Lincoln and Fried Chicken

October 24, 2010 17:03 – 17:03

Still in sightseeing & exploring mode, we decided to try someplace different for lunch today, and then to visit one of many places we’ve never explored. Today began with an inspiring 9:30 service at MVUC this morning—with really nice music and a great history lesson on the formation of the UUA, courtesy of Rev. Kate Walker and visiting Rev. Stephan Papa, celebrating Association Sunday.

After church, I confessed a desire to find either the world’s greatest fried chicken or the world’s best cheeseburgers—both of which were rumored to reside somewhere across the river in Prince George’s County, MD. Karen, on the other hand, expressed a desire to find and visit Lincoln’s Cottage, a site we had discussed briefly with Sharon and John Concannon over dinner at the Taste of Saigon on Friday night.

We decided to do both, with my opting to look for good fried chicken. After a little surfing, a consensus began to emerge that a place called The Golden Skillet, in Forestville, MD, has the DC area’s best fried chicken. The write-ups I read said that it has chicken brought in daily from a nearby chicken farm. When it comes to poultry and fish—fresh is the key. In fact, it tastes best if eaten live, I hear. But, I’ll leave that for braver souls than I am.

About 30 minutes later, we arrived at The Golden Skillet, at 7301 Marlboro Pike. The “city” is still in question. The write-ups I read said Forestville. But, MapPoint and Google Maps said District Heights. Either way, it’s at the intersection of Marlboro Pike and Boones Lane—not the intersection of Marlboro Pike and Kirtland Avenue, as Google Earth claims.

The consensus was right! Their chicken is super fresh, super hot, and super delicious! And cheap! We also decided to try a piece of their fried whiting. While it was passably prepared, it wasn’t anything resembling fresh. No doubt, given a supply of fresh fish, they would do an excellent job. But, in my view, when you go to The Golden Skillet, stick with the chicken. You won’t regret it. Here’s a closer shot, which shows some of their other offerings.

After an excellent lunch, I set a course for 140 Rock Creek Church Road in NW Washington, DC. Did you know there was such a road in DC? I sure didn’t. But, it’s the entrance for the Soldier’s Home, just a little west of North Capitol Street. At the gate, the guard asks “Lincoln’s Cottage?” and directs you to turn left and head to the parking area. Tours on Sunday run beginning on the hour from noon until 4 pm—tickets are purchased in the gift shop in the visitor center, shown here:

The tour takes about an hour, and adult tickets are $12, unless you’re a National Trust member. On this tour, you’ll learn a lot about not only the history of the cottage and the soldier’s home, but about Lincoln and the war that defined his presidency.

At the time Lincoln was president, this area was considered “out in the country.” Washington, DC was divided into three areas: the city, which is the part we now call the mall and the federal buildings in that area; Georgetown, and we all know where that is; and the County, which is the area north of the “the city” between the mall and Maryland. This latter geographical division was new knowledge for me. At the time, it was mostly wooded and rustic.

About three miles north of the White House, and several hundred feet higher (the 3rd highest point in DC), it stays a bit cooler in summer in “the county” than it does in the swamp (“the city”) where the White House and the Capitol were built. The location also provided some privacy from the constant interruptions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The war was also actively in view from the White House—with troop movements, cannons, and gunfire all audible. Three miles north, Lincoln could rest a bit and had a semblance of privacy. In the 1860s, it was the President’s “Camp David.”

When I say “cottage,” you might be thinking small. Small, this cottage is not. Here’s the north side:

Somewhere behind us, the view is now obscured by other buildings. But, in the 1860s, the view out the north windows of the cottage provided a constant reminder of war. There stood a rapidly-filling military cemetery, which had as many as 40 burials a day at the height of the war. By 1864, it had filled up, and a new site for a much larger National Cemetery—now in Arlington—was located. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

For some reason, the south side of the cottage looks smaller to me. Maybe it’s a magic trick, or maybe it’s that the east wing is obscured by trees.

Out the south windows of the cottage in the 1860, Lincoln could see the Capitol, which was under construction, along with the White House and the Washington Monument, the latter which was also under construction. A ginormous building—home to 1,000 veterans—now completely blocks the view of the “city,” three miles to the south. Even without the building, however, trees would still block the view now.

No photography is allowed inside the cottage, but here’s more of what we saw outside. The tower was built about 100 years ago, and was a water tower. I’m not sure, but now I think it’s just a lawn ornament. A very large and attractive lawn ornament, mind you.

The castle-like building behind the tower was the original veterans’ residence. The part to the left (behind the trees, extending further left) was added later.

Between the cottage and the tower stands a life-size sculpture of Abe and his horse.

He commuted daily when he was living at the cottage (the hotter seasons of his presidency, which came out to be about a quarter of his time in office)—about 3.5 miles by road, each way. Once, while returning to the cottage, a would-be assassin fired a shot at him just outside the gate. His stovepipe was found later—and it had a bullet hole through the crown! We were told that those who plotted the successful assassination had actually scouted the possibility of doing him in at the cottage, but had decided on the plan that ultimately succeeded.

We were told that the gazebo was there in the 1860s, as well. The trees look somewhat newer.

Below, you can see how close the cottage was to the original veterans’ residence. Lincoln frequently chatted with the veterans who lived there.

Karen says she enjoyed the entire tour. Personally, I found it a little slow and too long. We had 22 people in our group, and it lasted about an hour and a quarter. Forty-five minutes would have been better from my standpoint. Also, many of the rooms are deliberately empty. They don’t have any historical evidence of what it looked like when Lincoln was there, and all of his belongings were shipped back to the While House (19 carriages full). So, they didn’t want to fake it. That’s fine, I guess, but they substitute a lot of verbiage for artifacts, and I really like looking at things. So, that aspect was a little disappointing. However, in spite of myself, I learned a good deal of history. So, it was time well spent.

For dinner tonight, we’ve decided to try Thai Nakorn, on Cooper Road. I noticed a sign this past week that said “Grand Re-Opening.” I never even noticed it before, but looking at Trip Advisor and Yelp, it’s gotten rave reviews in the past. I sure hope the management and cooks haven’t changed. I’ll let you know how it is!

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