Abe Lincoln, Creepy history, Gettysburg, Ghosts

Harry Houdini and Abraham Lincoln.

Houdini & Lincoln

Original publish date:  June 8, 2017

Magician Harry Houdini had a very unlikely boyhood hero. A hero adored by a generation before Houdini’s 1874 birth and a hero worshiped by generations hence. Harry Houdini’s hero was Abraham Lincoln. Houdini’s devotion to Lincoln could be found on stage during his shows. He traveled with a pet eagle named ‘Josephus Daniel Abraham Lincoln’ or ‘Abe Lincoln’ for short. Houdini’s eagle would materialize at the end of his Whirlwind of Colors routine culminating in a wild frenzy of scarves and other fabric pulled from a small container.
Houdini & birdIn Kenneth Silverman’s 1996 Biography “Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss : American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker”, the author relays how Houdini referred to Lincoln as “my hero of heroes.” Houdini claimed to have read every book about Lincoln by the time he was a teenager. In William Kalush’s 2006 biography “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero”, there is a story of young Houdini attending a seance where the medium produced a message from our 16th President. Houdini, Lincoln expert that he was, then asked a question to Lincoln via the medium and was puzzled when the answer that came back was not correct. This encounter led to Houdini’s early discovery that most Spiritualists were fake.
amd_houdini_originalAs he grew older and more financially secure, Houdini began to amass a personal collection of Lincoln memorabilia, particularly letters and autographs of the Great Emancipator. He also collected handwritten letters of every member of the assassin John Wilkes Booths family, several in response to letters sent by Houdini himself. Spending much of his adult life on the road, in hotels and traveling for days on ships and trains, Houdini became a prolific man of letters. One such letter survives that illustrates his desire and devotion to add to his Lincoln collection, despite the constraints of his vagabond lifestyle.
The letter is written on the magician’s personal “Lettergram” form that featured two portraits of Harry at the top. It was written in Milwaukee on September 20, 1923. Houdini’s pictorial Lettergram began with a printed message reading, “Please pardon any incivility in this letter. It has been rushed to you under stress of business and written in the dressing room. Therefore all formalities like Dear Sir, Dear Madame. etc. have been omitted, not to be curt or brusque; but that it is deemed better to let you hear from me in a lettergram of a few words than not at all.” The Lettergram was sent to Anton Heitmuller, a Washington businessman who billed himself as “Specializing in Selling Collections of Autographs, Manuscripts, Historical Broadsides and Curios”.

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Houdini lettergram to Anton Heitmuller.

Heitmuller was peddling artifacts related to John Wilkes Booth along with a collection of items of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned for treating Booth’s broken leg after the assassination. Heitmuller saw a promotional opportunity for both he and Houdini in showing these materials; Houdini showed some interest but being at the height of his career, found it hard to find time to get to Washington to see the artifacts. Houdini’s typed letter reads, “I am on the road for the next four months, and there is a possibility of my reaching Washington about March or April. It all depends upon booking possibilities. Just rushing this to you to give you an outline of my route.” The note was signed in pencil by Houdini. Whether or not the meeting, let alone a purchase, ever took place is unknown, but the lettergram illustrates Houdini’s desire to acquire Lincolnania and the lengths he would go to find it.
Houdini became a friendly acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln. In one instance, a spirit medium claimed to possess authentic spirit photographs of Abraham Lincoln. Houdini sent copies of the photos to Robert Todd Lincoln and debunked them by proving that the images were manipulated from known photos of his father taken while Mr. Lincoln was still very much alive. To further prove his point, Houdini produced photos of himself alongside Mr. Lincoln.
houdini-lincolnOn Feb. 13, 1924, a day after the 115th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, Houdini typed out a letter to Mary Edwards Lincoln Brown, the grand-daughter of Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards, Mary Lincoln’s sister. The letter, written from the dressing room of the State Lake Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, reads: “My dear Mrs. Brown: Enclosed you will find a Spirit Photograph of your renowned ancestor, and although the Theomonistic Society in Washington, D.C. claim that it is a genuine spirit photograph, as I made this one, you have my word for it, that it is only a trick effect. Mrs. Houdini joins me in sending you kindest regards, Sincerely yours, Houdini.”
M2014.128.703.27_150415-P1Furthermore, Houdini also produced ‘fake spirit messages’ from Lincoln during his lectures to debunk spiritualism. Many spiritualists attempted to back up their fake photos and messages by claiming that Abraham Lincoln himself was a devoted spiritualist who had held seances in the White House. As proof, they cited a piece of British sheet music, published while Lincoln was President, which portrayed Honest Abe holding a candle while violins and tambourines flew about his head. The piece of music was called The Dark Séance Polka and the caption below the illustration of the president read “Abraham Lincoln and the Spiritualists”.
Actually it was Mary Lincoln who consulted a series of mediums in a desperate attempt to contact their dead son Willie, who died in the White House. Houdini naturally pointed out that President Lincoln was in attendance for only one such “call to the dead” and then solely to support his grieving wife. After the seance, Lincoln gently guided Mary over to a window that looked out over Washington and pointed to the lunatic asylum with a warning that if she didn’t stop this foolishness, she would end up there.

