- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

In the heart of Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood sits the Woodrow Wilson House, a 28-room mansion named after the former president, who lived in the home after he left the White House in 1921.

“Mrs. Wilson called it a ‘small home, suited to the needs of a gentleman,’” says Frank Aucella, executive director at the house museum.

Of course, there is nothing small or insignificant about this house. Not only is it large — 10,000 square feet — but each room is packed with Wilson memorabilia, sometimes from floor to ceiling. In the drawing room, for example, is a 20-by-16-foot tapestry (a gift to Wilson from the people of France), and in the library, 13-foot built-in shelves are crowded with books, some written by the former president.

Wilson wrote 26 books, such as “History of the American People,” Mr. Aucella says.

“And Wilson owned more than 9,000 books. … But the ironic thing is that the most academic and intellectual president occasionally put up a movie screen over the books,” Mr. Aucella says. “He loved the movies.”

Charlie Chaplin was among his favorite actors.

The library also features the pen Wilson used to sign the Declaration of War in 1917, after which the United States entered World War I; a portrait of Wilson sitting in front of a post-World War I map of Europe; golf trophies; and the chair he used during Cabinet meetings in the White House.

The second-floor dining room is bright and roomy and easily could seat at least a dozen guests. Next to it is the butler’s pantry, which showcases several sets of dinnerware, some specifically for fish, others used only for fowl.

The first-floor kitchen was fancy and well-appointed for its time. It has a gas stove, electric vacuum cleaner and electric toaster. The pantry features early-20th-century boxes and cans of Campbell’s soup, Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal and Tabasco (which looks exactly the same as its contemporary counterpart).

“Children usually enjoy seeing these products and the old appliances that were so cutting-edge back then,” Mr. Aucella says.

The third floor consists of bedrooms, complete with walk-in closets and master bathrooms. Hanging in Wilson’s closet are academic garb from his days as president of Princeton University, his signature top hat, and a fur coat made of kangaroo and wombat fur. Edith Wilson’s bedroom, across the hall, also has an adjoining bathroom and a closet featuring several flapper-style dresses.

Between the bedrooms is the night nurse’s bedroom. Wilson had a stroke in 1918, while still in office, and underwent rehabilitating treatments until his death in 1924. In the night nurse’s room is an electrical machine that was used to try to stimulate the affected muscles and nerves on the left side of Wilson’s body.

“Did it work? We don’t know,” Mr. Aucella says.

No matter how ill Wilson was, Mr. Aucella says, he always enjoyed going on daily drives in his Rolls-Royce.

Judging from the house, the paintings and wall hangings, the appliances and the car, visitors might think Wilson was a wealthy man, but he came from very humble beginnings. His father was a Presbyterian minister in Augusta, Ga., Mr. Aucella says.

Even after Wilson’s two-term presidency, one-term governorship of New Jersey and several years as president of Princeton University, he was by no means a wealthy man, Mr. Aucella says.

He took the Nobel Peace Prize money awarded to him — about $50,000 — and with the help of several friends who pitched in with more than $100,000, he was able to buy the house in one of Washington’s most upscale neighborhoods.

Also on view at the museum is a temporary exhibit about the Prohibition era and Wilson’s position on the question. There is a misperception, Mr. Aucella says, that Wilson was for Prohibition. He was actually for moderation, or “temperance.”

The exhibit, titled “No Temperance in It …: Woodrow Wilson, the Prohibition Amendment and Brewing in Washington, D.C.,” features information about local breweries that thrived before Prohibition and had to shut down between 1921 and 1933, when the law was repealed. Some, such as Christian Heurich’s, were resurrected, but most never came back.

The exhibit also features a speakeasy map of the District. During the Prohibition years, police found more than 900 places that had illegal alcohol, including places just a block away from the White House. License plates of the day, also on display, featured the words, “Repeal the 18th Amendment.”

The tour of the house, which can be adapted to various interests and levels of knowledge, takes about 45 minutes. There also is a 15-minute film about Wilson, “The American Idealist,” which shows his private life — two marriages, bouts with depression and an adulterous affair — and his professional life.

After World War I, Wilson advocated an international League of Nations to foster peace and prosperity. The United States never joined the league, which ultimately was replaced by the United Nations.

“Wilson’s is a compelling, complex story,” Mr. Aucella says. “The Wilson House tells some of that story. It’s a living textbook that’s not overly edited.”

When you go:

Location: Woodrow Wilson House, 2340 S St. NW in the District, close to Dupont Circle in the Kalorama neighborhood.

Directions: From Dupont Circle, go northwest on Massachusetts Avenue for five blocks and turn right onto 24th Street. Make a quick right onto S Street. The Woodrow Wilson House is on the right.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; closed on Mondays and major holidays.

Parking: Limited street parking. The museum is within walking distance of the Dupont Circle station on Metro’s Red Line.

Admission: Adults $7.50, seniors $6.50, students $3; children age 6 and younger are admitted free.

Information: 202/387-4062 or www.woodrowwilsonhouse.org


• The building does not have a cafe or restaurant, but Connecticut Avenue with its many eateries is close by.

• Upcoming events include a lecture series on beer and brewing. The programs, which are open to adult audiences, will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Woodrow Wilson House. Tickets are $30 for each event.

• “DC’s brewer: Christian Heurich, 1873-1945,” March 23. The story of Heurich, one of Washington’s premier brewers in the 19th and 20th centuries, will be told by the founder’s grandson, Gary Heurich. Visitors also will be able to sample brews based on original recipes.

• “The Craft Beer Revolution,” April 6. Visitors will learn about contemporary local breweries and be able to sample different brands and products.

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