Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Gettysburg

The Confederate Monument Debate. Ad Infinitum.

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Protesters in New Orleans Louisiana. May 16, 2017. Photo by Matthew Hinton

Original publish date:  August 17, 2017

There has been a lot of talk lately Confederate Civil War monuments and what they stand for. In fact recently, several of those monuments to rebel leaders and soldiers toppled by protesters and removed in the dark of the night by officials. My wife and I traveled to Gettysburg 2 to 3 times every year and a fairly wear out my Facebook friends with the many pictures I post from that famous battlefield. The monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield had escaped the relevant racial scrutiny and have often been viewed as untouchable and different from the ones being protested across the nation until last week when the debate hit the pages of the Gettysburg compiler newspaper.
Scott Hancock, an associate professor of History and Africana studies at Gettysburg College, says it may be time to question the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield. “As an African American, I’m glad for one that we seem to have a broader public movement consensus of people that want to get the history right,” Hancock said.

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Scott Hancock, associate professor at Gettysburg College.

Hancock explained that, in the last decade or so, a majority of historians have concluded that slavery was the central issue of the Civil War. As a result, the monuments dedicated to the Confederacy and Confederate figures represent a “narrow, twisted version of history,” Hancock said. For some, the Confederate monuments on the battlefield help tell the full story of the Battle of Gettysburg. If nothing else, Hancock’s story begs the question: Is there a difference between Confederate monuments found in public parks and those found on battlefields? What about Confederate monuments in cemeteries?
The root of the question may be historical context. Should Confederate soldier’s sacrifices, and in many cases their deaths, be recalled and remembered at the spot of their struggle? In my opinion, the battlefield monuments to both sides speak to all who view them. Not only do they represent the soldiers that fought there, they are also valuable pieces of public art. Often, they are made of stone native to that soldier’s state or placed upon a sacred spot of battlefield relevance.

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Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

One need only look as far as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to understand why those monuments are placed there. Lincoln said, ” Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
To most Americans that should be reason enough to leave the Confederate Civil War monuments found on battlefields in cemeteries in place. The question is not only consigned to the Gettysburg battlefield however. Indianapolis, although never the scene of a major Civil War battle, has monuments to Confederate dead as near as Garfield Park and Crown Hill Cemetery. Undoubtedly, the question of whether or not they should remain there will be debated soon.
The argument as to whether these monuments are part of our cultural landscape will most likely continue. As for their presence on battlefields and in cemeteries, these site-specific memorials were designed to be educational markers to interpret history. From Professor Hancock’s perspective is it appropriate to have markers of any kind honoring the Confederacy placed on public land and maintained by public money? For the record, that debate goes on within the Hunter household. But, I guess I’m just a late stage baby boomer who grew up during the Cold War and who is proud to have been born during the centennial celebration of the Civil War. So I guess it’s a generational thing.
I’m not prepared to make a personal political statement in this article but I did want to share an item from my collection that I feel speaks to the issue from a different perspective. Among the many collections I obsess over is my gathering of items of all sorts relating to the battle of Gettysburg. One such item is a set of documents I bought several years ago from January 1903.

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One is a two-page handwritten document on legal sized paper from the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) Headquarters post Bradberry Pennsylvania near Philadelphia dated January 28, 1903. The official resolution document reads: “Whereas the War of the Rebellion is over, and its memories alone remain. Among these memories none are more sacred or vivid than the three days fight on the Battlefield of Gettysburg. We remember the invasion of our soil by the Army of Rebels under the command of General Robert E Lee. Three days we fought the faux under the command of one who had sworn to support the Constitution and Sons of Our Country. Who had been educated at the nation’s expense, and honored by all the people: yet who in the hour of the country’s need proved himself an Arch Traitor.
What Gettysburg is we and our comrades have made it. The glory, the fame, the sentiment and reverence that cluster around that historic field, is all ours, and that of our fallen comrades. And whereas, it is proposed to erect a monument on the field of Gettysburg to the memory of this traitor Gen. Robert E Lee, at the joint expense of this Commonwealth and that of Virginia.
Therefore resolved, that we appeal to the Senators and Representatives of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met to defeat this insult to the memory of our dead comrades not only of Pennsylvania but of the whole country; as well as to those who survive, who gave the best efforts of their youth, to drive from Pennsylvania’s soil, the rebel hordes under the command of the Rebel General, to whom it is now proposed to honor.

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Resolved. That Thomas V. Cooper, a comrade of this post in presenting this bill and favoring its passage, voices but one comrade and does not speak for post-149. Resolved. That a copy of these resolutions under the seal of the post attested by the commander and adjutant, be sent to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State: and a copy of the same, sent to Headquarters of This Department.” The document is signed by three members of the post, (Thos. J. Dolphin, O. F. Bullard, & James H Worrall) All of whom I’m sure our former Union soldiers.

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The other is an 8.5 x 11 handwritten letter dated January 29, 1903 on the ornate letterhead of the “Headquarters John A Koltes Post No. 228 Department of Pennsylvania, G. A. R. Keystone Hall, 835 North Second St., Philadelphia” the letterhead features an image of the G.A.R. soldier’s badge at the top. The letter reads: “To the Officers and Comrades of Bradford Post No 149 Department of Pa. G. A. R. Comrades! The following resolution was unanimously adopted at a regular slated meeting of the above named Post, and I take pleasure in transmitting a copy thereof to you as directed. Namely, that we heartily congratulate our brave comrades of Bradford Post No 1494 the action they have taken so far regarding the erection of a memorial statue to Robert E Lee on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, through the apparent willingly given assistance of one of those members, Representative Thomas V Cooper, and we hope and earnestly trust, that in future Bradford post will endeavor and use the utmost ability to defeat said Thomas V Cooper for any further public position of honor or trust whatsoever. Resolved that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to Bradford Post No 149. Daniel L Hornick Commander.”
The letters illustrate that this debate was going on 40 years after the close of the Civil War and was being waged by the soldiers who participated in it. Think about the strife and turmoil that must’ve been swirling within the walls of this lodge as they protested the placement of the statue to the Rebel General they fought so bravely against. The ex-soldiers were so vehement in their opposition that they were willing to take on one of their most accomplished lodge members, Senator “Red Headed and Hopeful” Tom Cooper.

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Senator Thomas Valentine Cooper 1835-1909

Cooper served as a delegate to the 1860 Chicago Republican Convention and played a pivotal role in the nomination of Mr Lincoln. At the outset of the Civil War, Thomas helped organize Company F of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment and later enlisted in Hartranft’s Company C, 26th Regiment, serving three years in the Army of the Potomac. He mustered-out at Independence Hall, June 14, 1864, having served in 13 major engagements, including Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Thomas represented Delaware County in the State House of Representatives, 1870-72, and was elected to the state Senate in 1872. He served 17 consecutive years in the upper house. Cooper was a Mason, a member of the Bradbury G.A.R. Post . Cooper died in his home on December 19, 1909 after a freak fire engulfed his room, most likely, the result of an ash falling from his trademark cigar. Cooper had as much right to protest the placement of the Robert E Lee statue as anyone. His patriotic credentials were unquestioned. Yet he supported the placement of a Confederate monument on a battlefield he risked his life fighting on.

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The Virginia Monument at Gettysburg.

