On Thursday, March 9, 2023, I visited the Richwood, Ohio History museum and library with my wife Rhonda S. Hunter. We dropped off the Temple family collection of Native American Indian artifacts collected over the course of at least two decades from @1900 past World War I. The compilation, contained in an old can of Cocoa, had not seen the light of day for nearly a century. Doc, Springfield Illinois’ premiere Abraham Lincoln scholar for over 60 years, also wrote the definitive book on the subject in 1966, Indian Villages of the Illinois Country: Historic Tribes, and several scholarly articles and papers on the subject for the University of Illinois. The artifacts were dug in the farm fields in and around Richwood Ohio so it seemed fitting that Doc’s collection go back to their place of origin. We were as happy to deliver them as the museum officials were to receive them.
Category: Abe Lincoln
99 Birthday Cards for Doc.
February 5, 2023.
Friends, please consider joining me in a project celebrating the 99th birthday of the Dean of all Abraham Lincoln scholars from Springfield, Illinois:
Dr. Wayne C. “Doc” Temple.
I have been working on a biography of Doc for some time now. For nearly 70 years, Doc has researched, written, and published more than 20 books and over 300 articles on Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, Indigenous tribes, and Midwest history. Along the way, Doc has graciously volunteered his time, knowledge & wisdom with countless students and scholars along the way. Most of today’s Lincoln scholars have consulted Doc for facts in their work.
This will be Doc’s first birthday since losing Sandy, his wife of 42 years, last March. Doc is a member of America’s greatest generation having fought bravely for the United States in the European theatre, once actually standing in an open road firing a Thompson Sub-machine gun at a German fighter plane strafing his unit. He is an amazing man.
I ask that you join me in sending a birthday card or friendly note to Doc (he doesn’t do e-mail) in time for his 99th birthday (February 5, 2023) in care of the address below. Please share this humble announcement to your page and we’ll see if we can’t get 99 cards for Doc’s 99th birthday. His personal archives will be donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield and these birthday cards will be preserved among that collection. Thank you for your consideration.
Wayne “Doc” Temple
c/o Books on the Square
427 East Washington Street
Springfield, IL 62701
Doc’s historical resume is unchallenged. In my opinion, he is our nation’s greatest living Lincoln scholar. I am just one of the legion of Lincoln scholars he has helped and encouraged along the way. Doc served as chief deputy director of the Illinois State Archives for over 50 years (1964-2016), Secretary-treasurer of the National Lincoln-Civil War Council during the 100th anniversary Centennial years (1958-1964), and editor / associate of the Lincoln Herald since 1973.
I have listed Doc’s “resume” below. As you can see, it is quite impressive.
Doc’s education credentials & historical resume:
AB cum laude, University of Illinois, 1949; AM, University of Illinois, 1951; Doctor of Philosophy, University of Illinois, 1956; Lincoln Diploma of Honor (Illinois’ highest civilian award), Dean of history at Lincoln Memorial U., Harrogate, Tennessee, 1963. Wayne Calhoun Temple has been listed as a noteworthy Historian by Marquis Who’s Who.
Curator ethnohistory, Illinois State Museum, 1954-1958; editor-in-chief, Lincoln Herald, Lincoln Memorial U., 1958-1973; associate editor, Lincoln Herald, Lincoln Memorial U., since 1973; also director department Lincolniana, director university press, John Wingate Weeks professor of history, Lincoln Herald, Lincoln Memorial U., 1958-1964; with, Illinois State Archives, since 1964; chief deputy director, Illinois State Archives. Lecturer United States Military Academy, 1975. Secretary-treasurer National Lincoln-Civil War Council, 1958-1964.
Member bibliography committee Lincoln Lore, since 1958. Honorary member Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1959-1960. Advisory council United States Civil War Centennial Commission, 1960-1966.
Major Civil War Press Corps, since 1962. President Midwest Conference Masonic Education, 1985.