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Houdini and Magician Harry Cooke.

Clues to Houdini’s admiration of Abraham Lincoln can also be found in a couple of the magicians he associated with. One was a former Civil War veteran named Harry Cooke who first took up magic as a means to entertain his fellow soldiers in camp. Legend claims that Cooke once showed Lincoln an escape from a piece of rope and the president was so impressed he put him to work as a Spy for the Union Army. Cooke kept a two dollar bill given him by Mr. Lincoln on another occasion when he was performing before the president and his cabinet. Amazingly Cooke was also present in Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was assassinated. Harry Cooke and Harry Houdini knew each other well and Houdini considered the elder magician as an early mentor. Many historians credit Cooke as being the first escape artist in America. Houdini, of course, became America’s greatest escape artist.

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Magician Signor Biltz and Harry Houdini.

One final connection between Houdini and Lincoln is magician Signor Blitz. During the Civil War, Blitz performed at hundreds of Union Army Hospitals. His act was made up of several parts, including magic, ventriloquism, plate spinning and the command of trained birds. Blitz was apparently one of the first performers to use a dummy during his ventriloquism thereby setting the stage for future generations. His favorite trick was the Bullet Catching act (snaring a gun fired bullet between his teeth). However, a number of close calls persuaded the magician to remove it from his show. The final straw was when an audience member took out a six shooter and yelled “if you can catch one, you can call all of them!”. Fortunately, Blitz was able to stop the man from shooting.

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Mary Lincoln with her sons Willie (left) and Tad (right).

Blitz once performed at a July 4th function where Lincoln and his son Tad were present. The incident took place near the Summer White House on the grounds of the Old Soldier’s Home in the Rock Creek section of DC, today it is known as Lincoln’s Cottage. Lincoln often used the cottage during the summer months to escape the brutal foggy bottom heat of the Executive Mansion. In early July of 1863, President Lincoln took a break from his duties to watch a rehearsal of the upcoming July 4th parade. Numerous people stood along the street watching the rehearsal, among them Signor Blitz.
The sly magician reached out and produced a bird from the hair of one of the girls in the parade. The rehearsal parade came to a sudden stop and now all eyes were on Blitz. Thinking fast on his feet, the magician quickly produced an egg from the mouth of a child standing nearby. Blitz had no idea that the child was none other than the President’s son, Tad Lincoln. Blitz was soon formally introduced to the President and one of the most remarkable impromptu conversations of the Civil War ensued. Lincoln surprised the magician by saying,”Why, of course, it’s Signor Blitz, one of the most famous men in America. How many children have you made happy, Signor Blitz?” The magician answered “Thousands and tens of thousands”. The President then dolefully replied, “While I fear that I have made thousands and tens of thousands unhappy. But it is for each of us to do his duty in this world and I am trying to do mine.”

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Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

This exchange took place just as the Battle of Gettysburg was winding down. Lincoln had not yet heard news about the outcome of the battle. What neither knew was the Union victory at Gettysburg, combined with the siege conclusion at Vicksburg, had just turned the tide of the war for the Union. Of course, Houdini was keenly aware of the connection between Blitz and Lincoln. After Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan, he was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in New York City. About a hundred yards away is the grave of Signor Blitz.

 

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Harry Houdini grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York City.
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Signor Biltz grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York City.
Abe Lincoln, Museums, National Park Service, Presidents, Travel

The Perfect Summer Getaway: Chasing Lincoln and Mark Twain. PART I

Part 1

Original publish date:  July 25, 2019

I travel a lot and for years my editors have been trying to get me to write a travel article. I have always resisted because I just didn’t believe the trips I take were meant for everyone. Most of the places I visit revolve around history and not everybody likes history, at least not everybody likes history the way I like history. However, for all you history lovers out there, I think I’ve found a perfect trip for a long weekend. I’ve visited Springfield, Illinois many times over the years and have written a few articles about my visits there too, but here’s a Springfield trip with a new twist that I can highly recommend.

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Lincoln’s Tomb.

If you’re looking for a nice 3-night / 4-day getaway, consider driving first to Springfield for a night and then journeying on to Hannibal, Missouri for the next two. Springfield, of course, is best known as the 17-year home of President Abraham Lincoln. Here you will find the only home he ever owned and visit his tomb in Oak Ridge cemetery. Springfield is the state capitol, so finding a place to spend the night is pretty easy and will fit any budget. But in Springfield, it’s not really about the hotel because you’ll be spending most of your time out of doors anyway. Should you experience Lincoln overload, no problem. Springfield is also home to the famous Route 66 Highway and offers many sites connected to that famous road well worth visiting.

