July 23, 2015

Lincoln's Cottage: A Perfect Setting for Allen Weinstein's Memorial Service

On Wednesday evening, I attended a lovely memorial service for my pal Allen Weinstein. It was held on this lawn in front of Lincoln's Cottage.

Lincoln's Cottage: the Summer White House
I've lived in Washington since 1955 and thought I'd seen all its major historic sites. But I'd never been to Lincoln's cottage and only vaguely remember hearing about it.

The Cottage is on the grounds of the Soldiers' Home, about four miles north of the White House. During the Civil War, President Lincoln lived there from June into November to escape the city and the distractions of life at the White House. From my visit Wednesday night, the heat and humidity there seemed about the same as anyplace else in this swamp we call the nation's capital.

Lincoln journeyed on horseback between White House and Cottage, morning and night, usually unguarded. Today, the president travels by car in a heavily armored Cadillac. But he travels mostly by air. I can tell when he's flying to Camp David because I hear and see three helicopters in a row flying noisily over my back porch. (Obama, thankfully, uses Camp David much less than his predecessors.)

At the Cottage, Lincoln made several momentous decisions that defined his presidency. While there, he formulated his thoughts on freedom that became the Emancipation Proclamation... and mourned the death from typhoid of his 12-year-old son Willie. In July 1864, he and his family were evacuated from the grounds when nearby Fort Stevens came under Confederate attack.

In July 2000, the Cottage was designated a national monument and opened to the public. I've made a note to take one of the tours in the fall.

About Allen Weinstein 
The Cottage was perfect for Allen's memorial service. He was a history professor, author of history books, and our National Archivist until he retired in 2008 because of his Parkinson's disease.

He was a classic example of a story that played out many times in the last century: the son of Jewish immigrant parents who ends up making a huge contribution to our country. Allen's father came to America at age 13 or 14, if my memory is correct (which it often isn't). His parents owned several delis in the Bronx and in Queens.

Allen graduated from New York City's DeWitt Clinton, which -- with an enrollment of about 12,000 students in the 1930s -- was considered the world's largest high school. Of the dozen attendees at our weekly Parkinson's support group meetings, three were Dewitt Clinton graduates.

Here are Allen's career highlights, from the back of the memorial service program:

Adrienne Dominique, Allen's wife, opened the memorial celebration, and she was followed by Allen's two sons, Andrew and David Weinstein. Other tributes came from former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind,); Phil Sweeney, CEO, International Foundation for Electoral Systems; Tim Naftali, presidential historian, and Peter G. Kelly, chairman of the board, Center for Democracy.

Kelly ended the evening with a moving a cappella rendition of "Danny Boy," not exactly a song one would expect at a memorial service for a Weinstein. But the many reminiscences we heard about Allen's pro-democracy activism around the world were not what one would have expected when Allen began his career as an academic historian.

He had a remarkable career. He was also a caring, compassionate friend.

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