Tourist George Borrett didn’t exactly expect to find himself chatting cozily with President Abraham Lincoln when, in 1864, he paid an unannounced visit to the house in Northwest Washington, D.C., that served as the first family’s home away from the White House. But after waiting just a few minutes in the drawing room, he was greeted by the commander in chief—and not in the form the English Borrett, accustomed to the grand formality of monarchs, expected of a national leader. Writing of the moment, he remembered:
“There entered through the folding doors the long, lanky, lathe-like figure…with hair ruffled, and eyes very sleepy, and—hear it, ye votaries of court etiquette!—feet enveloped in carpet slippers.”
Those very slippers returned this year to what is now called President Lincoln’s Cottage, on loan through June from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums in Fremont, Ohio. (Due to COVID-19, Lincoln’s cottage is closed indefinitely.)
They’re a poignant and charming evocation of Lincoln the human being, says Erin Carlson Mast, MA ’03, CEO and executive director of President Lincoln’s Cottage. And they give a sense of what the cottage, where Lincoln drafted the first versions of the Emancipation Proclamation and where he retreated after his son Willie’s death in 1862, really meant to the man who lived there during a time of personal and national tragedy.
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