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Gutzon Borglum’s Lincoln statue at the tomb.

Springfield is an easy 3 1/2 hour drive from Indianapolis. So you can leave Indy after rush hour and avoid the headaches that go along with all that. The landscape will comfort the traveler by offering views and scenes familiar to every Hoosier eye; flat, rolling fields of corn and soybeans dotted by old family farms and crowned by Midwestern blue skies. Danville, just over the Indiana state line, is a pretty good place to stop and stretch your legs. It was home to the last surviving Burger Chef restaurant until just a few years ago, and, should you need to refuel, you can stop at the McDonald’s. I’d recommend you skip the drivethru, park, and go into this Mickey D’s because it is a literal shrine to Danville’s favorite sons; Dick Van Dyke and his brother Jerry. The walls are lined with photos sure to make you smile.

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Old Capitol Building.

When you get into Springfield and check into the hotel, head to the old downtown district and tour the Lincoln home and old State Capitol building. Both of these sites are free. The Lincoln Homestead is run by the National Park Service and tours depart regularly every half an hour or so. The Park service has done a fantastic job with re-creating the Lincoln home (located at eighth and Jackson) and the surrounding neighborhood to look the way it looked when the old rail splitter and his family lived there. Wooden sidewalks, pebbled streets, pioneer gardens and outhouses (for demonstration purposes only) add to the interpretive plaques and audio tours made easily accessible by cell phone for visitors at all hours. If you are an early riser (like me) you’ll find no better place in Springfield to watch the sun come up than from in front of the Lincoln home. The tourists are not yet stirring at that hour and you usually will have the place all to yourself for at least a couple hours. From here, the old State Capitol is an easy walk (and even easier drive) away.

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Lincoln’s Home Now and Then.

The old State Capitol building is impressive and a must-see. A visitor will surely stand in awe of the massive Greek revival columns during the walk up and once the massive doors are swung open, that awestruck feeling continues. Here the prairie lawyer practiced his trade. Here he delivered his famous “house divided” speech in June 1858 and here his lifeless body was carried up the stairs to lie in the same spot seven years later. From here I would recommend walking across the plaza to Mangia’s (518 E. Adams St. ) for a fine Italian dinner. The old exposed brick walls stand as mute witnesses to the spot where Abraham Lincoln gathered with friends on election night to learn he had won the Presidential Election.

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One of the surprises found within the plaques of the Springfield Capitol Square.

The old Capitol Square in Springfield is a worthy, standalone complex of historic sites and buildings that should be made a part of any visit to Lincoln’s city. The Lincoln – Herndon law office has been restored to its appearance as Lincoln would have known it, right down to the frontier post office Lincoln visited daily downstairs. Also worth visiting is a classic bookstore known as the “Prairie Archives” located on the square. The old-fashioned bookstore is stacked top to bottom with books, documents, publications, leaflets, posters, artwork, and bric-a-brac from the pages of Springfield’s history including a good selection of Lincoln items as should be expected. If you’re hunting antiques on the square, “Abe’s Old Hat & Country Store” is worth a visit. There are many other quaint stores, coffee shops and restaurants located on the square as well.IMG_2718
The Great Western Railroad depot is located not far from the historic town square and is well worth a visit. Here is the spot from which Lincoln departed Springfield never to return. Of interest to Hoosiers is that Lincoln’s first stop after leaving his hometown was the Bates House Hotel in Indianapolis on his way east to assume the presidency of the United States. It was at the Bates House (where the Embassy Suites now stand) that Lincoln spent his 52nd birthday and also where his son Robert momentarily lost the inauguration speech. If you’re lucky you can catch the depot building when it’s open, but that can be sporadic. Better yet you may witness an old-fashioned train crossing on your visit here because the tracks are still very active.

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Abe. Mary & Tad Statue on Capitol Square.

There are many other Lincoln related sites in and around the old Capitol Square. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a short trip away, offers a cool respite for visitors to view Lincoln relics and memorabilia in a state of the art atmosphere (for a small admission fee). The library also offers a generous slate of free lectures and discussions as well as a free tour of Lincoln’s old haunts which no longer stand in the downtown area (consult their website for schedules).
If you are feeling more “Route 66ish” than Lincoln, head over to the Cozy Dog Drive-in. Originally located on old Route 66, the Cozy Dog is credited as the inventor of the corndog. The walls are full of classic memorabilia and although it would never be considered as fine dining, the atmosphere is worth the trip. Should you find yourself eating elsewhere in Springfield, the locals will insist that you try the “horseshoe”, an open-faced sandwich invented in Springfield. It consists of thick-sliced toasted bread (often Texas toast), a hamburger patty, cheese sauce; smothered by french fries & gravy.
Next a visit to Oak Ridge cemetery is a must. If you happen to plan your visit in such a way that you are here on a Tuesday night, visit the cemetery around 7 PM and you can witness the American flag retirement ceremony hosted by uniformed Civil War soldiers, complete with a 21 gun salute, a canon firing and presentation of the retired flag to a lucky family in attendance. It is a perfect way to end an evening. After you’ve visited the Lincoln tomb, make sure you venture around to the back and stop a minute in front of the ornate wrought iron door with the Lincoln name inset in a laurel wreath. Behind this door, which once guarded a large open area, rested Lincoln’s sarcophagus for over 50 years before he and the family were removed and placed inside the tomb.

