Hello, I’m David Bruce Smith, and I thank you for taking time to learn more about the Grateful American™ Foundation, which produces an interactive, multimedia educational series designed to restore enthusiasm in American history for kids, and adults.
On July 4, 2014, my team and I launched our new website, GratefulAmericanFoundation.com. Each month, we’ll be updating it with articles, radio podcasts, and TV episodes based on the interviews we are conducting with the directors of the nation’s most popular presidential and historic homes—from George Washington’s Mount Vernon to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. I’ll be your host, as will Hope Katz Gibbs, president of Inkandescent Publishing, and the executive producer of the Grateful American™ Series.
In the coming years, our goal is to feature all 44 presidents and their first ladies, as well as people through history who have made a tremendous impact on who we are as a nation.
We begin with the era from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War (1775-1865). Since the goal of history is to provide us with a look back, we start at the end of this era with a tour of President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, located in Washington, DC, just three miles from the White House. The executive director of Lincoln’s Cottage, Erin Carlson Mast, shares a glimpse of some of the lesser-known history about the nation’s most beloved president.
We look forward to sharing the stories and adventures of the people who created our history. — David Bruce Smith
What inspired Abraham Lincoln to live at Lincoln's Cottage when he was president?
Learn fascinating details about the 16th president and his controversial wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, when you watch our video with Lincoln’s Cottage Executive Director Erin Carlson Mast. You’ll also get a glimpse inside the house that provided a haven for the first couple during trying times. Don’t miss it!
Grateful American™ Series
Erin Carlson Mast Takes Us Inside President Lincoln’s Cottage
As the executive director of President Lincoln’s Cottage, Erin Carlson Mast has worked on a variety of key projects since 2003—including historical research, interpretive planning, and site development.
She has also overseen the launch of several exhibitions, the development of the “Lincoln’s Toughest Decisions” program—which won the American Alliance of Museums’ 2008 Silver MUSE Award—and several online interpretive programs, including “Lincoln’s Commute,” a collaboration with the White House Historical Association.
So it was grand to get a personal tour of Lincoln’s home-away-from-the-White House from the woman who oversees President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home. Though the home is just three miles from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Mast explains that it took Lincoln 45 minutes to get there—about as long as the trip takes in traffic today. For more fascinating facts and insights, check out our interview below with Erin Carlson Mast.
David Bruce Smith and Hope Katz Gibbs: Erin, tell us about President Lincoln’s Cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home.
Erin Carlson Mast: There is so much to tell, but in short, this was a home for the Lincoln family for over a year of his four years in office. It’s where President Lincoln made some of his most important decisions during the Civil War, and also where he found time to play checkers with soldiers and his son Thomas, or “Tad.” Scholars have called it “the Cradle of the Emancipation Proclamation” because Lincoln created that document during his first summer living here. This place is steeped in history, but we have only been open to the public since 2008. We’re old, but we’re new.
David and Hope: What are some of your favorite things about this property? And what do kids love to do when they come here?
Erin Carlson Mast: Whether kids come here with their family or school, we create opportunities for children to learn and express themselves. Adults and children alike frequently tell us that we made Lincoln come alive for them—that we made him human for them. We do that with an atypical historic site approach, too. We have no velvet ropes, we do not focus on objects, and we have no costumed guides. Our team works hard to engage multigenerational audiences around the stories of what Lincoln did here and his big ideas.
People routinely tell us that we inspired them to learn more about Lincoln. Just this week a visitor told me that he bought his first book on Lincoln after visiting here for the first time three years ago. He has since bought 76 more and teased us that he was going to send us the bill. Another visitor reported that his youngest son formed a Lincoln club at his school after the family visited. He now writes down his big ideas on pieces of paper and stashes them in his desk just like Lincoln did.
David and Hope: This place is an oasis in DC. And, it’s only three miles north of the White House.
Erin Carlson Mast: That’s right. And living at the Soldiers’ Home changed Lincoln’s entire perspective. He commuted here by horseback, either riding alone or accompanied (after September of 1862) by a Presidential Guard. Sometimes he’d catch a ride with colleagues or visitors and ride in someone else’s carriage.
I know it sounds bizarre for the president to be catching a ride with visitors, especially based on today’s rules and regulations, but it did happen, according to primary sources. Because of that commute he encountered all kinds of people he wouldn’t otherwise have met—wounded soldiers just returning from the front lines; self-emancipated men, women, and children; even the poet Walt Whitman! It’s a reminder that even the most mundane parts of the day can be opportunities for growth. He knew the commute put him in harm’s way, but he chose to do it anyway. Lincoln wasn’t escaping the Civil War, he was putting himself closer to it.
David and Hope: Let’s talk more about Lincoln and the Civil War. For starters, why did they call it the Civil War?
Erin Carlson Mast: That’s a great question. Lincoln’s perspective was that the war was fought between citizens of one nation. Some of those citizens were in rebellion, others were fighting the rebellion. Other names for the war that reflect different points of view have come and gone, but “Civil War” is the name that has endured here in the United States.