By Erin Carlson Mast
Like many historic sites, President Lincoln’s Cottage experiences a shift in interior appearance based on the seasons. Unlike many sites, the interpretation at President Lincoln’s Cottage focuses on a limited number of seasons per year. Since the Lincolns only occupied the Cottage from early summer through mid autumn, changes to the interior are limited and subtle. Cocoa and grass matting, typical of “summer dress” for 1860s interiors, stay down year round, while linen slipcovers (see image of Scott reading Shakespeare on slipcovered sofa, right) are applied in June–the earliest the Lincolns took up residence, and remain until the first cold days in September, though the Lincolns stayed through the end of October.
Cocoa and grass matting is left down at President Lincoln’s Cottage because the installation and removal is so labor intensive, and no evidence has been uncovered yet that indicates the Lincoln’s made that change for their last month of residence each year (whereas there are references to Lincoln sitting on a horsehair covered sofa out here).
Last Thursday proved to be the first chilly September day at the Cottage, so staff set about removing the slipcovers for the season. In the photo at left, Alison removes a slipcover for one of the side chairs in the drawing room and Katie (at right) does the same to other side chairs. Leslie (below, left) reveals the red and black horsehair upholstery. The slipcovers have been completely removed to reveal the horsehair upholstery in the last photo (bottom, center), where Alison and Katie take a seat and share a laugh.
Visitors today are invited by their guide to sit in the drawing room, just as Lincoln’s visitors did. The furnishings in this room are not original to the Cottage, thus after careful consideration, the staff decided not to have barriers (like plexi or stanchions) and instead make it clear to visitors that the furnishings are not original but were selected based on primary resources and preservation concerns and then invites them to take a seat in certain rooms. Gentle use has not negatively impacted the restored period furnishings (period pieces donated specifically for use), or the reproduction furnishings, while visitors have reacted positively to the invitation for them to sit in these rooms.