Despite the Bradford Post’s attempt to thwart the placement of the Lee Monument at Gettysburg, the iconic landmark was indeed placed there in the days just before World War I. The Virginia monument, located on West Confederate Avenue, was the first of the Confederate State monuments at Gettysburg. It was dedicated on June 8, 1917 and unveiled by Miss Virginia Carter, a niece of Robert E Lee. It is the largest of the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield, a fitting tribute for the state that provided the largest contingent to the Army of Northern Virginia, its commander, and its name. Lee’s figure, topping the monument astride his favorite horse, Traveler, was created by sculptor Frederick Sievers from photographs and life masks of the general. He even went to Lexington, Virginia to study Traveler’s skeleton, preserved at Washington and Lee University. The monument stands 41 feet high. The statue of Lee and Traveler stands 14 feet high. The total cost of the monument was $50,000. Virginia contributed over 19,000 men to the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, the largest contingent from the twelve Confederate states. Almost 4,500 of these – almost 1 out of 4 – became casualties, the second highest state total at Gettysburg.
When it comes to the battlefield, Hancock pointed out that, while most of the park’s monuments and markers were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century, several Confederate memorials were erected in the 1960s and 1970s. Hancock points out that many of those monuments to the Confederacy were erected before, during and after the civil rights movement and deserve particular scrutiny “because of the social and racial context of the time.” Hancock singled out the Confederate monuments along Confederate Avenue, in particular that of Mississippi, which was erected in the early 1970s. The monument speaks of Mississippians fighting for the “righteous cause” and “sacred heritage of honor.”
Voices on both sides of the issue will certainly attempt to add clarity in the days ahead. For instance, former Martin Luther King Jr. right-hand man, UN representative under Jimmy Carter and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young recently said, “I think it’s too costly to continue to fight the Civil War.” Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under George W. Bush, said this: “”When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing.” The debate promises to continue. But let’s not forget this is a debate that has been going on for over 150 years now.

Abe Lincoln, Indianapolis, Museums, Politics

Mike Pence & The Abraham Lincoln Mallet.

Pence Lincoln Mallet

Original publish date:  February 14, 2016.

Tuesday February 9th was an especially busy day for Governor Mike Pence. It was also an especially happy day for our state’s history-loving Chief Executive. That afternoon, he proudly watched as his protege, Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann, became president of Ivy Tech Community College. Governor Pence then introduced his pick to replace her, former state Republican Party chairman Eric Holcomb. Historic events for our state to be sure, but the Governor’s wide grin that afternoon was due mostly to an event he presided over at the Indiana State Museum earlier in the day.
That morning, Governor Pence unveiled the most important personal artifact ever discovered directly connected to Abraham Lincoln, the Hoosier. The rough-hewn handled relic is referred to by the State Museum as “Abraham Lincoln’s Mallet, 1829.” It was put on display at ISM on Lincoln’s birthday (February 12th) and will remain on view at the museum throughout 2016 to coincide with our state’s 200th anniversary celebration. It was the crescendo of a 188 year journey made almost entirely in secret. So secret that Governor Pence himself was kept in the dark about it until shortly before the unveiling.
z mallet 1The primitive looking hammer seems perfectly matched to the muscular 20-year-old young man who wielded it back in 1829. The mallet is made from the trunk of a tree cut from the virgin timber forest that once populated Spencer County, Indiana. No doubt Thomas Lincoln cut the tree from the unbroken forest surrounding the family cabin for use by his young son Abraham in splitting wood. Those famous “rail splitting” images we all remember from our history books? Well they all picture Honest Abe using this mallet.
State museum Chief Curator Dale Ogden points out that the mallet on display is about one half it’s original size. “It was originally twice this size in diameter. The mallet had a longer handle. The tool saw heavy use and the damage presumably occurred in the course of normal, everyday usage.” Ogden continues “The mallet is an extremely rare and important find that connects Abraham Lincoln to his Hoosier roots and to the rail-splitter legend.”
“This artifact was originally a splitting maul used by Lincoln to drive iron wedges into logs creating split rails for fencing. The maul head, made from a tree-root ball, eventually split in half,” said Steve Haaff, Spencer County resident and foremost expert on Lincoln furniture made in Indiana. “Rather than discard the tool, Lincoln repurposed it into a bench mallet he used to drive pegs into furniture and other fixtures. Lincoln discarded the long handle and relocated a shorter grip into the remaining portion of the maul to create a mallet.”
z mallet 4Before Governor Pence dropped the curtain to reveal the relic, he took off his jacket to reveal rolled up shirt sleeves in a workingman’s fashion to honor the Indiana Railsplitter. “I thought it was appropriate for the occasion,” the Governor explained. Staying in the moment, Pence harkens back to a predecessor by repeating Governor Otis Bowen’s quote, “Lincoln made Illinois, but Indiana made Lincoln.” He made sure to mention his trip to Southern Indiana a couple days before to bury another predecessor, Edgar Whitcomb, who died February 6th. Make no mistake about it, Mike Pence loves Indiana history.
Pence, a history major at Hanover College, could barely contain his excitment as he removed the cover hand-over-hand as if he were climbing a rope. When the cloth cover became stuck on top of the case, Pence was the one to dislodge it. Amid the awe inspiring big reveal, it was Pence himself who scurried to hastily gather the material now piled on the floor in front of the priceless relic and stow it safely, yet reverently, away behind the case. After his official duties were concluded, Mike Pence quickly slipped into a role that was obviously more pleasing to him; that of being a fan of Hoosier history.

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Steve Haaff and Governor Mike Pence.