Doc’s books include:
Lincoln the Railsplitter 1961. (listed in the top 100 Lincoln books ever written)
Stephen A. Douglas, freemason Stephen A. Douglas, Freemason.
Abraham Lincoln and Others at the St. Nicholas.
Lincoln’s Confidant: The Life of Noah Brooks (The Knox College Lincoln Studies Center) by Wayne C. Temple, Douglas L. Wilson, et al. / Nov 30, 2018
Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet 1st Edition by Wayne C. Temple (1995)
Alexander Williamson: Friend of the Lincolns (Special publication)
Lincoln’s Surgeons at His Assassination Hardcover – October 29, 2015
BY SQUARE AND COMPASS: THE BUILDING OF LINCOLN’S HOME AND ITS SAGA.
Lincoln-Grant: Illinois militiamen Lincoln-Grant: Illinois militiamen
Indian Villages of the Illinois Country: Historic Tribes (Scientific Papers, Vol 2, Pt 2)
Sponsor Abraham Lincoln Bay, Washington National Cathedral. Member Illinois State Flag Commission, since 1969. Trustee, regent Lincoln Academy Illinois, 1970-1982, Bicentennial Order Lincoln, 2009.
Board governors St. Louis unit Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children, 1975-1981. Commissioning committee, honorary crew member and plank owner United States Ship Springfield submarine, since 1990. Honorary crew member United States Ship Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, since 1989.
With United States Army, 1943-1946, general Reserve (retired). Fellow Royal Society Arts (life). Member National Rifle Association, Knight Templar (Red Cross Constantine), Lincoln Group District of Columbia (honorary), University Illinois Alumni Association, Illinois State History Society, Board of Advisors, The Lincoln Forum, Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association, Illinois State Dental Society (citation plague 1966), Reserve Officers Association, Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin, Iron Brigade Association (honorary life), Military Order Loyal Legion United States (honorary companion), Military Order Foreign Wars United States, Army and Navy Union, Masons (33 degree, Meritorious Service award, grand representative from Grand Lodge of Colorado), Shriners, Kappa Delta Pi, Phi Alpha, Phi Alpha Theta (Scholarship Key award), Chi Gamma Iota, Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Kappa Alpha, Alpha Psi Omega, Sigma Pi Beta (Headmaster), Sigma Tau Delta (Gold Honor Key award for editorial writing), Zeta Psi.
Pink Parker and his Monument to John Wilkes Booth.
Original Publish Date August 26, 2021.
Recently, I ran across an obscure booklet about a little-known episode in the post-assassination chronology of Abraham Lincoln. Surprisingly it was published and distributed by a man named Stewart Winning McClelland (1891-1977) a self-described “Sponsor” of Dale Carnegie courses from Indianapolis. More surprising is the fact that it was published exactly 70 years ago on August 28, 1951. The booklet is titled “A Monument to The Memory Of John Wilkes Booth.” Now THAT got your attention, didn’t it?
The booklet tells the story of a cranky old Rebel from Troy Alabama named Joseph Pinckney “Pink” Parker, born August 16, 1839, and died December 12, 1921. Parker, a former police officer and veteran of the Confederate Army, was often described in the local newspaper as “the bitterest Rebel in the South.” Almost immediately after graduating from Springhill Academy in Coffee County Alabama, the Civil War broke out and Pink enlisted in the Confederate Army. He left his family’s well-stocked plantation, a sister, and a bevy of slaves when he left for the front lines.
Parker served in Company A of the Second Georgia Battalion Infantry, Wright’s Brigade, Mohone’s Division of AP Hill’s Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. During Parker’s four years of service, he rose to the rank of Corporal and fought at the battles of Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Appomattox: many of the fiercest battles of the Civil War.
Four years later, when the war ended, Pink returned to find the “farm overgrown with weeds, his stock and slaves disappeared and his sister imbittered by her treatment received at the hands of the northern soldiers.” The family estate was soon “eaten up” by taxes and the former Rebel soldier was forced to take a position as a “walker” on the railroad tracks carrying with him “maul and spikes to keep the tracks repaired.” Parker grew to hate everything “Yankee”, blaming President Abraham Lincoln for the social and economic distress throughout the South and for Reconstruction, which he considered the continued destruction of the South.