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Lincoln’s Temporary Tomb.

Take the stairs located behind the tomb down to the spot of Lincoln’s two temporary tombs where his body rested during construction of the current tomb. Make sure you go over to the belltower (it still rings out every hour) which has incorporated into its side the original slab upon which Lincoln’s body lay when it first arrived in Springfield awaiting burial. The cemetery also features the final resting places of many Lincoln Associates, friends and family members alongside luminaries from all fields dotted throughout the burial yard. It is a perfect place to spend time and reflect.
Be sure to stop in at the “Lincoln Souvenir & Gift Shop” (1407 Monument Ave.) and see my friend Melissa Price-King, whom I profiled in a previous article. This fantastic log cabin gift shop, owned and operated by Melissa and her family since before the Great Depression, is a trip back in time and has something for everyone. Before you leave Springfield for the next leg of your journey, a stop at “Mel–O– Cream” donuts (Mel’s for short) is a must. They have two locations, their doughnuts are legendary and will travel well on your way to Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri.
Next Week- Part II- The Perfect Summer Getaway:
Chasing Lincoln and Mark Twain: Hannibal, Missouri

Abe Lincoln, Museums, Presidents

Abraham Lincoln’s Librarian: Jane Gastineau.

Jane Gastineau pic

Original publish date:  July 18, 2019

The Hoosier Lincoln community is losing a shining light in Fort Wayne next week. Jane E. Gastineau, Lincoln Librarian of the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection (LFFC) housed at the Allen County Public Library is retiring on July 31st. Jane closes her twelve year stint of meticulously cataloging, documenting and digitizing Abraham Lincoln and all Hoosiers owe her a heartfelt thank you.

Jane steered the Fort Wayne Lincoln ship through perhaps its most turbulent time; the acquisition of the Collection by the State of Indiana. The assemblage represents a world-class research collection of documents, artifacts, books, prints, photographs, manuscripts, and 19th-century art related to Lincoln. Like many involved in the Hoosier Lincoln community, I recall the announcement (in March 2008) that the Fort Wayne Lincoln museum would close and watched with acute interest for word of its final disposition. Would it be sold at auction? Would it be acquired by a wealthy collector? Or would it remain in Indiana?lincolnnationallife2-storer

The Lincoln Financial Foundation, owner of the collection, was adamant on two points. First, the organization wanted the collection to be donated to an institution capable of providing permanent care and broad public access. Second, the collection would not be broken up among multiple owners. In other words, this collection which had been built over so many decades was not for sale and would remain intact. This came as a relief to Lincoln fans all over the country. However, the question of where it would land remained indeterminate for some time and not without controversy.

I recall visiting with James Cornelius, former curator of Lincoln artifacts at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield Illinois, back in early 2009. Although my research visit was in no way connected to the Lincoln Financial collection disposition question, since I was a Hoosier, Dr. Cornelius, whom I admire, could not resist asking me how it happened. I had to inform him that I really had no idea and could not even begin to offer an explanation. Jane Gastineau cleared that question up for me.

lincolnnationallife-storer“The advantage of our facility, aside from it being in Indiana, was our technical ability. We could have any object or artifact digitized, on the web and available to researchers in no more than three days.” That may seem like a given to researchers nowadays, but a decade ago, most research facilities were still working with copy and fax machines; not exactly on the cutting edge of the digital universe.

In December of 2008 those conditions were met when one of the largest private collections of Abraham Lincoln-related material in existence was donated to the people of Indiana. Today the Collection is housed in two institutions, the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. This allows the Collection to live on in its entirety, available to the public in various exhibits at all times. And, especially in my case, the digitized LFFC is available on-line to researchers 24-7.

To date the LFFC has 15,219 items available in full text through Internet Archive and have had 5,373,223 views of that material since late 2009. The library collection has 4,907 photographs and 3,021 documents/manuscripts online. Most importantly, additional manuscripts and transcriptions are being added weekly as they are processed. Lincoln programming at the library is also taped, and there are 51 programs viewable online at https://archive.org/details/allencountylincolnprograms.

I recently spent a couple days in Fort Wayne researching Lincoln. I found Jane Gastineau hard at work deciphering, transcribing and cataloging the Lincoln collection. Depending on the day (or the hour) Jane may be working on Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary, their son Robert or, just as often, any number of the researchers and volunteer catalogers from generations prior. Seems that 210 years after the Great Emancipator’s birth, there is still plenty of work to be done within the Lincoln genre.