According to Steve Haaff, the mallet descended through the family of Barnabus Carter, a neighbor of the Lincolns. Haaff explains that he has discovered nearly a dozen and a half original pieces of furniture attributed to Thomas Lincoln and his young apprentice Abraham. Most of the pieces are done in the Federal style but some are quite primitive. “Lincoln made this furniture for his neighbors and priced it according to what they could pay,” says Haaff. Dale Ogden expounds on Haaff’s statement by saying “If a person had $ 5 and a chicken, Thomas Lincoln made a piece of furniture equal to that price. If they had $ 5 and a pig, the quality appreciated accordingly.”
Of those 18 pieces, Haaff believes that half are in museums and half in private homes. Haaff is still turning up pieces today. “The stories behind the furniture are as much fun as discovering the furniture itself. Often, the owner is still using the furniture in their home everyday.” says Haaff. “The University of Michigan has a Lincoln cabinet in their office, not on display, but in their office. The staff had screwed in little gold cup hooks underneath the cabinet to hang their coffee cups from!”
In an attempt to unravel the mallet’s secret journey, I spoke with one of the family members present at the unveiling press conference. Tom Vicki explains that he first learned of the mallet’s existence from his cousin Keith Carter, the Gr-Gr-Gr-Great Grandson son of Barnabus. “I was told that the mallet was a family secret known by only a few. It had been kept hidden for 175 years in the basement ceiling of the Carter’s Richland, Indiana home.” Vicki continues, “It then traveled to Rockport for a few years before it ended up here. 187 years in the same family and Spencer County’s best kept secret the whole time”
z mallet 2The mallet most closely resembles a carnival strongman’s prop,or Thor’s hammer, but a closer examination immediately reveals it’s cryptic secret. Above the handle’s stem lay the initials “A.L.” with a year date of “1829.” Steve Haaff explains that the initials and date are not carved as one may surmise, but rather they are metal inlays. Haaff states, “Thomas Lincoln was a carpenter and Abe was his only apprentice. Thomas hoped that his young son would follow him into carpentry, but Abe Lincoln wanted to be a blacksmith. These metal pieces were inserted into the mallet by Abe Lincoln himself.”
z lincoln_logoISM’s Ogden further explains, “He didn’t put those initials and that date into the mallet because he was Abraham Lincoln, he put them there to mark the tool as his own. He was just a Hoosier farm-boy at the time with no idea he was on his way to becoming a legend.” Ogden, whose fervor for Lincoln is rivaled by few, explains the mallet’s secret by identifying it as the only known item that ties Abraham Lincoln to Indiana. “The Lincoln’s were Indiana pioneers, they arrived here just a week before we were made a state in the Union. While they were not poor, they were also not wealthy.” says Ogden. “The Lincoln family used everything they owned, in most cases using it all up. When they moved to Illinois in 1830, they couldn’t take everything with them and this mallet was among those things left behind. Whether Abe gave the mallet to his neighbors, or whether the Carter family simply picked it up from the pile of discards is debatable. But we’re certainly glad it survived and are delighted to be able to display it for our guests.”
Mr. Ogden, a subject of past articles, has an innate ability to blend history with current events. He presides over one of the foremost state-owned collections of Lincoln artifacts and memorabilia with an exuberance that borders on fanaticism. The bulk of the ISM collection was obtained from the Lincoln Financial Life Insurance company who began collecting all things Lincoln in 1915 and opened their museum in 1931. The museum closed in 2008 and for a time, the fate of the collection was in doubt. “There was talk of selling the collection at auction.” says Ogden. “One rumor had the collection being bought up by Donald Trump for display at one of his Casinos.”
z mallet 3Ogden explains that the ISM was fortunate to obtain the collection and although it is vast and comprehensive, he says that the question he got the most from visitors was, “Where is the Indiana material? and I always had to reply, There is no Indiana material. This mallet changes all that. Those railsplitter legends were all we had. This mallet confirms that folklore and brings all of those stories together.”
Steve Haaff talked about young Abe Lincoln’s subservient role to his father Thomas. “When Lincoln returned to Indiana in 1844 to campaign for Henry Clay for President, he visited a house of a neighbor who he knew to have a piece of furniture that Lincoln and his father had created.” Haaff continued, “As they passed, the buildings he knew were mostly gone. His wagon passed an empty, neglected saw pit and Lincoln remarked that this was where he and his father hand sawed the planks used to make his mother’s coffin.”
z-lincoln-abraham-youthLincoln’s mother Nancy died of milk sickness in October of 1818. Haaff states that the planks were made from a log from the leftovers pile used to make the family cabin. “Thomas made the coffin while 9-year-old Abe sat nearby and whittled the pegs for his mother’s coffin.” His mother’s death, and that of his beloved elder sister Sarah’s death 10 years later, devastated Lincoln and laid the foundation for the depression that haunted him for the rest of his life. No doubt, Thomas and Abraham made the coffin for Sarah too.
Although it can never be proved and is purely conjecture on my part, is it not hard to imagine that Lincoln may have used this very mallet in performance of those sad tasks. Maybe during one of those moments of melancholy in 1829, Lincoln carefully memorialized his ownership by carefully hammering in the pieces of metal he felt would hold significance to him in the future. Lincoln had issues with his years growing up in Southern Indiana and even deeper issues with his father. Thomas Lincoln never met his grandchildren, did not attend Abe & Mary’s wedding and Lincoln did not attend his father’s funeral in 1851. So, when the fog of depression cleared from 21-year-old Abraham Lincoln’s tortured soul, maybe he left that mallet behind on purpose. Now it is on display at the Indiana State Museum for you to go visit, examine and daydream about Lincoln the Hoosier.

 

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Governor Mike Pence and Alan E. Hunter
Abe Lincoln, Irvington Ghost Tours, Politics

Abraham Lincoln & the angels of Community North Hospital.

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Original publish date: March 21, 2016

This past October while leading a ghost tour through historic Irvington, I met a pair of lovely young women who posed an interesting question to me. The query came after I concluded my version of the Lincoln funeral train story, a tale fraught with emotional imagery and historical fancy that has been the last story on the tour for over a decade. As the group dispersed into the Irvington night, the young women sheepishly approached to ask their question. They introduced themselves as nurses at Community North hospital, not just any nurses, these were critical care nurses working in the hospice unit there.
As part of their duties they were often in charge of patients in the final stages of life and both had sadly witnessed firsthand the dying of the light many times. They wanted to share personal experiences with me, witnessed by both independently and together, that they hoped I might have an answer for. They explained that on more than a few occasions, patients would suddenly see the figure of Abraham Lincoln moments before dying. One instance in particular involved a recent near comatose patient arising with arms outstretched proclaiming that Abraham Lincoln was there in the room to deliver him up to heaven.

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Luckily, I was able to tell them that this was not the first time I had heard this story. As a lover of history, ghost stories, writer and folklore, I have become somewhat of an ersatz authority and repository of Abraham Lincoln ghost stories and sightings. Interestingly enough, most accounts I hear of Abraham Lincoln as a secular saint are rooted within the baby boomer generation although the roots of this belief can be found in his assassination on Easter weekend of 1865.
The assassination had occurred on Good Friday, and on the following Sunday, known colloquially as “Black Easter,” hundreds of church speakers found a sermon buried in the tragedy. Some men of the cloth viewed the act as more than mere coincidence that assassination day was also crucifixion day. One preacher declared, “Jesus Christ died for the world; Abraham Lincoln died for his country.” The meteoric posthumous growth of his reputation was influenced by the timing and circumstances of his death, which won for him a kind of saintly aura.
Although Lincoln enjoyed public popularity during his life, it was his death which erased all opposition and cemented his mythic identity. Lincoln’s shooting on Good Friday and death on Holy Saturday were his first steps on the stairway to heaven. Just moments after he breathed his last breath, Lincoln began his ascension to sainthood. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton kick-started the heavenward trip by stating, “Now he belongs to the angels.”
Churches across the country were now faced with the difficult task of celebrating Easter and mourning the death of Lincoln at the same time. The resulting nationwide church services devoted to Lincoln on Easter Sunday began his posthumous religious transformation from man of the people to Godlike status. Many Americans, North and South, came to believe that his death was the price we paid for the bloodshed of the Civil War. In fact, it became the capstone for America’s greatest internal sin: slavery.
The sermons preached on Easter Day, 1865 painted a theologically enigmatic portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Barely twenty-four hours after his death, Lincoln’s memory was already being defined as superhuman. Lincoln, as a symbolic figure, was revered not only by those who had supported him during his life, but now by all Americans, and soon by the whole world.
z 71.2009.081.0258_lbWithin forty-eight hours of his passing, the association of Lincoln’s character with American tradition began. The clergy, alongside their biblical images of Moses and martyrdom, also invoked the images of Lincoln and the founding fathers. In addition to grouping the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence as sacred texts, these sermons also established a link between Lincoln and the nation’s first President George Washington.
The timing and tragic nature of Lincoln’s death underscored the accomplishments of his life. Lincoln quickly became a central figure-perhaps the central figure-in the unfolding epic of America as a nation post 1865. Who else but Lincoln, the rough-hewn man forged on the prairies of Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois, could have seen us through the sectional conflict pitting brother-against-brother? The plain speaker-unpolished, unschooled, and untutored- somehow managed to master a situation that was in his own words “piled high with difficulty.” He did so with a rhetorical mastery that no other American political figure has come close to matching since.
Generations of schoolchildren were taught to memorize two things: the Pledge of Allegiance and the Gettysburg address. Lincoln’s image graces both our paper money and our coinage. Lincoln is referred to as Father Abraham, Honest Abe and the Great Emancipator. Therefore it should come as no surprise to even the most casual observer that Lincoln’s evolution into a religious figure was / is inevitable. Couple that with the realization that more and more late 20th / early 21st century Americans are drifting further away from organized religion and the church, and these visions of Lincoln in the last moments of life become more easily explained.

