August 10, 2015

It's All Fun and Games at the President Woodrow Wilson House

  • By: Lauren Walser

At the President Woodrow Wilson House's Vintage Game Night guests can enjoy 1920s-era board games, croquet in the garden (weather permitting), and locally-brewed beer.

It’s not every day you can party at a president’s house. But at the President Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood, things get rowdy the first Wednesday of every month as doors open for Vintage Game Night.

Bring your competitive streak, or not. The night is less about winning and more about enjoying a night of 1920s fun in one of the city’s stately mansions ... that just so happened to be inhabited by the 28th president.

Set up in the dining room, drawing room, and outdoor patio, there are classic board games on hand like Snakes and Ladders, as well as Pit, the commodities trading card game (complete with a bell), inspired by the Chicago Board of Trade and the U.S. Corn Exchange. (Developed for Parker Brothers, the game was first sold in 1904.) Weather permitting, croquet is set up in the garden.

Guests can also enjoy locally brewed beer, as well as Wilson-era snacks -- think Cracker Jacks, animal crackers, popcorn, and pretzels.

150810_blog-photo_staff-at-trivia-night
National Trust for Historic Preservation staff think fast while playing a game at Vintage Game Night.

Vintage Game Night first opened to the public in March 2014.

“We challenged ourselves to think of an event we could host that would bring a different audience to the Woodrow Wilson House to experience [it] in a different way,” says Bob Enholm, executive director of the site.

The monthly event generally packs a full house, with guests spanning all demographics: young and old; tourists, locals, and neighbors; students, young professionals, architects, and government analysts.

“At the last Vintage Game Night, I met a professional angler,” Enholm says.

But it’s a manageable crowd. You won’t be elbowing your way to find a place to play cards. Enholm explains a limited number of tickets are available each month, which helps preserve the character of the event.

It’s the kind of thing President Wilson and his wife, Edith, may have enjoyed.

“President Woodrow Wilson was a more lively and fun-loving person than the austere figure ordinarily presented to us by history,” Enholm says.

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Guest at Vintage Game Night play Mahjong, a game regularly played by Edith Wilson herself.

The Wilsons moved into this brick house on S Street NW on the day they left the White House in 1921. President Wilson, who had suffered a stroke in 1919, remained convalescent while at the house. But Edith Wilson regularly played Mahjong and card games like Bridge.

A large collection of board games was left to the National Trust when it acquired the house (Edith Wilson left the house and its contents to the National Trust in her will). Enholm infers the games were played by visiting family members, including President Wilson’s three daughters and their families.

Vintage Game Night is a monthly affair, occurring the first Wednesday of every month (except January) from 5:30 to 8 p.m. (Don’t miss the next game night on September 2.) Tickets are $15, which includes entrance to the museum, two drink vouchers, snacks, and all-you-can-play games.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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