“Standards of best practice re: collection building, collection record keeping, and professional conflict of interest have changed over the decades. That means that some of the practices (of early Lincoln collector/curators) may look sketchy to us, but they were acceptable at the time. Some of the older practices also make tracking provenance a bit tricky and occasionally impossible, which is frustrating for us. Hopefully we’re doing better so that those who come after us won’t find us sketchy.”

Facebook-Friends-of-lincolnAccording to Gastineau, “I work entirely with the part of the collection housed at the Allen County Public Library. The LFFC is supported by an endowment under the Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana. The Allen County Public Library provides our space and supports programming at the library, but all other financial support (salaries, travel for conferences, supplies, digitizing expenses, acquisitions, etc.) are paid through the Friends endowment.”

She continues, “There are two of us that work fulltime with the collection. I moved with the collection from The Lincoln Museum (where I had been collections manager) to the library on July 1, 2009. I know the collection pretty well—though we’re still finding things we didn’t know we had—and I’ve learned a great deal about Lincoln and those surrounding him and “collecting him.” But I don’t consider myself a Lincoln expert and certainly not a Lincoln scholar. I just know a lot about him—and I admire him.” Jane is quick to point out that, “I’m not a solo act.” She’s had three coworkers over the years—Cindy VanHorn (who came with Jane from the Fort Wayne Lincoln Museum) and is currently working part time with the portion of the LFFC housed at the Indiana State Museum; Adriana Maynard Harmeyer who left to join the Archives/Special Collections at Purdue University and Jane’s associate Lincoln-librarian (and editor of the LFFC’s Lincoln Lore publication) Emily Rapoza.

Although Jane truly loves her job, she is looking forward to retirement. For now, the librarian has no plans to return to her old post, even as a volunteer, simply because, “I don’t want my successor to feel like I’m looking over his/her shoulder and judging whether things are being done right. I had my time here, and I think my coworkers and I accomplished a great deal with organizing and documenting the collection and making it widely accessible. But now I need to stay out of my successor’s way. I work with an amazing collection, and there’s always something new to discover or a new problem to solve. This job has let me work as a librarian, an archivist, a program planner, a program presenter, a creator of exhibits on site and online, a researcher, a reference for researchers, a tour guide, an instructor for interns. It’s been a great twelve years.”

When asked what she will miss the most, Jane states that she will miss the “everyday discoveries”. Whether she is learning something new from a tour guest, researcher or from the collection itself, Jane smiles widest when she makes a new discovery. While escorting me on a special tour of the LFFC holdings on display in the climate controlled, secure vault hidden deep within the library, Jane relayed the story of one such discovery made some time ago, quite by accident.

IMG_5527“For whatever reason, it was a slow day and I was poking through some uncatalogued material from the James Hickey collection. I ran across this scrap of paper.” At this point Jane removes the protective jet black cover from a locked case at one side of the room to reveal several documents written and signed by Abraham Lincoln himself. She directs my attention to a small note in the familiar handwriting of our sixteenth President. “Read it,” Jane states, “See if you notice the one word that makes people chuckle when they see it.”

“There is reason to believe this Corneilus Garvin is an idiot, and that he is kept in the 52nd N.Y. concealed + denied to avoid an exposure of guilty parties. Will Sec. of War please have the thing probed? A. Lincoln May 21, 1864” Jane reveals that the word “idiot” in Lincoln’s note never fails to elicit a giggle, “But that word doesn’t mean what they think it means. Idiot was the way they described intellectual disabilities back then.”

Jane explains that she googled the soldier’s name and learned that this note, along with 60 other supporting documents found with it, were the key to a mystery that ultimately led to a book by an Irish historian named Damian Shiels who also authors a blog called “Irish in the American Civil War”. Jane states that Shiels “had pieced the Garvin story together from newspaper accounts and pension records in the US National Archives. His post included the information that Garvin’s documents had been offered for sale in the 1940s and requested that, if anyone knew where the documents were, he be informed. So I emailed him that we had the docs and digitized them and put them online in our collection so he could use them. In 2016 he published a book titled “The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America,” and the story of Catharine and Cornelius Garvin is the first story—about 12 pages.”

Shiels reveals, “During the Civil War, many freed slaves and young men were abducted from their families, and purchased by the Union in order to replace men who sought to avoid warfare for various reasons. In 1863, a widow by the name of Mrs. Catherine Garvin of Troy, New York, was informed that her son, Cornelius, was missing. In efforts to connect with her lost son, Mrs. Garvin not only searched the camps and hospitals where her son was believed to be, she brought her story to local politicians, newspapers, and suddenly the story of the missing boy “Con” began to receive attention. Mrs. Garvin’s story became such a sensation that it received attention from President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln’s interest in this story was a result of the sympathy that he felt towards Mrs. Garvin and the story of her son being sold to war. Due to his sympathetic nature, on April 18, 1864, Lincoln wrote in a telegram to Colonel Paul Frank of the 52nd Potomac, the regiment in which it was believed that Cornelius was fighting. In the telegram sent from the Executive Office, Lincoln wrote, “Is there, or has there been a man in your Regiment by the name of Cornelius Garvin? And if so, answer me so far as you know where he now is.”