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If Abraham Lincoln does not assume the identity of God to these folks, he must certainly signify the most positive prospects of heaven. I have studied Lincoln’s complicated religious beliefs over the years through conversations with Lincoln scholar and author C. Wayne Temple, whose 1995 book “Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet” is considered the definitive study on the subject. It appears that Abraham Lincoln was a deist, making the view of him as a prophet, angel or Godlike figure all the more ironic. A deist is defined as “a person who accepts the belief in god,but does not believe in the religion.” To a deist, the concept of God is rhetorical with a belief in his power of creation and omnipotence, but unrelated to organized religion.
The religious views of Abraham Lincoln remain a matter of interest among scholars and the public. Lincoln grew up in a highly religious Baptist family. He never joined any church, and sometimes (as a young man) ridiculed revivalists. He often referred to God and had a deep knowledge of the Bible, regularly quoting from it. Lincoln attended Protestant church services with his wife and children, and after two of them died he became more intensely concerned with religion. In short, Lincoln was the “thinking man’s” Christian whose religious ambiguity makes him a perfect candidate for a last second spiritual visitation.
When the sermons of April 16, 1865 asked the American people to “pledge not only to the affectionate memory of our MARTYR but to the imitation of his character and the perpetuation of his principles” a spiritual place was created for Lincoln in the American mind which has existed ever since. The Lincoln of legend has grown into a temporal god available to assume a shape to please almost anyone at anytime.
A 2015 Gallup poll shows that Americans’ trust in organized religion is on the decline, continuing a gradual, decades-long trend. Gallup noted in their commentary on the poll that “Once reliably at the top of Gallup’s confidence in institutions list, [organized religion] now ranks fourth behind the military, small business and the police, and just ahead of the medical system.”
The poll shows that only 42% of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in organized religion or the Church, well below the high of 68% in the 1970s. This coincides with a 2014 Pew Study showing Americans are becoming increasingly unlikely to identify with any particular religion and that America is building fewer churches. The amount of construction spending on religious structures has dropped by 62% since January 2002. Therefore, it stands to reason that more and more people are apt to view Abraham Lincoln as a savior at the closing moments of their life.

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Dr. Charles A. Leale in 1865.

As for me, I think it important for all people to believe in something bigger than themselves, whatever or whomever that may be. So to the nurses of Community North Hospital’s Hospice care unit I want to say thank you for sparking this conversation. Thank you for caring enough to recall with kindness and concern the plight of your beloved patients. It is good for us all to know that you care as deeply as you do right up until the last moments of precious life. One of my personal heroes of the Lincoln assassination saga is a 23-year-old U.S. Army Surgeon named Dr. Charles Leale. For most of that tragic night, Leale held the dying president’s hand. He later said “I held his hand firmly to let him know, in his blindness, that he had a friend.” Ladies, it cheers me to think that the patients of Community North know that they too have angels in the darkness.

Abe Lincoln, Auctions, Museums

Osborn Oldroyd-Keeper of the Lincoln flame. Part IV

z p15155coll1-3429Original publish date:  July 27, 2017

I have spent the last 3 weeks retracing the steps I have taken chasing one of my heroes, Osborn Oldroyd. In early June of this year, I was contacted by a Marshalltown, Iowa auction house in who informed me of a small group of items they were auctioning off that came from the Oldroyd museum in Springfield. There were 10 items in the sale that could be directly traced to Osborn Oldroyd’s museum. They were 10 items marked as being “Property of O.H. Oldroyd” in one form or another.

IMG_1924On June 16th I found myself in Marshalltown examining the items. I obtained my bidder number, which happened to be bidder # 1, and retreated to my hotel room to await the next day’s auction. There’s not a lot to do in Marshalltown, Iowa so I decided to take a drive to the nearby community of LeClaire, Iowa to mark time.

LeClaire rests a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River. The town is best known as the home of TV’s American Pickers. The duo’s Antique Archaeology headquarters is a converted gas station and car wash atop a small rise on the west side of the river. I pulled in about 9:30 in the morning, a half hour before they opened, and drove slowly through a crowd of some thirty people who all stopped and stared at me uncomfortably as I cruised past. I soon realized that these people were checking me out carefully to make sure I wasn’t one of “them”. The disappointment was palpable as they realized I wasn’t Frank Fritz or Mike Wolfe. I walked around the buildings, looked through the windows, and since I wasn’t in the market for a 10-foot gas station or junk car and didn’t need any American Pickers t-shirts, coffee mugs, hats or water bottles, I headed back to Marshalltown. IMG_1921

The Oldroyd lots were in the middle of a 600 lot sale billed as a “Gentlemen’s Items and Silver Collector’s Auction” by the Tom Harris auction house. So I sat patiently and watched nearly 200 items (mostly an assortment of old fashioned silver matchsafes) get gaveled down before my first item came up on the auction block. I won’t bore you any further with a blow-by-blow account of each item’s bidding and disposition, however, when the dust cleared, I had won 8 out of 10 Oldroyd items sold that day. Why not 10 out of 10, you ask? Well, as I am not independently wealthy, I decided it best to let 2 lots (a pair of eyeglasses with a dubious claim to fame and a cabinet photo made after Lincoln’s death) be sacrificed for the acquisition of the other 8.

IMG_7343Among the items I brought home were a pair of contemporaneous framed leaflets. Both are displayed starkly in black wood and glass frames, one is a copy of Lincoln’s farewell address to the citizens of Springfield and the other a copy of Lincoln’s favorite poem. The farewell address is important to me because Lincoln’s first stop after the delivery of this poignant edict was Indianapolis. The next item was a classic looking photo of Lincoln ascending to heaven wrapped in the open arms of George Washington. The careworn oval metal frame fits snugly in the palm and bears the wear and patina of an item held repeatedly in the loving hands of a legion of Lincoln admirers.

IMG_7339The next item is the haunting life mask of Abraham Lincoln that once hung on the wall of the museum. The lifesized mask is attached to a larger handcrafted oval wooden plaque with a smaller brass nameplate attached to the front. The lifemask, made by artist Leonard Volk in 1860 before Lincoln grew his signature beard, is an accurate representation of what it would have been like to look at the face of a young and vibrant Lincoln. This item was surely a highlight of the museum and, judging by the loss of paint and subsequent repair of the nose, was a good luck talisman for all visitors. Rubbing Lincoln’s nose is still a popular tradition at the Lincoln tomb in Springfield.

The next item was, according to Oldroyd, the last Bible that the Lincoln family ever IMG_7352owned. The Bible was obtained by Oldroyd after Mr. Lincoln was killed and presumably following the death of Mary and Tad Lincoln. The phone book sized Bible shows signs of heavy wear and transport in compliance with the somewhat vagabond lifestyle led by Mary and Tad after vacating the White House in 1865. Mary died in 1882. Tad preceded her in 1871. The Bible includes a couple pages of contemporary Carte de Visite photographs of the Lincoln family along with a few other disparate images from the Civil War and immediate post period. The inclusion of CDVs depicting Union Civil War Generals Grant, Sheridan, Burnside and Sherman alongside images of the US Capitol Dome under construction and George and Martha Washington could easily be construed as Tad’s version of collecting baseball cards.

