Perhaps Marjorie Merriweather Post was just a natural entertainer. When she purchased Hillwood in 1955, she opened it to the public—but only after decorating it with a comprehensive collection of Russian Imperial and French decorative art, and commissioning a 25-acre landscape with rose gardens, a French parterre, and a greenhouse.
Amidst more than 2,000 animals, two stand out: Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, the famed giant pandas. But there’s plenty more to see at this free zoo, including orangutans that traverse a series of towers and cables 35 feet above spectators’ heads.
Many of the rooms in President Lincoln's Cottage resound with the voices of Lincoln and his houseguests, in the form of actor-interpreted recordings broadcast through audio speakers. Though not all rooms are accessible to the public, daily tours through this Gothic Revival home use interactive multimedia to tell the stories of Abraham Lincoln's ideas, struggles in passing emancipation, and family during the three summers they spent here during the Civil War. Knowledgeable guides divulge facts about the president's meditations and meetings, often tailoring tours to their areas of personal expertise, such as war or politics. They showcase video screens populated by images about Lincoln's life, and a replica of the president's desk scrawled with the words "Log Cabins 4eva." Guides also invite visitors to engage in conversation throughout the tour while welcoming them to sit on furniture.
The adjacent Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, built in 1905 and restored as a LEED-certified building, houses a range of both permanent and temporary exhibits. Visitors engage with interactive displays, photos, and manuscripts revealing the presidential Cabinet's feelings on emancipation, life in Washington DC during the Civil War, and the president's role as commander in chief. The cottage also hosts a lecture series with guests that have included historians, Lincoln experts, and an artist who sculpted a life-size statue of the president and his horse, which today stands watch over the cottage.
Merlot?s Masterpiece buries the anxieties of creating art under a comforting blanket of easy-to-follow instruction with a sidecar of wine or mimosas. An instructor flits around the room, offering pointers to students perched in front of their half-completed artworks. The subject matter varies from class to class, ranging from an O'Keefe-inspired floral blossom to Monet-inspired impressionist depictions of mermaids weaving hats out of water lilies. During each session, aspiring artists can sip on wine while making the most of the included supplies and canvas to paint the masterpiece they'll take home after the class.