Parker married and bought a farm near Inverness, Florida, but found farm life there hard and unforgiving. He moved his wife and three children to a house he bought on Madison Street in Troy. For years he earned a hardscrabble living on his meager salary as a grocery store clerk, policeman, and cotton compress worker. Eventually, he became a schoolteacher in Troy, where he built a comfortable home a short distance from the famed Natchez trace “which Andrew Jackson used in his battles against the Indians in Florida.”
The booklet describes Pink as a well-respected member of his community and a devout member of the Baptist Church with just one single vice: a deep-seated hatred for Abraham Lincoln. As Lincoln’s legend began to move towards secular sainthood, in both the North and the South, Pink Parker’s wrath grew year by year into a compulsion. Whenever Lincoln’s name was mentioned, Pink would burst forth with impassioned flights of profanity that astonished and shocked his friends and family. So bad were these outbursts that his pastor at the Baptist Church removed him from the church roles for his profanity. In a situation that Pink described, “It wasn’t quite fair. I know all the deacons in that church and any one of them can cuss better than I can.”
His expulsion from the church proved to be the capstone of Parker’s Lincoln hatred. Parker’s wife died in 1893 and his children moved away. From that point on, every April 15th, Pink would fashion for himself a paper badge and ribbon celebrating the “Anniversary of the Death of old Abe Lincoln.” Occasionally, Pink would memorialize these otherwise sad anniversaries by walking into the local photography studio to have his picture made wearing the offensive badge. As years passed, the idea came into his head that he would erect a monument to the memory of John Wilkes Booth. As unthinkable and repulsive as the idea sounds to our modern ears, Pink indeed put his plan into action.
The monument, standing approximately 4 feet high, resembled a typical graveyard headstone found in any Alabama burying ground around the state. Pink was always quick to note that he never took the oath of allegiance after the Civil War and he personally never surrendered. The stone bore the inscription: “Erected by Pink Parker in honor of John Wilks Booth, for killing old Abe Lincoln.” It is interesting to note that the old Rebel misspelled the cowardly assassin’s name on his memorial, fitting for such an unpopular, shortsighted memorial.
He first offered his ghastly memorial to the city of Troy to be placed in front of the Pike County Courthouse or in a public park. When the city quickly declined his invitation, he installed the monument in his front yard on Madison Street. It wasn’t long before local vandals turned their attention to the stone, defacing it. Soon Parker erected a board fence to protect it. Although newspapers from the 1920s stated that the stone had been erected in 1866, Pink placed the marker in 1906. Pink told his grandsons that he invited President Theodore Roosevelt to the stone’s dedication with a postcard stating that “while I can’t furnish a carriage for you, I could get you a dray hauled by a couple of mules.”
When those same grandsons asked their grandfather how he was going to get along with all those Yankees when he got to heaven, Pink would say, “Well, I don’t suppose I will find enough up there to bother me.” Pink Parker always believed that John Wilkes Booth was still alive, that Booth did not die from Boston Corbett’s shot through the neck in the Garrett tobacco barn. A belief principally subscribed to by only the most avowed skeptics, conspiracy theorists, and carnival sideshow aficionados of the era.
Parker became ill and, in 1918, his son, Eugene, moved his father to Sardis, Georgia. Parker deeded his home to his three children. They sold it in 1920. In 1921 emotions over Pink’s distasteful display reached a boiling point. The local president of the Alabama Women’s League of Republican Voters, Mrs. C.D. Brooks, instigated a campaign to have the monument removed permanently. Letters poured in from all over the country supporting her stand. Then sometime around Halloween, a group of local boys pulled down the marker as a prank. The Booth monument lay half-buried in the dirt as weeds slowly overtook it.