IMG_7348The last three items of acquisition were perhaps the most important to me. I am a native Hoosier. I cherish the idea that Abraham Lincoln grew to manhood in the southern region of my home state. These three items offered a direct connection to Lincoln and Indiana. The first two items are innocuous in their relevance to Lincoln the Hoosier; the Lincoln family coffee grinder and Abraham Lincoln’s ice skate. IMG_7349

The ancient looking coffee grinder consists of a sturdy metal handle crank sprouting from the top of a wooden cabinet tower. The coffee maker’s tower was likely constructed by Abraham Lincoln’s father Thomas, a carpenter by trade. Hidden at the foot of the cabinet is a small drawer designed to catch the ground up remains of coffee beans. The Lincoln homestead in Spencer County was part of the western frontier when the family arrived in 1816. Many diaries and letters confirm the importance of coffee to Western pioneers. In his diary, Josiah Gregg, a frontier trapper, wrote about the pioneers’ love of coffee. “The insatiable appetite acquired by travellers upon the Prairies is almost incredible, and the quantity of coffee drank is still more so,” he wrote. “It is an unfailing and apparently indispensable beverage, served at every meal.” This innocent looking household appliance would have been one of the most cherished articles owned by the Lincoln family as young Abe grew up.

IMG_7346The next Indiana Lincoln item is an ice skate. The thick wooden shoe stand is shaped like an hourglass. The heavy iron blade is curled at each end like an ancient Crakow shoe. While no official reference exists of Lincoln the ice skater, the skate presents a romantic image of boyhood Lincoln at play on a frozen southern Indiana pond. Simply holding it in your hands brings a smile to your face.

The last item I purchased was the one I had resolved was heading back home to Indiana IMG_7350with me, at all costs. It is an ancient looking Colonial Era metal candle maker. During colonial times up to the Antebellum Era, candles were the main source of light during the long, dark, nighttime hours. Candles on the western frontier were made from beeswax and tallow (animal fat). The wicks were lain loosely inside the tube as the wax was poured in around them to harden.

IMG_7351Included with the candle maker is a framed certificate written and signed by Osborn Oldroyd reading: “This candle maker is from the Lincoln and Sparrow Cabin on Pigeon Creek Indiana (1818-1835) O.H. Oldroyd Washington April 9, 1901”. The certificate has a small brass diecut tab attached with the seal of the state of Indiana inset. It would be hard to find a more romantic artifact to illustrate Lincoln’s time spent in the Hoosier state. Young Abraham may well have learned to read by the light of a candle made in this, the Lincoln family candle mold. Stories abound of Young Abe the railsplitter reading by candle and fire light into the wee hours of the morning after a long day’s work in the fields.

The reference by Oldroyd to the “Lincoln-Sparrow” cabin is an obscure one, recognized by only the most astute Lincoln scholar. Elizabeth and Thomas Sparrow (Nancy’s maternal aunt and uncle), moved in with the Lincoln family at Pigeon (or Pidgin) Creek in 1817 a year before Captain Oldroyd’s certificate denotes. The Lincolns had just finished their cabin and moved out of their 3-sided lean-to, later known as the “half-faced camp”. The Sparrows were given the lean-to to live in while they built their cabin. Shortly after the Sparrows arrived, Nancy bought six milk cows to provide milk for the two families. In the fall of 1818, an illness known as “the milk-sick” swept the area. People at Pigeon Creek were dying from drinking milk. To be safe the Lincolns and Sparrows kept the children from drinking milk. However, the adults of both families drank it for almost two years before becoming sick. Lincoln’s “Angel Mother” and the Sparrows all died of the milk-sick. 9-year-old Abraham Lincoln never really got over the childhood loss.

So now you can see why these items were so important for me to bring back to Indiana. They belong here. Ironically, two days after I returned from my Iowa Oldroyd journey, I was visited in my home by WISH-TV 8 reporter Dick Wolfsie. Dick was on a visit to film a segment (which as of this writing has not aired) for a Saturday morning broadcast about collectors and their collections. The items were so new to me that they remained spread out on the kitchen counter with the original auction lot number tags attached.

Like me, Mr. Wolfsie was excited to handle the items. He was drawn in particular to the Lincoln Family Bible which was featured prominently in the segments. He was also drawn to the Lincoln ice skate. How could anyone not be drawn to Abe Lincoln’s ice skate? Dick’s only question was “Where is the other one?” The segments will air soon and can be viewed by going to Dick Wolfsie’s Channel 8 webpage and clicking on his profile and segment list.

A few days later, I received a phone call from representatives of the American Pickers crew. Seems that Frank and Mike were on their way to Indiana in search of stories and things to buy. I informed them that while I certainly had stories to share, I had nothing to sell. We took a mutual pass.

Oldroyd Part IVLastly, my wife treated me to a birthday trip to Springfield, Illinois in July. I traveled to the Lincoln home on an early Saturday morning to reflect while seated in front of the Lincoln home. Based on trips past, I’ve learned that the early morning hours are best. No school buses, tourists or fitness walkers / bikers to mar the scene. I have been coming to Springfield for many years. Of course, Abraham Lincoln is the reason for my visit. However, I never forget that Osborn Oldroyd lived in the house and operated his museum here for nearly a decade (1884-93). I’d asked several people, ranging from officials at the Lincoln museum to parks department employees, about Oldroyd in the past but always got a cool reception to my querie.

On this latest visit, I wandered over to the interpretive marker directly across the street and facing the Lincoln home. Much to my amazement, there he was. The newly placed plaque is dedicated to Osborn Oldroyd’s museum once housed there. I could not believe my eyes! At last, Oldroyd has received official recognition from the powers that be in Lincoln’s Springfield. Maybe things are looking up for Captain Oldroyd after all. I doubt that I’ll ever be prouder of a historical pursuit that I was that morning.

Abe Lincoln, Assassinations, Museums

Osborn Oldroyd-Keeper of the Lincoln flame. Part III

z osborn-oldroydOriginal publish date:  July 20, 2017

In the past two columns I’ve introduced you to Osborn Oldroyd, king of all Lincoln collectors. Over the years, I have chased Oldroyd from Springfield, Illinois to Washington D.C. to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and most recently to Marshalltown,Iowa. In Gettysburg, I purchased a collection of Oldroyd memorabilia assembled over two decades by a former Abraham Lincoln impersonator named Bill Ciampa.                                                   The collection of over 300 items included photos, postcards, books, literature, brochures, business cards, certificates and even a paperweight. But the bulk of the assemblage consisted of letters written to Oldroyd spanning the time he spent living in the Lincoln family home in Springfield to his move to the “House Where Lincoln died” across the street from Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.           Granted, the letters were a bit picked over by the time they landed in my lap. Gone were the letters from the big names associated with the life and death of Abraham Lincoln that Oldroyd quoted in his many books about our sixteenth President. There was no U.S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Mary Lincoln, Winfield Hancock or George Meade, although Oldroyd was known to have corresponded with all of them. But there were a couple famous, albeit obscure, personalities from the Lincoln Era that remained. I recognized a letter from suffragette and women’s Temperance leader Frances Willard as well as another from T.M. Harris, a Brigadier General who served on the Lincoln Conspirators trial in Washington, D.C. Harris wrote the forward to one of Oldroyd’s books.

There was a fascinating letter from Ferdinand Petersen, son of the owner of the House where Lincoln died, who was present the night Lincoln was assassinated. The letter was written in October of 1913 by Ferdinand to Oldroyd in an effort to clear up several myths that had plagued his family for years about that tragic night. “It makes me tired as the youngest man living of the very few left who were there at the time…I own and still have the pillow cases on which President Abraham Lincoln died and I have mostly all of the pictures that were in the room at the time and…I do not wish to sell them to the Government either nor any relic I have…Someday I’ll hand them over to the government for preservation.” Ferdinand also makes it a point to dispel the rumor that the Petersen house was ever a rooming house, “it was a home”.

z Louis-WeichmannAnother of the letters, dated Dec. 10, 1902, touched me personally because it was written by the sister of Louis Weichmann, the main government witness at the trial of the conspirators. Weichmann lived in Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house and many believe it was Weichmann’s testimony that got Mary Surratt hung. Weichmann moved to Anderson Indiana after the trial and founded Anderson business college. He is buried in Anderson’s St. Francis cemetery in an unmarked grave. “Dear Sir-I am sending you a copy of Sundays Indianapolis Journal containing a confession of one of the conspirators of President Lincoln….With best regards from our family, I remain Sincerely yours, Mrs. C.O. Crowley Sister of the late L.J. Wiechmann.” Curiously, Mrs. Crowley misspelled her own maiden name in her letter.