“Despite Lincoln’s efforts to connect Mrs. Garvin with her son, Lincoln’s telegram never received a response form Colonel Frank. However, it was suggested that Garvin’s Captain, Capt. Degner, not only neglected to search for Cornelius, but threatened his privates in aiding Mrs. Garvin, or anyone involved in the investigation with information. Colonel LC Baker placed Captain Degner under arrest until more evidence was found, but there are no further records of charges brought against Degner.”

Jane Gastineau’s chance discovery, in effect, helped solve the ages-old mystery. According to the Lincoln Library webpage, “In the summer of 1863, Cornelius Garvin (b. 1845), a resident of the Rensselaer County Almshouse, was sold as a substitute into the Union army by the home’s superintendent. Eighteen-year-old Cornelius was mentally disabled in some way and had been declared an incurable “idiot” by the Marshall Infirmary, located in Troy, N.Y. He had then been placed in the county almshouse by his mother, Catharine (d. c1896), because she could not care for him at home. When Catharine went to visit her son on September 7, 1863, the superintendent informed her that Con was in the army and showed her the money he had received as payment for the boy. Catharine wrote later, “It was very cruel to sell my idiot son.” Catharine Garvin spent the rest of the 1860s looking for Cornelius. Although he was thought to have been enlisted in the 52nd New York Infantry Regiment and an official army investigation was conducted, she never found him or learned his fate. She ultimately accepted the likelihood he was dead, as the army investigation had concluded. She applied for and received a survivor’s pension from the U.S. government. Catharine continued to live in Troy, N.Y., until around 1890 when she returned permanently to Ireland. Because she was an American citizen, she continued to receive her pension until her death in County Limerick around 1896.”

One of Jane Gastineau’s favorite observations while researching are the many “rabbit holes” she finds herself traveling through when it comes to Lincoln. The note she discovered is a perfect illustration. And those rabbit holes promise to continue for researchers long after she vacates her position. In fact, another example can be found within her research that was of particular interest to me. Col. L.C. Baker, the officer mentioned above, was none other than Lafayette Curry Baker. Baker was recalled to Washington after the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln and within two days of his arrival he and his agents had made four arrests and had the names of two more conspirators, including assassin John Wilkes Booth. Before the month was out, Booth along with Davey Herold were found holed up in a barn where Booth was shot and killed. Baker received a generous share of the Goverment’s $100,000 reward. Yes Jane, there are indeed a great many rabbit holes to explore wherever Lincoln is involved.

Photos of various Lincoln items on display in the vault at the Allen County Library.

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Robert Todd Lincoln’s schoolbook.

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Tad Lincoln gets a sword and a uniform per his father’s order.

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Mary Todd Lincoln
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Rare mourning letter sent to Tad Lincoln after the assassination of his father.

 

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Robert Todd Lincoln
Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours

Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp # 356.

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Bob Winters, Mike Beck, Past Department Commander (PDC); Tim Beckman, PDC; Garry Walls, PCC; Bruce Kolb, PDC; Jim Floyd.

Original publish date:  July 11, 2019

Sometimes you just need to step back, relax, reflect awhile and think about what it means to be a Hoosier. The fourth of July seems a perfect time for such reflections. I was born in Indianapolis, as were my parents, grand parents and great-grand parents. Like many of us, I had forefathers who served in the Civil War. In my case, I had gr-gr-grandfathers serving on both sides of the conflict; my maternal forefather was riding with Morgan’s Raiders while my paternal forefather was chasing him. Had one caught the other, I might not be here.
This past Memorial Day, I finally decided to venture out to Crown Hill Cemetery and attend the official ceremonies hosted by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War-Ben Harrison Camp #356. Dave “The King” Wilson had suggested I join a few years back and I just got around to joining recently. I’ve known Camp Commander Jim Floyd for nearly two decades and was delighted to be present as a spectator while Jim and Dave led the ceremonies. Truth is, I joined not only to honor the veterans in my past family but also to honor my muse of the past decade: Osborn Oldroyd.