In 1921, the Troy Messenger received a large volume of indignant letters and the National Sons of Union Veterans wrote to President Waren G. Harding demanding the monument be removed and destroyed. The added attention and the age of the automobile soon brought souvenir hunters to the little town of Troy. These eager relic collectors began to chip away pieces of the stone. The Troy Messenger reported on July 13, 1921, that the monument had been removed by order of the town council. It was hidden away out of sight and mind in a shed and forgotten.
In the midst of the furor, the half-blind, sick, and forgotten Pink Parker passed away in December of 1921 at the age of 82. His body was brought back to Troy and buried next to his wife. His sons retrieved the stone from cold storage and had it re-carved. The inscription honoring Booth was removed from the monument and it was fashioned into his tombstone, his name and birth/death dates on one side and the details of his service in the Confederate Army listed on the other. Confederate veterans served as his pallbearers.
Historians have long realized how much the South lost by the killing of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the one man who might have reunited a broken country. The one man who could have allayed sectional hostilities and rebuilt a nation. Pink Parker was on the wrong side of history. But Pink Parker did not care. Today, the former Booth monument can be seen on Parker’s grave in Oakwood Cemetery, located on North Knox Street in Troy. The gravestone stands on a downward slope in the farthest regions of the cemetery. There is no trace of the former writing, no indication that it ever honored assassin John Wilkes Booth. Perhaps fittingly, Pink Parker’s grave marker lists to the larboard side, forever tilted, just like the man it honors.
The Mumler Abraham Lincoln Ghost Photo.
Original publish date: October 22, 2020
Last Saturday before the Irvington ghost tours, one of our volunteers, Alex McFarland, initiated a conversation that seemed to be a perfect topic for the evening: the Abraham Lincoln ghost photo. Known officially as the “Mumler photos”, these were a series of posed studio photographs, not unlike any old time photo, usually in Carte de Visite (or CDV) form, that can be found at any antique show, shop or mall today. The difference is, Mumler’s photos had the visual image of a ghost in them. The most famous of the Mumler photos features widowed First Lady Mary Lincoln with her deceased husband, President Abraham Lincoln.
William H. Mumler
William H. Mumler (1832-1884) was a well-known Boston photographer who claimed to be a “medium for taking spirit photographs.” Mumler was part of the growing phenomenon of spiritual manifestations introduced in 1848 by the Fox sisters of Hydesville, N.Y. The three sisters held séances at their home (near Newark, N.J.), that featured spirit rappings and table tippings in response to their queries. Their amazing “abilities” caused a sensation that spread across the country. With its long history of highly intelligent, intellectually curious populace, Boston became an epicenter for the movement attracting spiritualists, mediums and psychics from all over to the mysterious world of the “higher plane.”
In 1871, the camera was still in its infancy. The technology had graduated from metal to glass to paper photos readily available and affordable to the general public like never before. The country was still mourning from Civil War losses, in some cases having lost entire male lines of families and large portions of towns and communities. The loss of loved ones was still fresh and many turned to any means necessary to see and talk to their loved ones one last time. Mumler’s promise of contact in the form of visual evidence drew flocks of true believers to his studio at 170 West Springfield Street in this city historians called the “Cradle of Liberty.”
In February of 1872, seven years after Lincoln’s assassination, a still grieving Mary Lincoln arrived at William Mumler’s Boston Studio to have her picture made. Dressed in mourning, she gave the photographer a false name (‘Mrs. Lindall”) and kept her face concealed behind a black veil. In 1875, Mumler recalled in his autobiography, “I requested her to be seated, went into my darkroom and coated a plate. When I came out I found her seated with her veil still over her face. I asked if she intended to have her picture taken with her veil. She replied, ‘When you are ready, I will remove it.’” The widow Lincoln was used to dealing with charlatans and knew how to prevent their tricks.
The reason she landed at Mumler’s studio was because her dead husband had appeared to her at a séance earlier in Boston. The medium told her she should visit Mumler’s studio because the photographer had the ability to capture the shadows of the dead on photographic negatives. Mumler always claimed that he did not recognize his subject until the after he developed the negative. And then only after he recognized the image of the martyred President did he realize it was Mary Todd Lincoln. His visitor just may have been the most vulnerable woman in America, shattered by death and loss for the past two decades.
