Tag Archive | Abraham Lincoln

Circus Trip 2018: Henry Clay’s Ashland

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington was home to another prominent historical figure of the early to mid-1800s; a contemporary of Mary Todd Lincoln’s father, and definitely where she picked up some of her interest in politics.

Henry Clay, Sr. was born in 1777, and was influential in a long career in U.S. politics, from 1803 to his death in June 1852.  Henry Clay served in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, the U.S. Speaker of the House, a United States Senator, and Secretary of State during John Quincy Adams’ Presidency.  He became known as the Great Compromiser, for his role in diffusing a number of charged political disagreements during his career.

Despite his impressive political career, Clay’s ultimate goal eluded him.  He was a candidate for the Presidency three times: in 1824, 1832, and 1844.  In addition, he also sought the nomination in 1840 and 1848, but did not gain the support to be selected as the nominee.

Clay held a moderate view on slavery that was popular at the time; he believed slaves should be gradually emancipated, and he also promoted the idea of colonization, that is, returning freed slaves to Africa.  Clay inherited slaves as a young child and owned them his entire life, but historical documents of the time period show that he treated his slaves relatively well.  He was known to rarely split up families, and no evidence of him raping any of his female slaves or fathering children with them exists.  He freed his slaves upon his death in 1852.  Clay also consistently supported the recognition of Haiti as an independent nation; it was founded through a slave revolt.

At Clay’s estate in Lexington, Ashland, he was a farmer and innovator.  He imported the first Hereford cattle to the United States in 1817, and was an early enthusiast of horse racing.  He bred and refined race horses, and raced his own under buff and blue colors (the colors of the Whig party).  Eleven descendants of Clay’s horses have won the Kentucky Derby, which was first run in 1875.  He grew hemp, and manufactured hemp rope for the cotton industry.

Henry Clay also had a huge influence on an idol of mine – Abraham Lincoln. The first time Lincoln voted for a President, he voted for Henry Clay in 1832.  He campaigned for Clay in later elections, and heard Clay give a speech in 1847.  Abraham and Mary stopped in Lexington for three weeks in 1847 to visit her family on their way to Washington after Lincoln had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although the historical record does not say if Lincoln and Clay met during his time in Lexington or had corresponded before or after, I would like to think that they did.  A book of Clay’s speeches was recently discovered, showing that Clay had given it to Lincoln with this inscription, ”To Abraham Lincoln with constant regard to friendship H. Clay 11 May 1847.”

Lincoln delivered a eulogy of Clay in Springfield after his death in 1852, and frequently quoted Henry Clay in his later speeches.  Clay’s son John sent Lincoln a snuff box owned by his father in 1864; Lincoln’s letter to John indicates that he treasured the gift.

The home at Ashland was built in stages, with the center section of the home originally completed in 1809.  By 1811, Clay planned extensions, and the side wings were completed in the next year or two.  The home was designed in the Federal style, with the wings designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  Unfortunately, after Clay’s death in 1852, his widow Lucretia moved in with their son John, and the home was purchased by another son James.  The home was in such a state of disrepair that James felt that his only option was to raze and rebuild it.

James saved all of the pieces that he could from the original home, then had it rebuilt on the original foundation using the original architectural drawings.  After his death it was sold out of the family but returned when Clay’s granddaughter purchased it 16 years later.  They owned it until it was opened as a museum in 1950.  The home now contains features as originally designed, as well as Italianate, Victorian and Eastlake styles.

The tour is interesting, focusing on Henry Clay’s life and the features of the home.  You can visit the grounds, including an original ice house and the reconstructed formal garden, on your own.  And let me just say, you have no idea how many photos I took of that bumblebee trying to get one in focus!  I give myself a B-, but an A for effort (ha!)…

Unfortunately, no photos are permitted inside, but it is still well worth the visit!

Circus Trip 2018: Mary Todd Lincoln House

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

The Mary Todd Lincoln House itself was built between 1803 and 1806, and originally served as an inn.  If you don’t know Mary Todd Lincoln or why you should care about her family home, she was the wife of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. Mary’s father, Robert Todd, purchased the 14 room mansion in 1832 and lived here until his death in 1849.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House

 

Mary Todd Lincoln – 1846 – from Wikipedia

Mary was born in 1818, and didn’t move here until 1832, and even then, spent much of her time living in a boarding school for girls about a mile away.  Even though she could have traveled back and forth to school from home, she felt that staying at the school was a better option; she described the school as being more of a home for her than the home with her father and stepmother.  In her late teens, Mary moved to Springfield to live with her sister.  That’s my long way of saying that Mary Todd Lincoln really didn’t spent much time living in the Mary Todd Lincoln House, even though it was the family home during a part of her childhood.

