Presidential Home

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Today I exited the Metro at Dupont Circle, not a usual location for me.  I think that's part of why I really like this list of places to visit, it's making me get off the beaten path.  I did a 180, cut across a street, and entered Kramer Books where Doug was waiting.  He had also looked up directions to the Woodrow Wilson Home and since he actually lives in DC, I was happy to follow.

We walked past several embassies (Laos, Ireland, Costa Rica).  Right beyond the Textile Museum, we found the Georgian Revival style house where Woodrow Wilson spent his few post-presidency years.  We had to ring a doorbell to be let in.  Doug paid for our tickets, and we browsed the Gallery with the exhibit "My Third Leg" which was a collection of walking canes, a big fashion statement in Wilson's time.  Handle tops included a duck, a hand, a dog, and one that was a hybrid of a dog and a hot dog.

The first part of our tour was a 15  (actually 17) minute video about Wilson's life.  I had never realized how little political experience he had prior to becoming President.  He was president of Princeton but in the political realm, he was governor of New Jersey for only 2 years before getting on the presidential ballot.  Once the video was over, our tour picked up in that small room which had served as Wilson's office.  On the mantle of the fireplace rested one of his prized possessions: a baseball signed by King George V of England.  Our guide stated that if a fire had ever broken out, Wilson probably would have said to grab the baseball!

As we headed back out into the entry hall, our guide mentioned that the home had been built in 1915.  The Wilsons moved in on Inaugaration Day 1921, the last to live there since after Mrs. Wilson's death the house passed to a trust.  Therefore, probably 90% of the objects in the house are from the Wilsons.  Much of the furniture is in the location where it was during the former President's time there.  The trust is very proud of their preservation work at the home.

We passed a large grandfather clock on the steps up to the second level; it is a replica from the one in the White House, Mrs. Wilson had it made.  We walked past a huge mirror and went behind the first of several closed doors.

We were in a formal sitting room with state gifts on display.  There was the huge Gobelin tapestry, 18' by 25' that Mrs. Wilson had to keep in mind when looking for a post-White House home.  The story of the wedding of Eros and Psyche filled the end wall and still about five feet at the bottom had to stay hidden, rolled up.  Near the opposite wall was an easel with a gift from the Pope.  The depiction of Peter was not an oil painting like first glance might make one think but a fine mosaic.  Above the fireplace hung a bright painting of an Armenian girl.  It was given to Wilson by the Armenian people to thank him for giving them hope.  The room also held more intimate memories such as the photos of the three Wilson daughters and a harp that one of them played.

Next up was the library.  Wilson owned around 8000 books at one time; they are now in the Library of Congress, and the books on the full wall of shelves here are from other family members.  A  small glass case held redbound books, one of each of his published works.  The keys to several cities sat inside a cabinet along with a pen.  This was the pen that Wilson had used to sign the declaration of war when the US entered WWI.  The carpet depicted scenes from around the country; it had been designed to commemorate the illumination of the torch in the Statue of Liberty.  The image of the statue has a little biplane up in the righthand corner.  The room demonstrates another piece of early 20th century technology: a movie projector.  Wilson liked movies so he had a movie screen to pull down in front of the bookshelves and he had his own in-home theater.

From here we visited the Solarium and then the Dining Room.  The solarium had a beautiful view of the garden with its little lily pad pond.  The chairs in the dining room had had leather seats during Wilson's life.  In the 40's Mrs.  Wilson and some friends redid them in a stitched pattern.

Before ascending to the third floor our guide pointed out that the huge mirror in the hall was from the White House.  She then added that the White House would probably like it back, continuing with "they would probably want a lot of this stuff back."

A beautiful painting of four women in blue greeted us at the top of the stairs: the first Mrs. Wilson and her three daughters.  Our guide briefly pointed to the nurse's room where a man would spend every night to help care for the president.  Then she ushered us into Wilson's bedroom.  We peeked in his closet (suits, academic robes, kangaroo coat...kangaroo coat?!?!  apparently it was popular back in the day).  The bed was huge, the same size as the Lincoln bed at the White House, 8' long.  The White House may have let him take the mirror but they drew the line at the bed so this one was specially made.  The painting over the fireplace in this room is not a state gift nor of a family member.  She is the mother of Hollywood star and Marilyn Monroe contemporary Jane Russell.  Wilson saw the painting and was reminded of his first wife so he bought it.

Across the hall we visited Mrs. Wilson's bedroom.  At least four representations of Pocahontas are in this room; Mrs. Wilson was very proud of being able to trace her ancestry to the Native American.  I enjoyed looking in her closet and seeing her flapper dress and a collection of fans mostly from Japan.

We took the servants' stairwell back down to the first floor.  We stepped into a pantry with dishes on display.  Two sets of note: the Presidential dishes and a series of Belgian buildings, several of which were destroyed during the war.  We then went to the very spacious kitchen with its large icebox and pictures of the two servants, a married couple.

After our tour we walked back past the embassies and stopped at Così for smoothies.

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photo by: b93sp