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Osborn H. Oldroyd

As many of you know, Oldroyd has been on my mind lately. Not only was he the very first curator of a Lincoln museum, first housed in the Lincoln homestead in Springfield, Illinois for a decade and then in the House Where Lincoln Died in Washington D.C. for over three decades more. Equally importantly, he also served as Assistant Adjutant General of the Grand Army of the Republic in the District for over twenty years. Regardless of how I got there, I got there. And hopefully by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll decide you might want to join too.
The Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 SUVCW was originally founded on June 19, 1884 with 46 members, most of whom were “real sons”. After that first camp disbanded, it reorganized on March 8, 1897 with 32 members. It continued meeting into the early 1970’s before it disbanded again. In 1981, the Ben Harrison camp was organized once again and has met continuously ever since. Their mission statement, quite simply, is to “Honor Union Veterans and all who have patriotically served our country in any war, preserving & perpetuating the Grand Army of the Republic, and Patriotic Education.” All with the goal to help America become a better nation by helping to keep the stories and sacrifice of our Civil War ancestors alive.
The Ben Harrison camp “honors the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union and free an enslaved people through activities including: maintaining their graves, teaching patriotism, and ensuring future generations continue to learn from the mistakes of the past.” As for the parent organization, “The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is the volunteer, non-profit, charitable, fraternal, patriotic and educational organization created by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which was the largest Union Civil War veterans’ organization. The SUVCW is officially recognized as the GAR’s legal successor, and received its Congressional Charter in 1954.”

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Jim Floyd,  Bob Winters, Jim Floyd.
These fellows truly practice what they preach. In the past few years of outside observation, I’ve watched from afar as these men have repaired, reset, restored, cleaned and replaced the markers of dozens of Hoosier Civil war soldiers; led the charge by decorating soldier’s graves for memorial day at Crown Hill Cemetery and Remembrance Day every November in Gettysburg as well as protecting a Hoosier monument in distress at Vicksburg. This past effort is of particular interest to me as it was on this field that Osborn Oldroyd was wounded three times in battle. I’ve fairly worn out my family, friends and readers over the past several years by rambling on about Oldroyd, so I’ll spare you any further abuse on the Lincoln collector / curator…for now.
IMG_3521This memorial day, the Ben Harrison camp honored Hoosier Civil War soldier Captain Richard Burns. With temperatures in Indianapolis hovering above or around the 90 degree mark for nearly two months now, Captain Burns’ story seems apropos to the moment. For you see, Captain Richard Burns died of sunstroke. At 5′ 10″ and weighing 143 pounds, Richard Burns was light skinned with piercing blue eyes and prematurely gray hair. Burns first enlisted on September 21, 1861 as a private in Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery. The unit was organized in Connersville, Indiana, and mustered in at Indianapolis on August 24, 1861. Ironically, the unit would muster out nearly 4 years to the day (August 21, 1865) at the same place.
Within weeks of his enlistment, Burns was appointed corporal on October 1, 1861. From there Burns advanced to squad sergeant then orderly sergeant. On November 25, 1862 he was appointed second lieutenant then rose to first lieutenant on October 25, 1863. On July 25, 1865 Burns was appointed captain, a rank he would retain until his discharge on August 21, 1865. While his rise through the ranks might be described as meteoric, it did not come without cost. During his service, Burns contracted typhoid pneumonia (more commonly known as consumption back then) and was plagued by chronic diarrhea for nearly all of his military service. The latter, while uncomfortable, was temporary. However, the Streptococcus pneumonia remained and slowly invaded and weakened his heart for the remainder of his life.
Before the war, Burns worked in the “burnt district” of Wayne County as a heavy machinist. After his discharge, Burns returned to Cambridge City but was confined to light duty, working as a grocery clerk and a brick mason. Burns relocated to Montana in 1867, presumably chasing gold or cattle alongside other fortune-hunting Civil War veterans, but moved back to Cambridge City the next year. From there, Burns moved to Anderson and finally to Indianapolis.
According to an article titled “THE OPPRESSIVE HEAT” found in the August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper (page 8), “The remarkably cool weather of the first three days of the week was followed by a hot wave yesterday that raised the mercury to 91 degrees at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The air during the afternoon and early evening, in the absence of any breeze, was very oppressive, and as people were not prepared for the sudden change there was much discomfort. At 5 o’clock in the evening Richard Burns, a brick-mason, living at No. 90 North New Jersey street, was prostrated on Hadley avenue, where he was working. Kregelo’s ambulance was called, and the attendants were taking him to the City Hospital when he died. He was fifty years of age.”

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August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper

The Indianapolis News of that same day, reported “Yesterday afternoon the temperature mounted to an uncomfortable degree, and the heat was very oppressive. Late in the day Captain Richard Burns, residing 90 North New Jersey street and employed on Hadley avenue, was overcome by the heat, and he died while Kregelo’s ambulance was removing him to the hospital. He was aged about fifty, and was a member of Chapman Post, G. A. R., and a pensioner. he leaves a wife, but no children….” He was buried on Lot 49, Section 4 in Crown Hill Cemetery on August 19, 1888 at 2:00.