There is an amusing letter dated April 9, 1906 from Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury to Oldroyd: “It is requested that the flag in which J. Wilkes Booth caught his spur, and which was loaned to you for temporary use in the house in which President Lincoln died, be delivered to the bearer for return to the Treasury Department.” It’s easy to imagine Oldroyd’s dismay at the prospect of returning such an important artifact from his museum. More so, it intonates that this may not have been the first request for return.

However, it was the letters from common, everyday people that proved to be the most fascinating. The letters began in 1869 while Osborn was just an average autograph seeker and continued through to 1929 after Oldroyd sold his collection to the US Government and just months before he died in 1930. Several of the letters are from prospective customers wishing to obtain a copy of one of Oldroyd’s many books or souvenirs about Lincoln. Many of the letters were sent by visitors to his Lincoln museum. They extol the hearty virtues of Oldroyd’s collection and his superior tour guide skills. (Funny, most of these are from women leading me to believe that Captain Oldroyd was an unashamed flirt.) Still more are from folks wishing to send Oldroyd some cherished family Lincoln memento for display in his museum. All of the letters offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of Osborn Oldroyd.

Two of the letters hail from the Hoosier state. One written in 1929 from L.N. Hines, President of Indiana State Teachers College (modern day ISU in Terre Haute): “I always remember my wonderful visit with you a year ago last February. I hope that I may be fortunate enough to come your way again before long.” and the other from a man in Larwill, Indiana written in 1926: “We have in our possession (sic) a campaign button of Lincoln & Hamlin. Would you care to have it among your other relics? Resp. Burton R. White”

The others, well, they’re from all over. They address Oldroyd variously as Colonel, Uncle, Cousin, Father, or Captain. A Boston lawyer writes: “I send you, herewith, a ticket of admission to the ‘Green Room’ (at the White House) on the occasion of President Lincoln’s funeral, April 19, 1865.” A York, Pennsylvania museum curator writes: “We have…a wooden short sword made out of the table that ‘Peanut Johnny’ used in front of Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was shot. It was ‘Johnny’ who held Booth’s horse.”

A Chicago businessman writes, “I want you to know how keenly I appreciate the kindness and courtesy which you showed me while in your museum. I count the hours spent there and with you, as the most pleasent (sic) and profitable ones of my weeks visit to our capitol.” A famous Washington DC female lawyer writes, “I have a friend who is in limited circumstances who has a very small lock of President Lincoln’s hair-which she wishes to dispose of-It occurs to me that you must know persons interested in Lincoln relics who might like to purchase this. It was given to Miss Gardner’s father Alexander Gardner, photographer to the Army of the Potomac by the undertaker who prepared Lincoln’s body for burial.”

Over the past several years, I feel like I’ve traveled in the footsteps of Oldroyd many times. I’ve experienced his highs and his lows. I’ve struggled alongside him as he labored to gain legitimacy for what Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert referred to as “Oldroyd’s Traps”. I agonized with his quest to sell his priceless collection to the United States Government (far below value) that took years to finalize. I think I understand him better now and, after three articles, you should too.

I think my feelings may best be summed up in a letter found in the collection that has become one of my favorites: “Washington, D.C. May 2, 1926. Dear Father Oldroyd: Accept hearty congratulations! I am glad I have lived to see your long years of effort rewarded, and your dream of sixty-three years come true. Very Sincerely, Kathie.” That letter sums it all up for me. Besides, my mother-in-law’s name is Kathie and I kinda like her too.

In the few years that have passed since I first wrote this series, a few things have changed. I have continued my pursuit of all things Oldroyd by picking up a few things here and there. I spent a weekend at the Lilly Library (on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington) to examine a small group of letters and documents written by, or belonging to, Osborn Oldroyd. The library was created in the late 1950s by Josiah Kirby “Joe” Lilly Jr. (1893 – 1966) grandson of Pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly. The Lilly Library, named in honor of the family, houses the university’s rare book and manuscript collections.

Lilly was a prolific collector of rare books and Indiana historical memorabilia. His collection included a First Folio of the works of William Shakespeare, a Gutenberg Bible, a double-elephant folio of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, the first printing of the American Declaration of Independence (the Dunlap Broadside), and a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane. Lilly’s gold coin collection is in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. In a November 26, 1954 letter to I.U. President Herman B Wells, Lilly outlined his intention to donate the bulk of his collection to the university. IU announced the donation, which the New York Times estimated at over $5 million, on January 8, 1956. Lilly’s donation eventually totaled over 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts, including over 350 oil paintings and prints.

z IMG_9951Included within that collection was a group of several dozen items that once belonged to Osborn Oldroyd himself. This included correspondence from Anderson’s Louis Weichmann to Oldroyd about shared information for books about Abraham Lincoln both men were simultaneously working on as well as photos and several handwritten eyewitness accounts of the assassination of President Lincoln. My personal favorite was a pencil drawing of Lincoln Conspirator Lewis Thornton Powell drawn by Crawfordsville, Indiana’s General Lew Wallace.

While most people recall General Wallace as the author of Ben Hur, many forget that he had other claims to fame including nearly single-handedly saving Washington DC from capture by Rebel General Jubal Early’s troops at the Battle of Monocacy in 1864. He would later be appointed Governor of the New Mexico territory during Billy the Kid’s exploits and also served as a member of the Lincoln assassination conspirator’s trials. General Wallace made the drawing of Powell during the trial while sitting just a few feet away from the man who nearly killed Secretary of State William Seward. Powell would be hanged for his crime. No doubt this single item is the reason these particular Oldroyd items ended up at the Lilly Library.

What I came away from, after my Springtime visit to IU’s Lilly Library, was an even deeper understanding of the passion that must have driven Osborn Oldroyd’s pursuit of Lincoln Memorabilia. It became easy to understand the euphoria that surely overcame Oldroyd as he received, opened and read these personal accounts written by people connected to Mr. Lincoln. Viewing these priceless relics also reinforced the value of Osborn Oldroyd’s obsession. For without them, precious details and specific memories of historic events would have been lost forever. And thanks to Mr. Lilly, these particular objects are henceforth and forever available for viewing by all Hoosiers at the Lilly Library in B-town. Little did I know that this Springtime visit to my alma mater was just the beginning of a journey that would occupy the next month of my life.
Next week: part IV of “Osborn Oldroyd-Keeper of the Lincoln Flame.”