Mary never recovered from her husband’s assassination six years before and the loss of three of her four sons, all dead before their 18th birthdays. Even before her husband’s death, Mary Lincoln had embraced spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead can be contacted through mediums. Reputedly going so far as hosting seances in the White House and visiting mediums in Georgetown and D.C., sometimes accompanied by the President himself. So her visit to the studio, today located near historic Frederick Douglass square in Boston, was unsurprising and predictable. It should also come as no surprise that the photo, the greatest presidential ghost photo ever known, is a fake.
Mary’s visit to William Mumler’s studio (one of five Boston studio locations he occupied during the 1860s-70s and 80s) stands out as one of the grand hoaxes of the Spiritualist period. The distraught first lady must have been satisfied, even consoled by the image, but to our practiced modern eyes, this photograph of Mary Lincoln remains a touching, if sadly preposterous, fake. Nonetheless, it was Mumler’s most famous portrait. Mumler’s Lincoln image is his most reproduced photograph, and it is believed to be the last photo ever taken of Mary before her death in 1882.
The story of Mumler’s spirit photography began as an accident and turned into a joke. In 1861 the 29-year-old jewelry engraver was living in Boston and experimenting with the new art of photography as a hobby. In his autobiography, The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler in Spirit Photography , Mumler claimed his discovery was made while developing a self-portrait. While the plate was soaking in the tray of toxic chemicals, he noticed the mysterious form of a young girl slowly materialize on the negative. Amused and mystified, Mumler printed this curiosity and showed it around to friends, claiming that it was the ghost of a dead cousin. Mumler, a man of “a jovial disposition, always ready for a joke,” decided to show the photo to his spiritualist friends, pretending that his picture was a genuine impression from beyond the grave.
The Boston psychics fell for the gag and soon Mumler’s ghost photos were circulating around the city. It became an instant sensation and once Mumler’s photo was published in The Banner of Light and other spiritualist newspapers, he became an instant celebrity. The “spirit cousin” was nothing more than the transfer residue of an earlier negative made with the same plate, but it was declared a miracle and Mumler the jeweler became heralded as the “oracle of the camera”. Mumler soon left his job as a jewelry engraver and opened his own photography business full time.
Here’s the scam. On arrival, the subject of the photo was greeted by William’s wife Hannah, she would chat up the client who would invariably reveal who the spirits were that they wished to appear in their sitting. Hannah had some clairvoyant abilities of her own and she often offered her own intuitions about the spirits surrounding her husband’s clients, resulting in the client’s unwittingly revealing more precise information. All while William Mumler was eavesdropping from the adjoining room. Part of his con included a “vacuum tube” that glowed as an electrical current was run through it which he claimed was a special force he then channeled into the camera. It was P.T. Barnum style showmanship pure and simple.
For this special ability, Mumler’s fees were extravagant. At the height of his fame, Mumler charged $10 for a dozen photographs, roughly five times the average rate. Worse, there was no guarantee that any spirits would appear. If Mumler or his wife sensed a particular vulnerability in their subject, the spirits would not appear in the photos. And clients were encouraged to make repeated trips to Mumler’s studio before they were blessed with a true spirit photograph. If the high fee was ever questioned, “The spirits,” Mumler answered, “did not like the throng.”
Boston’s other photographers were not impressed by Mumler’s ghost photos. James Black, one of Boston’s premiere photographers famous for his aerial views of the city taken from the perspective of a hot air balloon, was convinced that Mumler was cheating. He set out to catch him at it. Black bet Mumler $50 that he could discover his secret. Black examined Mumler’s camera, plate and processing system, and even went into the darkroom with him. In his autobiography, Mumler described Black’s reaction when a ghostlike image emerged on the negative right before the doubter’s eyes as, “Mr. B., watching with wonderstricken eyes…exclaimed, ‘My God! Is it possible?’”
