Site Of A D.C. Chinese Restaurant Has A Dark Past

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"The Conspirator" by director Robert Redford came in at No. 9 at the box office over the weekend. The film tells the story of Mary Surratt — a boarding house owner who was the lone female charged in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Her boarding house still stands in the nation's capital. But instead of a museum, it houses a Chinese restaurant.


A new movie, "The Conspirator," directed by Robert Redford, debuted in theaters over the weekend. The film tells the story of Mary Surratt, the one woman charged in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The boarding house she owned still stands in the nation's capital, and we dispatched NPR's Art Silverman to take a look.

ART SILVERMAN: I was going to go see the movie but, luckily, I heard clips from the film first.

(Soundbite of film, "The Conspirator")

Ms. ROBIN WRIGHT (Actor): (as Mary Surratt) Yes, my son hated the north. We all did. How can a Southerner feel anything but bitterness toward your side? But my son did not conspire to kill your president.

SILVERMAN: No way I was going to spend 10 bucks on this. But I had the assignment, so I did a little research. Actually, I had interns Abby Sykes and Jinae West do a little research on the boarding house.

Unidentified Woman #1: It's in Chinatown, on H Street.

Unidentified Woman #2: It got renovated so it could accommodate a commercial space on the first floor.

SILVERMAN: And what is it now?

Unidentified Woman #1: It's actually a Wok and Roll Chinese restaurant.

(Soundbite of sirens)

SILVERMAN: This is one of the shortest trips I've ever taken for an NPR story. We've come just two blocks. If you come through the alley, you could get here really quickly.

And right here is Wok and Roll Restaurant.

Ms. JENNIFER PYLE: During the Civil War, this modest brick house was occupied by a Maryland-born widow, Mary Surratt.

SILVERMAN: Unlike other historic sites in Washington, there's no line in front of the Surratt Boarding House. You won't get a history lesson there, just California roll and two dollar beers during happy hour.

For the record, there is a modest plaque in front of three-story structure. Visitor Jennifer Pyle of Clinton, New Jersey reads it to her family.

Ms. PYLE: She had a son in the Confederate Army. Another son, John, had become friends with the famous actor John Wilkes Booth.

SILVERMAN: Kim O'Connor of Rye, New York and a gaggle of friends arrive at the Surratt House unimpressed, with an appetite more for sushi than history.

Unidentified Woman #3: And we're going to get some lunch. We are starving and tired.

Unidentified Woman #4: And maybe we'll see a ghost. This is where it all was, huh?

Unidentified Woman #3: I had no idea. That's really funny.

Mr. MIKE JONES: Yeah, it's a pretty cool place. We came up to get some sushi.

SILVERMAN: Mike Jones of Annapolis, Zoe Reeves of Tucson and Elaine Smart of Clinton, Maryland, shrug off the way this restaurant ignores the marketing possibilities of a major motion picture, one playing just around the corner, in fact, at a multiplex.

Mr. ALEJANDRO AVILES(ph): You're saying that if I eat eggrolls here, I can also enjoy the historic site and watch the movie and have a full-circle experience.

SILVERMAN: Alejandro Aviles of Fayetteville, Arkansas, agrees that me that they could have at least named a menu item Surrat Sushi. But no, Wok and Roll remains an extremely understated shrine to a very evil plot, and maybe it's better that way.

Art Silverman, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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