Category Archives: Public Programs

Decorating Our Fallen Soldiers: Memorial Day Past and Present

President Lincoln often walked among the graves of the first National Cemetery, just steps from the Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home.

By Curtis Harris

Today, Memorial Day often has a festive atmosphere. It serves as the unofficial kickoff for summer and vacation season as Americans enjoy barbecues and picnics. However, in the aftermath of the Civil War, Memorial Day held a solemn place in the public mind.

Around 625,000 Americans perished in the Civil War which almost equals the total number of dead from all of America’s other wars combined. Nearly every American lost a loved one in this conflict, and certainly knew someone who had, whether they were from the North or South, native-born or immigrant, white or black. To cope with this incredible loss, communities across the North began decorating the graves of their loved ones with flowers.

By 1868, this ritual was so widespread that General John Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an association of Union war veterans, proclaimed that May 30 should be the official observance across the Union for decorating the graves of soldiers. This Decoration Day, as it was then called, is the genesis of our Memorial Day.

In Southern states, the outpouring of grief was just as pervasive as both former slaves and Confederates carried out the practice of decorating graves from the war dead. In the former Confederacy, formalized decoration days normally occurred in late April or May.

By 1920, sectional reconciliation had occurred and the 30th of May was nationally recognized as Decoration Day, although, currently 9 states still observe some form of Confederate Memorial/Heroes Day. After World War II, “Memorial Day” became the preferred term for Decoration Day and in 1968 Congress officially moved the observance of the day from the fixed date of May 30th that was proclaimed by General Logan to simply the last Monday in May.

This measure symbolically linked Memorial Day not just with its Civil War beginnings but with all American wars. The day now honored all service members who had died in combat. It’s a reminder that Americans have sacrificed for each other before, during and after the Civil War and will continue to do so.

On this Memorial Day, the Armed Forces Retirement Home and President Lincoln’s Cottage will honor these persons with wreath laying ceremonies and tours of the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.

The 1st wreath laying ceremony will occur at 11:15am at the Soldiers’ Home and a 2nd ceremony will take place at the cemetery at 12:15pm. Tours of the cemetery will take place at 11:30am and 1:30pm and are free of charge. Reservations are not required but are appreciated. Regularly scheduled Cottage Tours will also be available at the normal price of $15 for adults, $5 for children (ages 6-12), and $12.50 for active duty military. Advance purchase for Cottage Tour tickets is strongly recommended and the only way to guarantee a spot on a tour. Please visit our website to purchase tickets:

Be sure to bring a picnic lunch to relax and enjoy the beautiful grounds on the south lawn of the Cottage!

Mr. Harris is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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Latest Happenings and Upcoming Events

spring newsletter 2012The latest edition of the Cottage Courier is now available on our website! Stay up-to-date with all that is happening at President Lincoln’s Cottage by subscribing to receive our quarterly e-newsletter.

The next Cottage Conversation will take place Monday, May 21, with Harold Holzer at 6:30pm and you don’t want to miss the Memorial Day festivities on May 28. Find out more here. The 1863/2013 Sesquicentennial Ornament is now available for purchase. Click here to buy and be sure to collect the entire series!

Readers also do not want to miss the article A Very Charming Place by Zachary Klitzman, which discusses a letter Mary Lincoln wrote referencing her family’s planned move to the Soldiers’ Home.

Want to stay up-to-date by the minute? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Celebrating United States Citizenship at President Lincoln’s Cottage


The children take the Oath of Allegiance as they become citizens of the United States.

By Alison Mitchell

April 24, 2012 was an especially exciting day at President Lincoln’s Cottage as we hosted our first Naturalization Ceremony at the site. 23 children from 16 countries were sworn in as United States citizens during this special ceremony in the Emancipation Room. Sarah Taylor, Washington District Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), administered a special Oath of Allegiance and presented Certificates of Citizenship to the children, ages 6-14.

Erin Mast

Director Erin Mast congratulates one of the new U.S. citizens.