Of the incident, Mumler later recalled, “Another form became apparent, growing plainer and plainer each moment, until a man appeared, leaning his arm upon Mr. Black’s shoulder.” The man later eulogized as “an authority in the science and chemistry of his profession” then watched “with wonder-stricken eyes” as the two forms took on a clarity unsettling in its intimacy. Despite the best efforts of countless investigators, no one was able to determine exactly how Mumler created his apparitions. With the photographic elite unable to debunk Mumler’s ghost photos, hoards of desperate souls flocked to Mumler’s studio-including a grieving Mary Lincoln and the master of all hoaxes, P.T. Barnum himself.
Soon Mumler’s pictures became the subject of great speculation among his peers from all over the country. In 1863 noted Boston scientist, physician and avid photographer Oliver Wendell Holmes not only gave step-by-step instructions on how to obtain a double exposure in an essay for the Atlantic Monthly , but he also contemplated the popularity of Mumler’s pictures. “Mrs. Brown, for instance, has lost her infant, and wishes to have its spirit-portrait taken,” Holmes wrote. “It is enough for the poor mother, whose eyes are blinded with tears, that she sees a print of drapery like an infant’s dress, and a rounded something, like a foggy dumpling, which will stand for a face…An appropriate background for these pictures is a view of the asylum for feeble-minded persons…and possibly, if the penitentiary could be introduced, the hint would be salutary”
Further confounding the experts was the fact that the apparitions seen in a Mumler photograph had human features, lifelike gestures and filmy interactive forms. They are translucent spirits, not hard edge ghosts. That was the secret of a Mumler ghost photo. To mediums, psychics and spiritualists, Mumler’s photos depicted what they believed: that the afterlife was a paradise, simply the next step in human existence, albeit on a higher plain. All questions of process and motives aside, Mumler’s subjects were satisfied with the results. Distraught parents saw visions of children gone for years. Grieving widows saw husbands one more time and widowers looked into the eyes of deceased wives once again.
Eventually, Mumler was a victim of his own vanity and the third deadly sin of avarice: aka Greed. The more people that showed up, the more Mumler had to perform. Some prominent Boston spiritualists, once avid supporters of Mumler’s ability, began to examine the ghost photos more closely only to discover that some of the “spirits” in the images were still quite alive. The ragman, the butcher, the schoolteacher, the cop. These were normal people walking the streets of Boston, all past subjects of Mumler’s “straight” photo studio sessions utilized by Mumler in the photographs of strangers. Eventually, Mumler’s business in Boston fell off.
He died on May 16, 1884 holding patents on a number of innovative photographic techniques, including Mumler’s Process, which allowed publishers to directly reproduce photographic illustrations in newspapers, periodicals, magazines and books. Mumler’s skill as a photographer was only rivaled by his talent as a con artist, but he never really experienced any accumulated wealth from his labors. Mumler maintained to the end that he was “only a humble instrument” for the revelation of a “beautiful truth.” To further confuse matters, Mumler destroyed all of his negatives shortly before he died. William Mumler’s photographs may be products of pure hoaxing, but the question of whether technology is capable of catching spirits on film remains with us to this day. Search the web on any given day and you will see photos of every type captured by cameras of every description. Security cameras, ring doorbells, digital images and cellphones continue to capture photos of mysterious orbs, mists, apparitions, shadows, dancing lights and unexplainable phenomenon of every description. The allure of capturing a ghost on film, especially that which is invisible to the naked eye, may have begun with William Mumler but it continues to this day.
Abraham Lincoln & James Whitcomb Riley on Halloween!
In 1988, a survey was taken in conjunction with the “Hoosier Celebration” during Governor Robert Orr’s administration ranking the best known Hoosiers. Abraham Lincoln was number one and James Whitcomb Riley was number two followed (in descending order) by Benjamin and William Henry Harrison and explorers Lewis and Clark, who tied with former Governor Otis Bowen. And, because everybody loves a list, others making the cut included Larry Bird, John Cougar Mellencamp, Red Skelton, Florence Henderson, Jane Pauley, Michael Jackson and Bobby Knight. Don’t remember the “Hoosier Celebration”? Neither do I.
