Points of Interest

Notable American Destinations and Happenings

Cheryl Carlin

Abe's Getaway
Washington, D.C.—Despite the convenient option to live where he worked, during his presidency Abraham Lincoln commuted 45 minutes most summer days by horseback or carriage to a cottage three miles from the White House.

Now, after a seven-year, $15 million restoration by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the 34-room Gothic Revival house, built in 1842, is open to the public for the first time. It stands on the 270 acres of Soldiers' Home, the first federal retirement facility for disabled war veterans.

Though Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur also retreated to the hilltop cottage, an escape from the city's bustle and muggy heat, its significance is tied to Lincoln, who made use of it while drafting the Emancipation Proclamation and developing Civil War strategies. The Lincolns first occupied the house in June 1862, still mourning the death of their 12-year-old son, Willie.

Visitors can tour ten rooms, including a wood-paneled library that contains copies of Lincoln's favorite books (Shakespeare and the Bible among them) and a bedroom featuring a reproduction of Lincoln's black walnut desk and a facsimile of the Proclamation.

During his commute, Lincoln often passed poet Walt Whitman, who lived on the route; the two would exchange "very cordial" bows, Whitman wrote. One August night in 1864, a sniper shot off the president's hat as he approached the cottage grounds. Lincoln would be killed nine months later.

Boom Time
Eagle Lake, Texas—As the sun rises over the tallgrass prairie, one of the world's last wild Attwater's prairie chickens performs an unusual mating dance. The mottled brown grouse (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri), the size of a football, puffs out his neck and emits a low "woo woo" sound not unlike the sound made when blowing into a soft drink bottle. His neck and tail feathers stand erect, and he rapidly stamps his feet, turning 180 degrees. As a few females approach, he explodes in a dancing frenzy. Males are eager to impress: typically only one mates with all the females in his area.

The prairie chicken's elaborate mating ritual, called booming, is one of nature's fascinating little spectacles and even the inspiration for some Native American pow wow dances. But this particular species, the Attwater's, which hunkers down in the tallgrass prairies of the Gulf coastal region, is critically endangered. Fewer than 45 free-range birds are left in the country. The Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge is home to 38 of them. On April 12 and 13, the refuge, located 50 miles west of Houston, will allow visitors inside the birds' protected area to view the elaborate courtship dance from 100 yards away through binoculars and telescopes. The 10,528-acre refuge, established to rescue the birds as well as the prairie, also attracts other grassland birds such as owls and raptors, and is open year-round for birding and hiking.

 A century ago, a million Attwater's prairie chickens lived on six million acres of Gulf coastal prairie. With the loss of prairie to agriculture and urban development, barely 1 percent of the Attwater's habitat remains. Also contributing to their decline was their popularity on the 19th-century dinner table. "One of the perqs of a railroad worker's job," says refuge manager Terry Rossignol, "was the guarantee of a prairie chicken dinner every day." Texas wildlife authorities banned hunting of the birds in the 1930s to help preserve the dwindling population.

Although the refuge releases captive-bred Attwater's into the wild every year, half are lost to weather, disease and predation. "We've been able to raise the little guys past the critical stage," says Rossignol, but "they're at the bottom of the food chain. Everything eats them."

NEW ORLEANS—For 21 years, the Neville Brothers were the closing act for their hometown jazz festival, but "Katrina messed up life for everybody," says Aaron Neville, 67, who now lives near Nashville. "I couldn't go back," he says. "Too many memories." The 2005 hurricane damaged or destroyed his home and those of family members. Even as the Neville Brothers took their act to other cities, they donated proceeds from concerts and recordings to the relief effort. This month, Aaron Neville and his brothers Art, Charles and Cyril will reclaim their traditional spot at the 2008 Jazz & Heritage Festival, now in it's 39th year. "My family, my children are here. I buried my wife here," Aaron says of New Orleans. (His wife, Joel, died of cancer in January 2007.) "It will always belong to me and I will always belong to it." The festival, scaled back after Hurricane Katrina, returns this year to a seven-day schedule (April 25-27, May 1-4) at the Fair Grounds Race Course. The "Jazz Fest is back," says Quint Davis, its producer and director, and "speaks to our serious effort to grow the festival at a time when New Orleans needs it the most." Other artists scheduled to perform include Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Sheryl Crow and Jimmy Buffet. Additional information is at www.nojazzfest.com.

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