- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

When Woodrow Wilson left the White House in early 1921, he retired to an elegant mansion near Embassy Row in the District. He would spend fewer than four years there surrounded by great books, art and gifts of state before his death.

Though Wilson and his second wife, Edith, are long gone, their home remains intact. Woodrow Wilson House is open to the public, and the presidential museum offers a chance to see both presidential artifacts and personal effects that reflect life in the 1920s.

"Very few presidents chose to make Washington their home after their term," says Frank Aucella, executive director of Woodrow Wilson House. "Like Mount Vernon or Monticello, this is a chance to see all of a president's life."

The house was purchased in part with the $50,000 cash award Mr. Wilson received for winning the 1920 Nobel Peace Prize and another $50,000 contributed by 10 friends. Mrs. Wilson continued to live in the house until her death in 1961. She left the home and its contents to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She wanted the house to be a public memorial to her husband's memory.

The National Trust has done a good job seeing that her wish is fulfilled. In some rooms, it looks as though the Wilsons might return at any moment from a drive in their Pierce-Arrow.

Some of the items on display include gilded boxes that were a gift from England's King George V, the microphone Mr. Wilson used to make a national radio address on Armistice Day in 1923, a 1920s Underwood typewriter and a selection of Mr. Wilson's canes, which helped him walk after he suffered a stroke in 1919.

Mr. Wilson sought to replicate the White House furniture in parts of the home. The grandest example is in the bedroom, where a copy of the Lincoln bed was placed. Across the hall, Mrs. Wilson's room features a large bath with luxurious fixtures unusual for that time, says museum curator Meg Nowack. Visitors also can walk through Mrs. Wilson's closet and see a selection of her evening gowns.

Mrs. Wilson's personal taste and image are everywhere in the home, which has many portraits, photos and Pocahontas artifacts. "Mrs. Wilson was a direct descendant of Pocahontas," Ms. Nowack says. "She was very proud of it."

A visit to the house also is a good history lesson for anyone interested in domestic life from another era. It has an ancient elevator and dumbwaiter. The enormous kitchen has appliances, cookbooks and cookware from the time, along with hand-painted china from around the world.

The library, where the original linen wallpaper lines the walls, contains more evidence of the things Woodrow Wilson loved. The bookshelves hold hundreds of volumes, many of them on history and political science.

"Mr. Wilson was such a bookworm," Ms. Nowack says.

He also loved movies. His graphoscope, an early movie projector, can be found in the library, too. Mr. Wilson's butler used to go downtown to a movie house to get copies of first-run films to show at the residence, Ms. Nowack says.

Evidence of Mr. Wilson's love of sports also can be found in the house a photo of him at a Washington Senators game, a baseball signed by King George and a pennant from his days at Princeton.

In a small gallery on the first floor, a special exhibit titled "Blinkums, Dinkums and Dismal Desmond: Toys of the 1920s" remains through Feb. 25. During the 1920s, mass manufacturing and pop culture began to have an influence on childrens' toys, Ms. Nowack says.

The display features stuffed animals, including Felix the Cat, a popular cartoon character of the time, and a battered Princeton tiger.

Board games of the era are on display as well, including a baseball game named after Senators pitcher Walter Johnson, a close friend of Mr. Wilson's. There also are intricate dollhouses, the most interesting of which replicates a World War I Army hospital in incredible detail.

In late March, the toy display will be replaced by an exhibit titled "Passing the Torch," which will examine the relationship between Edith Wilson and Jacqueline Kennedy. It is being organized in conjunction with a large Jackie Kennedy exhibition scheduled to run at the Corcoran Gallery of Art this spring.

"Mrs. Wilson held a luncheon for Jackie [in early 1961]," Ms. Nowack says. "We will have the wine, silverware, plates and invitations. But Mrs. Wilson also had something Jackie wanted. There's an 1817 chair that Mrs. Wilson had that would complete a set at the White House. When Jackie came for that visit, she stayed all day. My feeling was, she wanted the chair. She didn't get it, though."


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