This Saturday (Yay! On Halloween!) October 31st, I will be visiting the James Whitcomb Riley boyhood home in Greenfield to talk about both Lincoln and Riley. That day will be the official book reveal for my newest book, “The Petersen House, The Oldroyd Museum and The House Where Lincoln Died”. Thanks to the courtesy of former Indiana National Road Board member and Director of the Riley Boyhood Home and Museum Stacey Poe, you are invited to come out at 2:00 pm and experience the Riley home and their new “Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen” facility located at 250 W. Main Street on the historic National Road. I will be bringing some Lincoln props, signing books, sharing stories about the Washington DC building Lincoln died in (and it’s Indiana connection) and, in the “spirit” of the season, spinning a few ghost stories too.
Although Lincoln and Riley died a half-century apart, the men had much in common. The two were considered the state’s most famous Hoosiers (that is until John Dillinger died in 1934) and their names were often linked in speeches, newspaper articles, books and periodicals in the first fifty years of the 20th century. One of my favorite quotes found while searching the virtual stacks of old newspapers comes from the July 20, 1941 Manhattan Kansas Morning Chronicle: “If you want to succeed in life, you might run a better chance if you live in a house with green shutters. Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and James Whitcomb Riley all lived in such houses.” Lincoln and Riley epitomized everything that was good about being a Hoosier, right down to the color of their green window shutters.
Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen
The comparison was not unfounded. Both men were born in a log cabin. Both came from humble origins. Both were unevenly educated and both men never stopped learning. Both studied law-Lincoln with borrowed law books, Riley doodling poetry in the margins of his father’s law books. Both men were poets and both were considered among the greatest speakers of their generation. And both men had problematic relationships with women. Lincoln once said that he could “never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me” and Riley famously said “the highest compliment I could pay to a woman is to not marry her.”
Reuben Alexander Riley (1819-1893)
For the poet, his admiration began with his father, Reuben Riley. The senior Riley was a state legislator and among the first central Indiana politicians to embrace the railsplitter as a national figure and presidential candidate. Riley was considered by many to be the best political orator of his day. He traveled the Hoosier state stumping for Lincoln in 1860 and continued his support until the day that Lincoln died. Because of this young J.W. Riley could not remember a time when he did not admire Lincoln.
When the Lincoln funeral train came through Indiana on April 30, 1865, the official “Travel Log” notes that it arrived in Greenfield at 5:48 a.m., Philadelphia at 5:57 a.m., Cumberland at 6:30 a.m., the Engine House (identified as “Thorne” in Irvington) at 6:45 a.m. before finally arriving in Indianapolis at 7:00 a.m. In Greenfield, the depot was choked with people wishing to gaze upon the face of the departed leader one last time. The train was not officially scheduled to stop in Greenfield, but the mood among the citizens was that perhaps the engineer might be persuaded to stop when he witnessed the tremendous outpouring of trackside emotion at the Greenfield depot.
The local newspaper described “a knot of three boys, hands in pockets chattering back and forth with each other while pacing up and down the railroad tracks. Two older fellows were standing together, each arm around the other, probably soldiers remembering what it means to be a comrade.” The depot porch was filled to overflowing with women in their long dresses, old soldiers in their Union uniforms and a sea of men dressed entirely in black. The telegraph operator in Charlottesville wired that the train had just passed and was heading towards the neighboring town. A sentinel was perched atop the station to alert the citizens below of the train’s approach.