Abe Lincoln, Museums, Politics

Osborn Oldroyd-Keeper of the Lincoln flame. Part II

Oldroyd Part 2Original publish date:  July 13, 2017

Abraham Lincoln collector and self-appointed curator of the Lincoln legend, Osborn Oldroyd, was not the type of man to stay down for long. After being unceremoniously kicked out of the Lincoln home in Springfield, Illinois in 1893, he soon found a new home for his “Lincoln museum” in Washington, D.C. In typical Oldroyd fashion, “Captain” Oldroyd now set up his “Lincoln museum” in the Petersen House, the home where Lincoln died located across the street from Ford’s Theater. As before, he set up his displays on the first floor and lived with his family on the second floor. One thing changed for Oldroyd though; this time he actually paid rent.
The move was not without controversy as critics charged that Oldroyd’s new museum featured artifacts he pilfered from the Lincoln home in Springfield. “He pretty much cleaned house when he moved out”, says Dr. James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Presidential library and museum in Springfield, “He removed property including the cast iron stove once cherished by Mary Lincoln along with the cradle she used to rock three of the four Lincoln boys in. He also removed a lot of the original wallpaper.” It would take researchers decades to decipher the original wall coverings from the Lincoln era; even longer to recreate them. They have all been painstakingly restored today.
According to the official 1992 Lincoln Home report, “By the time Oldroyd had been removed as custodian, the home had suffered irreversibly significant damage, with irreplaceable historic fabric removed and discarded without either a trace or documentary record of its appearance. After Oldroyd, the Lincoln Home would truly never be the same home known by the (Lincoln) family for their 17 years in Springfield.” In defense of Col. Oldroyd, this report was written nearly a century after the Oldroyd’s moved out of the house.
1Ironically, the same year that Oldroyd moved to the Peterson house, Ford’s Theatre, where John Wilkes Booth had shot Abraham Lincoln, collapsed. The building, closed since the President’s death, operated as an office until June 9, 1893 when the interior of the historic building collapsed. Twenty-two clerks died in the tragedy and sixty-eight others were seriously injured. Within a year the damage was repaired and the former theatre was remodeled for use as a government warehouse.
A well-known German-American attorney, Louis Schade, purchased the Petersen House in 1878 for $4,500. He used it as his home and office space for his newspaper, The Washington Sentinel.Frustrated by nonstop visitors, Louis Schade sold the Petersen House to the Memorial Association of D.C. In 1896, this group then hired Oldroyd to live there and showcase his extensive display of Lincoln-related objects. The price for viewing his Lincoln memorabilia collection, you guessed it, twenty- five cents. In 1917, he wrote and published “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”, detailing the murder and death of his hero. The book became an overnight best seller.
What makes this particular Oldroyd book (he wrote several) so fascinating is the fact that Odroyd actually walked the entire John Wilkes Booth escape route, over 100 miles, on foot. Along the way, he stayed in homes, barns and buildings wherever he could find them. In some case these buildings had connections to the participants involved in that tragic night. He brought along his early Kodak box camera to record the buildings and scenes as Booth might have seen them. We owe a great debt to Oldroyd for this singular pursuit in particular as the landscape was rapidly changing and the buildings were literally melting into the ground.
In 1925, in failing health, Oldroyd decided to sell his collection of Lincoln memorabilia, including rare books, photographs, mementos, and Lincoln’s original furniture, to the United States government. Oldroyd’s passion for the sixteenth President and collecting Lincoln memorabilia was the focal point of his life. After years of offers and counter-offers, the government finally purchased the entire collection for the sum of $50,000 in 1926. Thirty years later Congress put the Oldroyd Lincoln collection on public display at Ford’s Theater. Here the “Oldroyd Lincoln Memorial Collection” found its permanent home and there it can be seen by the public, free of charge, to this day.
oldroyd-rathboneThe May 2, 1926 Washington Post announced the purchase with a banner headline reading, “Gets Storehouse of Lincoln Relics: Government Action Assures Preservation of Oldroyd Collection Here.” The newspaper column reported, “Captain Oldroyd has been gathering the collection for 63 years, having started on this patriotic work of love for his chieftain soon after he was released from service in the internecine strife (Civil War). Mr. Oldroyd is now 80 years old. Having for years been a student of Lincoln, acting as guide for his collection all through its formation, Capt. Oldroyd has become a rich source of Lincoln traditions. Passage by Congress of the measure authorizing the purchase of the Oldroyd collection, 3, 000 authentic Lincoln mementos now on display in the historic Petersen House where the martyred president died, will preserve for future generations making pilgrimages to Washington a great store house of materials identified with Lincoln tradition.”
Sadly, Oldroyd had only a short time to enjoy the financial success gained from the purchase of his beloved collection. In February of 1929, he applied for a pension, citing “bad age and senility”. At the time, his health was so feeble that he could scarcely write his own name on the designated form. Oldroyd passed away on October 8. 1930. His devoted wife Lida died four years later. They are buried side-by-side in Rock Creek Cemetery not far from Abraham Lincoln’s summer White House at the Old Soldiers home.
Lida A Oldroyd 2What became of the pilfered Lincoln home artifacts? During a near forty year period between the 1950s and late 1980s, the Lincoln Home got back the disputed 25 items from Ford’s Theater that Oldroyd had allegedly removed without permission. “The items were well preserved. For the most part, these were all utilitarian items that might have been used everyday by the residents of the home during the years before preservation became a priority.” says curator Cornelius “An argument could be made that if not for Osborn Oldroyd, these items might have been lost forever.”
Even today, the benefits of Oldroyd’s work are still showing up. In 2006 the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum purchased a “unique” 1858 ambrotype photograph of Lincoln once owned by Oldroyd. “It is the first example of a ‘Photoshopping’ job done on Lincoln that we know of,” says Cornelius. The ambrotype was of an 1854 daguerreotype photo of Lincoln that had been altered. That original daguerreotype was lost in the great Chicago Fire, which makes the ambrotype even more important. “Thanks to Oldroyd for preserving it,” says Cornelius.
My fascination with Osborn Oldroyd rests squarely on the supposition that without collectors like Oldroyd, who knows how much of history might have been lost? After all, while alive, Lincoln was not at all the God-like figure he is today. In fact, it was touch and go with Lincoln at times. There seemed to be no middle ground with Old Abe, you either loved him or you hated him. It was only after his death that he ascended into legend and secular sainthood. To a man like Oldroyd, credit must be given for recognizing Lincoln’s greatness immediately. Without question, a Lincoln collection started in 1860 could have no peer. Add to that Osborn’s natural curiosity and acquisitional ferocity, his collection must have been astonishing. Then to have the opportunity, and charismatic ability, to reside in two of the most important homes in the Lincoln panoply, well that may well be the ultimate commentary on Oldroyd himself.
As for his hawkish, carnival sideshow way of promoting the Lincoln legend by leading boisterous tours accentuated by occasional loud-talking within the hallowed walls of the Lincoln home itself, it must be remembered that Oldroyd was a man of his times. Operating during an era that brought us promoters like P.T. Barnum whose famous credo “there’s a customer born every minute” resonates clearly in the present day vernacular. Barnum’s self proclaimed charge was to find ways to draw new customers in an era when competition was fierce and people could become bored easily. Knowing this, its easy to understand the reasoning behind Oldroyd’s reputed shameless self promotion. After all, he had to keep the museum doors open.
In the end, Osborn Oldroyd was a man who fought hard for his country’s cause in the Union army and afterward did everything in his power to preserve the honor and memory of his hero and commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln. Did he step on some toes and ruffle a few feathers in the process? Sure, but as Abraham Lincoln himself once said, “Perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.” Three months before his death at the age of eighty-eight, Oldroyd took pen in hand to write an expression of heartfelt gratitude to a well wisher in the form of a poem: “Words of cheer and handclasps warm, fragrant flowers and music’s charm, Reminiscences of days gone by, Ah, surely none so blest as I.”

Next week: part III of “Osborn Oldroyd-Keeper of the Lincoln Flame.”

