Mary is a fascinating woman to me, a woman that has been characterized as so many things, most of them negative. But I find her strong and smart and loving. She suffered a lot of loss, with her sons dying young and Abraham being shot right next to her. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been and sympathize with her greatly. This home is worth the visit not only for it's history but also to see charming downtown Lexington. And if you go in the winter, hit up Rupp Arena for a basketball game too ;)