In a few moments, a cloud of silver phosphorescent smoke appeared above the tree tops along the route of today’s Pennsy trail. “Here it Comes” was the cry from above and immediately the crowd below hushed and gazed eastward expectantly. For several moments, the only sound that could be heard on the platform was the muffled weeping of the gathered mourners. As the train slowly approached, Captain Reuben Riley read aloud excerpts from Lincoln’s second Inaugural address at the close of which he sat down and wept uncontrollably. The train paused briefly at the station and the engineer removed his cap in respect to reverent gathering. Fortuitously, Reverend Manners stepped from the crowd and led the group in a prayer that began, “Thank God for the life of Abraham Lincoln.” The people now openly wept as the train slowly departed westward towards Indianapolis. It is likely that 16-year-old James Whitcomb Riley was present that day.
Riley wrote two poems dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. in a letter to Edward W. Bok dated October 23, 1890, Riley said this of the sixteenth President; “I think of what a child Lincoln must have been-and the same child-heart at home within his breast when death came by.” Along with all the shared common traits mentioned above, Lincoln and Riley were, and still remain, perhaps foremost, the idol of children everywhere.
Three days after Riley died on July 22, 1916, the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania eulogized the poet by saying: “The country has produced poets of more creative power and commanding genius, but none- not even Longfellow, beloved as he was- ever came quite so close to the heart of the mass of the people as the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, who died at Indianapolis on Sunday. He was truly from and of the people as was Lincoln, and in their way, his personality and career are almost as interesting and picturesque as those of the immortal emancipator.”
Elbert Hubbard, founder of the Roycrofters Arts & Crafts community in Aurora, New York, said “Who taught Abraham Lincoln and James Whitcomb Riley how to throw the lariat of their imagination over us, rope us hand and foot and put their brand upon us? God educated them. Yes, that is what I mean, and that is why the American people love them.” Hubbard was a contemporary of Riley’s who, along with his wife, died when the Germans sunk the RMS Lusitania leading to our entry into World War I a year before Riley passed.
However, in my view, what links both men in perpetuity is a shared language. Both men spoke fluent Hoosier. All his life, Lincoln and Riley tended to swallow the ‘g’ sound on words ending with ‘ing’, so a Walking Talking Traveling man become Walkin’, Talken’, Travelin’, man. Lincoln said “warsh” for wash, “poosh” for push, “kin” for can, “airth” for earth, “heered” for for heard, “sot” for sat, “thar” for there, “oral” for oil, “hunnert” for hundred, “feesh” for fish and “Mr. Cheerman” for Mr. Chairman. Likewise, Riley practiced the Hoosier dialect in his printed work, saying “punkin'” for pumpkin, “skwarsh” for squash, “iffin'” for if then and “tarlet” for toilet. Both men peppered their speech with distinctive words like yonder and for schoolin’ both “larned” their lessons and got their “eddication” in fits and spurts.
Both men’s lives came to an end in private houses, not in hospitals. Riley in the Nickum House in Indianapolis’ Lockerbie Square and Lincoln in the Petersen House in Washington, D.C. This Saturday, I will share my favorite ghost story about J.W. Riley (in the Lockerbie house) and while I have no ghost stories to share about The House Where Lincoln Died, I will detail a connection between the two. I will introduce you to the three families who resided there, the last of whom, Osborn Oldroyd, displayed his Lincoln collection of relics and objects for over thirty years before selling it to the United States Government in 1926. That collection is now on display in the basement of Ford’s Theatre.
Oldroyd, a thrice-wounded Civil War veteran, collector, curator and author, is perhaps the father of the house museum in America. One of Oldroyd’s books, a compilation of poems entitled, “The Poets’ Lincoln— Tributes In Verse To The Martyred President”, was published in 1915. James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, A Peaceful Life with the name “Lincoln” in parenthesis as a sub-title can be found there on page 31. In Oldroyd’s version, the first line differs from Riley’s original version. Riley’s handwritten original (found today in the archives of the Lilly Library on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University) begins: “Peaceful Life:-toil, duty, rest-“. Oldroyd’s book version begins; “A peaceful life —just toil and rest—.” Interestingly, the Oldroyd version has become the standard. And there you have it. Oldroyd’s influence is subtle, his name largely unknown, yet he stays with us to this day.