Unfortunately, legal disputes after Todd’s death meant that the home was auctioned.  In the days after it left the Todd family, it was used as a boarding house, a grocery store, and even a brothel.  By the 1950s, the home was in rough shape, and a grassroots campaign began to save the home.  It was opened as a museum in 1977, making it the first museum dedicated to a First Lady.

Due to the fact that it is dedicated to Mary Todd Lincoln’s life, it tells a different story of her than is frequently depicted.  They are honest about her struggles with grief and mental illness but they also share that Mary was a very intelligent woman who played an enormous role in shaping her husband’s political career.  Abraham Lincoln married up; Mary Todd came from the upper class – high society of the West.  She knew politics, was very ambitious, and was not a woman content to wait in the wings in what was a society controlled by men.  The docents let visitors know about Mary’s qualities and her genteel upbringing.  They share openly about her trouble with her stepmother, and the fact that her father was often absent.  It was Mary’s sisters who felt more like mothers to her.

The home has been restored to what it would have looked like when Mary Todd Lincoln lived here, and they have been able to acquire some of the original Todd furnishings and household goods that were in the home.

They also have artifacts from Mary’s later life, including an original advertisement announcing the last night of Our American Cousin from its run at Ford’s Theatre, the play that Mary and Abraham attended the night Lincoln was assassinated.  If you read the date, you see that it was advertising the last night as Friday, April 14, 1865, the very night Lincoln was shot.

An advertisement for Our American Cousin

The docents at the home really do a great job of telling the story of Mary as her own person, rather than an extension of her later President husband.  As I have said, they are honest and candid about her shortcomings.  However, they also explain that her own and President Lincoln’s opponents painted an unfair portrait of her in the media, and their later “tell all” books.  Sensationalism drives sales; this hasn’t changed since the 1800s, and what better way to make a buck?

They allow photos within the home (yay!) and allow enough time in each room for guests to see everything and ask questions.  They really encourage questions even!  This was my second visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln Home, and it is still one of the best home museums I have been to.  If you are in Lexington, do visit!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mary Todd Lincoln

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

My first morning in Lexington, I knew I wanted to visit the Mary Todd Lincoln house.  It was pouring rain, so an indoor activity was perfect!  If you don’t already know, Mary Todd Lincoln was President Abraham Lincoln’s wife.  Most of you have probably heard of her, and I imagine what you have heard has been negative…  Mary Lincoln (she didn’t use her maiden name after marrying – we have added the Todd back in later in history) has been unfairly maligned, so maybe I can offer some information in her favor.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House

Mary was the fourth child of Robert Todd and his first wife Elizabeth “Eliza”; her mother died in childbirth when Mary was six years old.  Soon after, Robert married his second wife Elizabeth “Betsy,” and the couple had nine more children.  Mary’s relationship with her stepmother was rocky; but although history books often seem to portray Mary being the only problem child, it has been documented that none of the first six Todd children liked their step-mother.  Their father was distant and often absent, leaving the raising of the children to Betsy and the slaves.  Mary spent several years of her childhood in this home in Lexington, living in comfort; the family were slaveholders and she grew up attending a refining school, where she learned French, literature, dance, music, and social graces.  Mary was also raised with a knowledge of politics and formed her own opinions, long before she met or married Lincoln.

Mary Todd Lincoln – 1846 – from Wikipedia

Mary moved to Springfield, Illinois at the age of 20 to live with her sister; it was there that she met Abraham Lincoln.  Before courting Lincoln, his rival Stephen Douglas was also a suitor of hers, and it is no surprise, as Mary was pretty, refined, witty and intelligent.  During the Lincoln Presidency, her detractors criticized her for all sorts of perceived transgressions.  She was considered a traitor to the Union cause because several of her brothers served in the Confederacy.  What do you expect though?  Her family was from Kentucky, a border state and a slave state; loyalties there were divided.  The Lincolns were not the only family to have family members on both sides of the war – it was quite common.