Cottage Director Erin Carlson Mast gave congratulatory remarks to the children. “Lincoln believed the United States could be a symbol of hope for people around the world seeking liberty, justice, and equality. Each one of you is part of that hope,” Mast said. Following the ceremony, the children and their families received a tour of the Cottage. What a special experience it must have been for those children to hear about how Lincoln rose up the ladder and lived the “American dream” through hard work and perseverance. It is so rewarding to know that those children will now have the same opportunity!

View Erin Mast’s full remarks here.

Ms. Mitchell is the Development Coordinator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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Come Celebrate With Us!

lincoln's hatDuring the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln sought refuge from swampy, stinky Washington by living at the Soldiers’ Home. The gentle landscape of the Soldiers’ Home provided the Lincolns some respite in the middle of the Civil War. Even today, President Lincoln’s Cottage sits apart from the traffic-congested mess that downtown Washington can become. Like the Lincoln family, you can now use this place to create memorable family experiences.

With access to free onsite parking, a highly-trained education staff member, and a private party room, having a birthday party at President Lincoln’s Cottage is something you and your child will not soon forget. This guided birthday experience includes a 40 minute interactive tour of the house Abraham Lincoln lived in when he was president, a 40 minute hands-on activity with a take-away for each child (their own Lincoln hat!), and 40 minutes of party time. Have a seat in the library where Lincoln worked, hear accounts from people who visited him here, and take a load off on the porch where he would sit and play checkers with Tad. Come celebrate with us and see why Lincoln spent so much time at this “hidden gem.”

For additional information or to book your party, please contact our Events and Programs Coordinator, Sahand Miraminy. He is reachable by email,, or telephone, 202.829.0436 x 31232, during normal business hours, Monday-Friday.

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Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery

wreath laying

By George L. Wellman

Volunteers with the Wreaths Across America Organization stopped at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery on Saturday morning, 10 December 2011.  They placed their allocation of wreaths at headstones in Sections D and G of the cemetery.  These sections are the final resting place for Union soldiers who died in 1862 and 1863 during the Civil War.

The Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery is located at21 Harewood Road Northwest,Washington,DC.  Take a moment out of your holiday schedule and visit this historic cemetery.  The cemetery is within walking distance to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home.

Mr. Wellman is a resident at the Soldiers’ Home.

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Latest Edition of the Cottage Courier

The latest edition of the Cottage Courier is now available on our website! Stay up-to-date with all that is happening at President Lincoln’s Cottage by subscribing to receive our quarterly e-newsletter.

In the fall edition, readers can preview two upcoming exhibits that will be on view in the Robert H. Smith Vistior Education Center at the Cottage. “Seat of War: A Panoramic View of Civil War Washington through Historic Prints” shows rarely seen prints from the Cottage collection. This exhibit is on view for just over a month from December 7, 2011 – January 15, 2012. “Can You Walk Away?” will take an indepth look at the state of slavery today, 150 years after all legal forms of slavery were abolished.

The Cottage 2012 ornament – “Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation” – is now on sale. This ornament commemorates the 1862 preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, much of which was drafted at the Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home. This beautiful commemorative ornament features the 1957 painting “Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation” by Jes W. Schlaikjer. The 1862/2012 ornament is the second in the President Lincoln’s Cottage Sesquicentennial Series. Collect all five!

Readers also do not want to miss the history article Lincoln’s Other Proclamation: The Creation of the First Annual Thanksgiving Day Tradition by Zachary Klitzman.

Read the Cottage Courier HERE.

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Upcoming Program with the U.S. State Department

Lincoln and Seward

President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward

President Lincoln’s Cottage and the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State are hosting a public program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), the flagship publication of the Department’s Office of the Historian. Join Burrus Carnahan, noted Civil War and Lincoln author and scholar as he interviews Dr. Aaron Marrs, Civil War Researcher with the Office of the Historian, on Marrs’ new research that sheds light on foreign relations in the context of the Civil War.

Join us December 1, 2011 at 6:30pm – 7:30pm

Location: President Lincoln’s Cottage

Admission: FREE

Reservations are required – call (202) 829-0436 x31232 or email

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