When Abraham Lincoln was putting the last touches on the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, Anderson Cottage -- his informal summer getaway haven -- lay three miles outside the District of Columbia. It was a trip of an hour or so by horse and carriage, longer when a military escort was forced on him. He complained about the rattle of sabers and jangle of spurs, but more than one ambuscade was laid on the well- known path he took to Soldiers' (now the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's) Home.
The Emancipator might well recognize his old hideaway today: The exterior hasn't changed all that much from what you see in turn-of-the-century photographs. But the lonely, wooded road he took has turned into a welter of one-way streets, no-turn intersections and even -- on land furnished the District by Soldiers' Home -- an honest-to- goodness cloverleaf.
The inside of the house is quite different now, of course: Most of it serves as a guest house and part is a club for residents. There's nothing there or elsewhere on the grounds for the casual, drop-in visitor; after all, it is a home for retired military personnel, and how many tourists would you want traipsing through your home? There used to be summer concerts three times a week in a charming bandshell near Anderson Cottage, but the money ran out. So now, except for a gaze from the outside at The House Where Lincoln Fled the Heat (and Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur after him), the place offers a casual visitor no more than would any other military post staffed by retired personnel. Which is fitting.
Outside the grounds, the pickings are even slimmer: If you come up North Capitol Street, as a map might suggest, and then follow the signs, as common sense would seem to dictate, you find yourself at a gate that's locked weekends, holidays and evenings. There's no place to go except back onto North Capitol heading back toward town. Which may be by design.
So you can circle around through residential streets and the odd thoroughfare, finally reaching eastbound Upshur and shooting straight for the gates to the Home. But you can't get in unless you have business there, ad then if you look around you'll remember that you saw a couple of bars, but they both looked closed.
Clser inspection shows that both Ethel's Tavern and Kenny's Tavern are very much open -- they just look closed -- and are two of the remaining refuges of the 85-cent bottle of beer. At Ethel's you can get a plate of ham and lima beans for $1.10: not bad. Kenny's menu and prices are about the same. Neither has a Pac-Man or other electronic game; both have TV sets that, on a Saturday afternoon, are showing sporting events; jukeboxes that run to Ferlin Husky; and the ubiquitous beer-and-bar wall furniture. Kenny's also has a "Your Army Needs You" poster a la Flagg, and -- in another room, with tables instead of booths -- a poster titled "Four Years in the Fight." Both are filled with men who clearly came over from the Home largely to get outside the gates, and who've established themselves as regulars in their neighborhood club.
Kenny's has one other interesting artifact: Up on the wall, with the Air Force Academy and Army pennants, is a Navy pennant; the Home ruled out the notion of taking in "swabbies" or Marines because, as a news story of the times put it, there would be "too many scraps."
Aside from Ethel's and Kenny's, there isn't much for a tourist up near the Home -- just family neighborhoods.
There's been another big change since Lincoln's day, when all about was woods and fields: On the porch of Anderson Cottage, the thermometer said it was 88 degrees. Less than five minutes later, my car radio told me that, at National Airport, it was 89. Some refuge.