Mary was villainized for her extravagant spending in the White House; modern historians theorize that it was a symptom of bipolar disorder, as she was known to swing between seemingly manic periods and deep depressions.  Another historian believed she suffered from pernicious anemia, which can apparently also cause these symptoms. The White House was in need of repair and updating too!  Mary was tasked with redecorating the White House; and as a woman of the time period, she set herself on this task that was one of the only things it was acceptable for a woman to control.  Perhaps she went a bit overboard, but the White House was essentially a pit when they moved in!

Regardless of whether she was mentally or physically ill, who could blame her for being a bit erratic?  Her every move as the President’s wife was watched and criticized by the media and Lincoln’s political rivals.  Contrary to modern-day beliefs, there was just as much mud-slinging and politicians and their supporters made vicious attacks on those they didn’t agree with then too.

Mary lost three of her four sons before they reached adulthood (Tad was 18 when he died); Robert Todd Lincoln was her only immediate family member to survive her.  She was sitting next to Lincoln as he was shot at point blank range in Ford’s Theatre; he slumped over onto her and she held him up until the doctors arrived.  All of this would make any of us go a little bit crazy.  It’s sad that nobody talks about how well she held up in the face of enormous pressure and grief.

As if that weren’t enough, her surviving son Robert had her committed to a mental institution.  He gained control of her finances after she was institutionalized; did he really have her best interest at heart?  She was only there for a few months before convincing the doctors that she was indeed sane, and was released.  Understandably, it created a rift in her relationship with her son that lasted the rest of her life.  I’m not sure I would trust my son after that move either…  After years of declining health, Mary died in 1882 at her sister’s home in Springfield, where she had lived for several years.

After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, his former law partner William Herndon was responsible for the biography that provided much of the information on Lincoln’s pre-White House life.  It is also known that Herndon and Mary Lincoln did not get along (that’s putting in mildly) and many scholars believed that Herndon unfairly portrayed Mary as a “serpent,” “she-wolf,” and the “female wild cat of the age.”  Was the characterization fair, or merely the result of a man who despised that she did not confine herself to the social norms of the era?

I’m reading Jean Baker’s biography, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography to learn more.  I’ll tell you about my visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln House next!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

Day 31, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hodgenville, Kentucky

I have for so long wanted to visit the site where our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln was born.  I have seen where he was a young man, where he was a lawyer, where he was President, and where he died…  It was so humbling to stand at the place where this great man began his life!

Sign Posing!

Lincoln was born here at Sinking Spring Farm (named for the water source) on February 12, 1809; he lived here for the first two years of his life.  His parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln made their living as farmers, and contrary to the usual story, Lincoln didn’t grow up particularly poor, by the standards of the day.  He did move around a lot though, as the family had to leave Sinking Spring Farm after a dispute about the ownership of the land.  They moved to nearby Knob Creek Farm in 1811, when Lincoln was two years old.

The Lincoln family Bible

The birthplace memorial here was completed in 1911, a few years after the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  A huge marble and granite Memorial Building was built between 1909 and 1911, in Greek and Roman architectural styles.  It has 56 steps up to the building, to represent the 56 years that Lincoln was alive. Sixteen windows on the building and sixteen rosettes on the ceiling represent the fact that he was our nation’s 16th President.  Inside, a symbolic birth cabin gives visitors an idea of what the cabin where Lincoln was born might have looked like.

The symbolic birth cabin was moved to the site when the Memorial Building was constructed, and had to be made smaller to fit inside the building, and to more accurately represent what Lincoln’s first home probably looked like.  At the time the Memorial Building was constructed, many people actually believed that this was the cabin where Lincoln was born.  Later technology allowed them to do dendochronology (tree ring analysis) in 2004 to determine that the cabin was not built until the 1840s, so it could not have been Lincoln’s birthplace.

When I first arrived, it had been pouring down rain, so I hurried into the Visitor’s Center and then hurried over to the Memorial Building.  When I went back outside, the sun had come back out!  I went down the 56 steps of the Memorial Building to check out Sinking Spring, the water feature which gave the farm its name.  Sinking Spring is an underground spring, with an outlet to the surface set down into a hole; this was certainly the first water Abraham Lincoln ever drank!