Abe Lincoln, Museums, Politics

Osborn Oldroyd-Keeper of the Lincoln flame. Part I

OLDROYD Part IOriginal publish date:  July 6, 2017

In the seven years since I ran parts I and II of this article, much has changed. Osborn Oldroyd has remained the windmill I tilt at and he has never strayed far from my side. I will share the “new” developments about this man in part III of this series. But first, let me reintroduce you to Captain Oldroyd.
As a fan of history, I find myself drawn to characters who populate the sidelines of historic events in a way that sometimes threatens to overtake the subject itself. Anyone familiar with my musings knows that I am, like many a homegrown Hoosier, a fan of Abraham Lincoln. If Lincoln had never been born, literature would surely have created him. In November of 2010, I traveled to Springfield, Illinois on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s election to the Presidency in search of the man who I believe to be the original keeper of the Lincoln flame.
I met with historian James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Presidential library and museum. The state-of-the-art museum opened in 2005 and featured as it’s principal speakers President George W. Bush and a then little known Illinois Senator named Barack Obama. However, this is not the first Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois. There was an unofficial version housed in the Lincoln Home from 1884 to 1893 created by Civil War veteran Osborn Oldroyd, a man as quirky and controversial as the museum he created.
When Oldroyd began collecting Lincoln items in 1860, Honest Abe was still very much alive. Oldroyd was among the first Americans to attempt such an undertaking, a collection he himself described as “books, sermons, eulogies, poems, songs, portraits, badges, autograph letters, pins, medals, envelopes, statuettes…anything related to the man”. In many cases, it is Oldroyd’s collecting habits we have to thank for the preservation of priceless Lincoln relics. However, to some, he was as much historical huckster as hero. It was Oldroyd’s “P.T. Barnum” sideshow approach that continues to rankle Lincoln scholars to this day.
Eccentricity ran in his genes. The evidence can be found in the very first thing he owned: his name. His parents, William and Mary, named their son “Osborn Hamiline Ingham Oldroyd” so that his initials would spell the name of their beloved home state, Ohio. Sergeant Osborn Oldroyd was only nineteen years old when he enlisted with the 2Oth Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 15, 1861. He was mustered out of the army on July 19, 1865. During his years in the Union Army, he was a careful diarist keeping day-by-day observations of the war. His 1885 book, “A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg” gives a sixty-five day account of the Vicksburg Campaign. Oldroyd re-enlisted after the Vicksburg campaign but his chronic asthma made him unfit for duty. Following the war, Oldroyd returned to Ohio and was made Steward of the National Soldiers’ Home in Dayton. Friends lovingly referred to him as ‘Captain’ or ‘Colonel’ while others simply called him ‘Ozzie’.
Oldroyd found his life’s calling when he attended memorial services at Lincoln’s Tomb on the 15th anniversary of the president’s death just a few months after his arrival in Springfield in 1880. He came up with a plan to build a Memorial Hall in Springfield to display his growing collection of Lincoln memorabilia. Within two years after that first visit, Oldroyd wrote a 500-plus-page book, containing excerpts from Lincoln speeches and writings, as well as anecdotes and memories collected by Oldroyd from Lincoln’s friends and contemporaries, to raise money for the Memorial Hall. Book sales were fairly good, but Memorial Hall was never constructed.
Oldroyd croppedDuring his early years in Springfield, he ran a succession of failed businesses. All the while, Oldroyd was moving his family ever closer to the Lincoln Home at Eighth and Jackson streets. The Oldroyd family first lived at 1101 South Seventh, then 500 South Eighth Street (immediately south of the home) and then, in 1883, when the Lincoln Home became available to rent, Oldroyd moved his family in before the last occupants had completely moved out. At that time, Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert, owned the home and reluctantly charged Oldroyd $25 per month rent. Contemporary accounts claim that Robert Todd Lincoln agreed to the idea of a museum as long as it was free to the public, a stipulation in place to this day.
Oldroyd could not believe his luck. He immediately began to arrange his nearly 2,000 piece Lincoln collection on the home’s first floor, while he and his family lived on the second floor. On April 14, 1884, the 19th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, he opened the ” Oldroyd Lincoln Memorial Collection” museum. Admission was 25 cents, although later in his life Oldroyd denied ever charging admission. According to the Illinois State Journal “The reception at the Lincoln residence last night was a brilliant affair. Mr. Oldroyd has been at work for years on this matchless collection, and it is believed its equal does not exist in the United States. At last his labors have been crowned with success, and the hundreds of people who thronged the rooms last night are loud in their praise.” z 9c5921de875bf4f37876d22de69952c0--illinois-state-historic-homes
Oldroyd, ever the promoter, found creative ways to publicize his museum while at the same time filling the public’s desire to own Lincoln artifacts. He sold photographs of his collection for 25 cents and a box of “Lincoln relics” for 75 cents. These boxes contained bits of the Lincoln Home and grounds: pieces of brick, shingle, ceiling plaster, elm tree, apple tree, lath, joist, and floor that Oldroyd claimed he saved during house repairs. In an ominous portent of things to come, two years after moving into the home of the man he adored, Oldroyd began stiffing the man’s son when he stopped paying rent in 1885. Robert Lincoln, a lawyer, was reluctant to attract public attention to the matter. He refused to pursue legal proceedings against Oldroyd even after no rental payments arrived for two years.
Not only did Robert feel he was being used, but “he was not happy with the way Oldroyd had turned the home into a sort of carnival sideshow, selling pieces of it and putting other things into it that had not been the Lincolns’,” says James Cornelius. “Robert referred to Oldroyd as a deadbeat and called the exhibits in the house traps.” Even though Oldroyd wasn’t paying rent, he continuously schemed for a way to live rent-free in the home with his collection indefinitely. Behind the scenes Oldroyd lobbied Illinois legislators to acquire the Lincoln Home for the state and let Oldroyd and his museum remain in it. The legislature’s first two attempts to ask Robert Lincoln for the house failed because Lincoln’s eldest son said he wasn’t ready to part with the home just yet. The third time was the charm. In 1887 the legislature succeeded and Robert deeded the Lincoln Home to the state of Illinois. Robert insisted on only two provisions; that his father’s home “be kept in good repair” and that it be”free of access to the public.”
Osborn Oldroyd was appointed custodian of the house for a salary of $1,000 per year (just under $ 25.000 today) and was allowed to continue living in the home rent free. He was also allowed to keep his museum as long as he didn’t charge admission anymore. Ever the operator, Osborn made up for that loss of income by allowing several of his in-laws to move in and charging them rent. The records don’t reveal whether Oldroyd ever paid Robert the two years of rent he owed, but I highly doubt it.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the next five years “Captain” Oldroyd kept the Lincoln Home and added to his Lincoln collection. At one point, reports claim that Robert Lincoln was furious when Oldroyd allegedly displayed a photograph of John Wilkes Booth in the home, reportedly on the fireplace mantle. Some sources claim that Robert protested and in 1893, when the Illinois state political tides shifted, Robert had Oldroyd unceremoniously ousted as custodian. The new governor put one of his own men into Oldroyd’s former position as political patronage.
The Illinois State Journal, writing nearly 9 years to the day after its first article on Oldroyd, criticized the move by saying, “The removal of Captain O. H. Oldroyd…means that the Lincoln Home will be stripped of the features of most interest to visitors, which are the personal property of Captain Oldroyd, and…the new custodian…will have nothing to show to those who visit the Home.” Nothing, that is, but the Lincoln home itself. In the July 1888 issue of Harper’s magazine, Charles Dudley Warner wrote after a visit to the home that he could not find Lincoln’s “sense of personality there… although the parlor is made a show-room and full of memorials, there is no atmosphere of the man about it.” Oldroyd, it appears, had wedged himself into the very fabric of the home and many citizens felt that without his passion and guidance, the Lincoln home would eventually fail in its pursuit to attract the steady stream of visitors so carefully courted under the “Captain’s” care. But Oldroyd, ever the huckster, had other plans for his unmatched collection of Lincoln memorabilia.
Next week: part II of “Osborn Oldroyd-Keeper of the Lincoln Flame.”