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The Main Event: Charming the Prince

By Selena Fragassi


The British were coming. That was the message the events team at President Lincoln’s Cottage received just three weeks before a special visit from Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla on March 19. The royal couple was in the States for a short four-day trip to promote the historical connections between the two countries, and part of their agenda was visiting the Washington, D.C. landmark in the midst of the 150th anniversaries of Lincoln’s death and the end of the Civil War.

“Camilla was sad their time was so short and she couldn’t explore more,” says Hilary Malson, marketing and membership coordinator. Though the tour was only scheduled for 30 minutes, Executive Director Erin Carlson Mast covered a lot of ground with the dignitaries, beginning with the history of the national monument, which sits on the 300-acre property of the Armed Forces Retirement Home and was once a favorite summer retreat for the Lincoln family. It’s the spot where the President wrote the Emancipation Proclamation that abolished slavery and is one of the few monuments that are open to private rentals.

Her Royal Highness was particularly interested in learning about what the foundation is currently doing to shed light on modern-day slavery and human trafficking, including the annual Students Opposing Slavery International Summit that brings together young voices from 20 different countries and the sale of survivor-made goods in the museum gift shop. The Prince and Duchess also took home gifts of their own for their grandson, Prince George. “We gave them copies of the definitive children’s book on Abe Lincoln as well as the inspirational best-seller ‘What Do You Do With An Idea?’ that we use in our educational programs,” says Malson.

Though President Lincoln’s Cottage has hosted high-profile visitors before—most notably actress Sally Field during the filming of her role as Mary Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic and President Bill Clinton who designated the grounds as a national site in 2000—nothing compared to the British royalty.

“We were not anticipating the size of the security detail,” says Events Coordinator Sahand Miraminy. “There were about 15-20 cars stretched across the lawn.” Miraminy and his team had held previous walk throughs with members of the Secret Service so they knew where everything was before the arrival. The events team also had to make sure the other groups on site that day were in their place, too.

“We had a lot going on. Without much lead time [for the royal visit] we had already made commitments to a site rental and a school group that date, and we wanted to honor them, which we did. But we also ensured that everyone was where they were supposed to be and not wandering by setting up designated spots,” recalls Miraminy. Lining up the swath of national press was also a challenge, especially after the Prince and Duchess’ visit to the National Mall the day prior was leaked, but Malson says it was overcome with “a lot of communication … We really learned the value of keeping everyone on all levels informed.”

The strategy helped the team gather up volunteers to work overtime the night prior to ensure that recent yard work around the cottage was cleaned up in time for all the press photos taken on the Verandah and expansive lawns, one of the favorite outdoor spaces in the city, says Malson. “You can’t find a bigger lawn besides The White House, and on a really clear day you can see all the way to the Capitol Building and Virginia.” It was a view even the royal couple won’t soon forget.

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President Lincoln’s Cottage
(202) 829.0436