Knob Creek Farm is also part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park; it is located ten miles away from Sinking Spring Farm.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, this portion of the park was not staffed, so I didn’t get to see inside this cabin.  It was also not original to Lincoln or his family, but belonged to the family of one of the Lincolns’ neighbors.  The young boy who lived in this cabin is thought to have once saved young Abe Lincoln’s life when he fell into Knob Creek.  The cabin was moved here when the historical park was created.  It was peaceful and quiet and interesting to see another place where Lincoln spent time as a child; he lived here from the ages of two to seven.  Another land ownership dispute caused the family’s move to Indiana.

There were several signs posted indicating that Copperhead snakes make their home in the area.  I didn’t see any, but also didn’t go tromping off through the field to the creek!

After leaving Lincoln behind for the day, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, where I would be stopping for the night.  I saw a highway sign advertising Wildside Winery and decided to check it out!  They had good wines, and a nice selection of both dry and sweet wines.  I enjoyed talking with my server – it was his first day working at the winery – but he had lived in Brookings, Oregon for eight years, so we had the Pacific Northwest in common!  I purchased four bottles; one was their Wild Duet.  Sadly, they are all long gone now – but they were delicious!

That evening I camped at Boonesboro State Park in Lexington; the first of two nights I would spend there!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Lincoln Boyhood NM

Day 28, Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lincoln City, Indiana

After I left the Indiana Military Museum, I had one more stop I wanted to make in Indiana.  I was headed to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

The site was home to Abraham Lincoln and his family for 14 years, from 1816 – 1830.  Lincoln was only 7 when Thomas Lincoln moved the family to Indiana, after losing his previous homestead due to bad surveying and challenges to land titles.

Unfortunately for the Lincoln family, white snake root plant grew widely in the area; cows ate the plant and their milk and meat became contaminated and poisonous to humans.  Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, ended up dying of the milk sickness in 1818, when Lincoln was 9 years old.

Lincoln’s older sister Sarah became Lincoln’s caregiver, until Thomas Lincoln remarried another Sarah, Sarah Bush Johnston, who nurtured Lincoln’s children as if they were her own.  The blended family and one of Lincoln’s cousins all lived in the one room cabin together.

Lincoln lived in the settlement until he was 21; in 1830 Thomas Lincoln moved the family to Central Illinois.  The homestead faded into obscurity until interest was renewed in 1879.  Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s grave was discovered, as well as the graves of several others who had died over the years at the settlement.

In the 1920s, funds were raised to do an archaeological study to learn more about life in the community during the time Lincoln lived there.  The site became Lincoln State Park in 1932 and ownership of the land was transferred to the National Park Service to create the National Memorial in 1962.  The living farm on site was created in 1968.

When I visited, I checked out the Memorial Building, which has a movie about Lincoln’s childhood, as well as exhibits about the Lincoln’s time in Indiana.  The Park Service has a few of Thomas Lincoln’s possessions on display.  After I saw the Memorial Building, I walked down the trail to see Lincoln’s mother’s grave, and the reconstructed settlement site.

The cabin where Lincoln lived with his family is long gone, but flagstones and a reconstructed hearth mark the outline of where the cabin was.

Me with the foundation of the original cabin

Reconstructed barns and cabins provide visitors a sense of what life was like on the frontier during Lincoln’s time there.  Historical interpreters are there to answer questions and describe what they are doing during their days.

There is also a trail where you can see various stones from important times in Lincoln’s life.  There is a stone from the store Lincoln owned in New Salem, Illinois, as well as a stone from the boarding house where Lincoln was taken after he was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.  There are twelve stones in all, with explanations of where they came from.

A stone from the Berry-Lincoln store

It was interesting to see what life would have been like for Lincoln as a child and young adult.  The site has been planted with new trees that better represent what the land would have looked like 200 yeas ago, and about 150,000 people visit annually.   I enjoyed checking it out, and talking to the interpreters.  It was so profound to be able to walk where Lincoln had walked as a child and young man!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library

Day 22, Monday, August 6, 2018

Springfield is home to the Lincoln Museum and Library, a fascinating place!  The museum has many interactive exhibits, which are fun for the whole family.

When you first go into the museum, there is a performance in the museum’s theater.  It is probably best described as a play, but features a live actor interacting with holograms as the other characters!  It takes place in the museum’s library and shows the viewer several items of historical significance to Lincoln’s life.  The technology also allows the live actor to fade out of the scene, and they literally disappear in front of the viewer’s eyes!  If you go, make sure you check this out!

The Lincoln Museum also has a number of exhibits.  I really enjoyed the live actor who discussed Lincoln’s draft of the Emancipation Proclamation and the events leading up to it.  The actor portrayed Francis Carpenter, the actor who painted the portrait of Lincoln and his cabinet members.  He was very well informed, and coherently expressed the arguments for and against issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.  I watched for quite a while and was impressed by his level of knowledge.

Another favorite of mine was the map that moves through the Civil War time period, showing the movement of battles throughout the country, the territory held by the Union and the Confederacy, and tallying up the toll of casualties.  The map moves at a consistent pace, so you can see how some periods of the war were much more active and deadly than others.  It is punctuated with significant events of the war – it was very well done!

There are also exhibits of Lincoln artifacts, as well as an interesting exhibit on the cartoons that ran in the media outlets during his presidential campaigns and presidency.  If you think the media is ruthless and not neutral now, well, it wasn’t any different back then.

And last, but certainly not least, the Lincoln artifacts.  The museum displays a number of items that once belonged to Lincoln and his family members, including letters Lincoln wrote, jewelry he gave to Mary, and various memorabilia associated with the family.  There are also Lincoln items of historical significance, like sculptures and photographs of Lincoln throughout his life.  It is powerful to be so close to these articles that Lincoln once held in his own hands and see items that are 160 years old.

Across the street from the Lincoln Museum is an additional exhibit in the historic train station.  The exhibit when I visited was the movie Lincoln.  They had costumes and props that were used in the movie.  They also showed photos of the original clothing that the costumes were based upon.  Sally Field bears a resemblance to Mary Lincoln, especially when she was made up and costumed for her role in the movie, and it shows in the photos of the two that were displayed side by side.  They did a great job in the movie making things historically accurate, and it was interesting to see some of the props up close.

After I left the Lincoln Museum, I continued my journey east and arrived in Indiana.  I was going to be staying two nights in Dana, Indiana, with Marilyn, my brother’s mother-in-law.  It would be nice to be sleeping in a real bed, in a real house!

I got to Dana around dinner time, and Marilyn and I went out for dinner at a brewery in Terra Haute.  It was nice to be a passenger in a car and not have to drive!

Circus Trip 2018: Lincoln’s Home

Day 21, Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lincoln lived and worked in Springfield, Illinois for 17 years.  It is where he established his law practice with William Herndon, and where he purchased his only home.  The home he owned, and several of the neighboring homes, have been preserved as the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

Sign posing…

When Lincoln first purchased the home, it was a one and a half story cottage, with three rooms on the first floor and three sleeping lofts above.  Even though the home was only five years old when he bought it, Lincoln did extensive renovations, raising the roof to make a full second story, adding an addition on the back, and probably removing a large columned front porch.

After Lincoln’s death, the home was rented to a series of tenants, who began charging visitors to take a tour of the home.  This, and the fact that they did not leave the home in good condition, prompted Robert Lincoln to donate the home to the state of Illinois in 1887, with the stipulation that the home be available to the public at no charge. The home was restored to the period when Lincoln last lived in the home – 1861, so the home looks today like it did in the photographs taken at the time.

Ownership transferred to the National Park Service and it became a National Historic Site on August 18, 1971.  The site preserves the home and other period structures within a four block area around the home.

 

You have to sign up for a tour in order to see the home, but as agreed, it is free of charge.  The rangers take you through both levels of the home, from the public living areas to Lincoln’s and the children’s bedrooms.  The rugs and wallpapers are so loud and busy!  Most of the furniture is not original to the Lincoln’s time but is period.  However, Lincoln’s writing desk is the one he used, and it is humbling to see.  This is the desk where he wrote letters, studied and did his legal work at home.

 

I visited Lincoln’s Home once before, over 10 years ago, and really enjoyed the tour.  It was no less incredible this time around.  The rangers are great about telling the story of the home and answering questions.  The tour moves fairly quickly, because Lincoln’s Home is always a popular tourist attraction, so depending on the size of the group and the time of day you may feel a bit rushed.

A neighborhood home

 

Homes in the neighborhood

Be sure to take some time to wander the neighborhood as well; there are several other historic homes that have been preserved as a part of this historic site, and some interesting exhibits.

If you love Lincoln, you have to visit!