This memorial day’s ceremony at Crown Hill was solemn, stirring and well organized. However, it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned of a connection between Captain Burns, myself and Irvington. The Third Light Battery was assigned to General John C. Fremont’s Army of the Tennessee and accompanied it in the campaign through southwestern Missouri in the Western Theater. In December, 1863, the battery moved to Columbus, Ky., where it served in the winter campaign through western Tennessee before it moved to Vicksburg and joined Sherman’s army on the expedition to Meridian, Miss., in Feb., 1864. From there, the battery assisted in the storming and capture of Fort De Russy. It then served at Memphis and Tupelo, Miss. In Jan., 1865, the unit moved to New Orleans, where it took part in the siege and capture of Fort Blakely, which resulted in the surrender of Mobile. It next moved to Montgomery, thence to Selma, Ala., where it remained until July 30, 1865, when orders were received to proceed to Indianapolis. It was mustered out Aug. 13, 1865, numbering 3 officers and 71 men, having lost 64 in killed and wounded.

Captain Richard Burns served in in the Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery alongside fellow Captains James M. Cockefair, Thomas J. Ginn, and Watton W. Frybarger. Capt. Frybarger was promoted major and was wounded in the head during the Battle of Shiloh. After which he was ordered back to Indianapolis to organize all of the state’s artillery units by his pre-war friend, Indiana’s Civil War Governor Oliver P. Morton. It should be noted that Frybarger has the distinction of organizing the Hoosier state’s only artillery battery in place BEFORE the war. Frybarger went to work shoring up the southern border of Indiana by placing guns at several places along the Ohio River. His invasion fears were realized in early July of 1863 when Morgan’s Raiders invaded the state via Kentucky. Yes, Major Frybarger was a born artillerist.

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The W.W. Frybarger ring on Dave Wilson’s finger.

If you have taken my October tours of Irvington, then you’ve met Major Frybarger. Well, sort of anyway. I conclude every tour of Irvington with a stop at the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train slowly steamed past in the pre-dawn hours of April 30th, 1865. As I share with my guests, many years ago I was offered some of the personal effects of Major Frybarger. Among those effects were an ancient leather-bound album full of family tintype and CDV photos, a lock of his hair, a large silver platter, and his regimental ring. The platter, which at 21″ tall and 33″ wide, is quite large. It is inscribed “Presented by the 22nd and 23rd Indiana Mounted Artillery to Mrs Major W.W. Frybarger Indianapolis March 1863” and was given to the Major’s wife by grateful soldiers in thanks to the Major securing the southern Indiana border.

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Major W.W. Frybarger

Equally important to the Frybarger saga is his role in the Lincoln funeral here in Indianapolis. As every Hoosier student of Lincoln knows, when the martyred President’s remains arrived in Indianapolis, it arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour so strong that the official public ceremonies had to be cancelled. For that evening of April 30th, 1865 Mr. Lincoln’s body remained in the rotunda of the old statehouse. Who was in charge of the decorating and care of the railsplitter’s body that night? Major W.W. Frybarger. I tell October visitors to Irvington that story while placing the ring on the finger of every guest I approach with the admonition that Frybarger’s regimental ring may well have touched the body of Abraham Lincoln.

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Major W.W. Frybarger.

Now, thanks to the impeccable research of Sons of Union Veterans Camp Commander Jim Floyd and Eliza E. George Auxiliary No. 356 Secretary / Treasurer Jennifer Thompson, I now have another connection to Frybarger. I should note that by the time you read this article, I will have joined the Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 as an official member. I am sure that the brothers would be happy to have you in their ranks as well. For more information, contact http://benharrisoncamp.org/ Or drop me an e-mail and I’ll steer you towards this fine organization.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rhonda Hunter with flowers at the ceremony.
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Dave Wilson, Rhonda Hunter & Jim Floyd.
Abe Lincoln, Presidents

Robert Todd Lincoln checks in.

http://weeklyview.net/2019/06/13/robert-todd-lincoln-checks-in/Robert Todd Lincoln ‎February ‎25, ‎2011 photo

Original publish date:  February 25, 2011  /  Reissue date June 13, 2019

Anyone who reads my column regularly knows that I have a love of odd, unusual history relics, ghost stories and collectibles. I spend a lot of time at antique shows, flea markets, libraries and historic buildings and about once a year, I stumble across something that speaks to me and ultimately reveals a deeper story than I ever imagined. I recently acquired an item, and a story, that I’d like to share with you. It is a personal check dated December 17, 1920 from the New York City bank account of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving child of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
Finding a cancelled check from a long forgotten bank account of a dead celebrity is not as rare as it sounds. There exists a thriving underground market of dealers in checks and official documents from famous, or infamous, personalities from every field you can imagine. Think of it, most people save their old checks and if you’re a collector, what better way to authenticate a signature than on a check?
As with most Hoosiers, I share a certain fascination with Abraham Lincoln and the many sites, stories and memorabilia associated with him. I have long tried to decipher the complicated relationship between Robert Todd Lincoln and his parents. Aside from being Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln (August 1, 1843 – July 26, 1926) was an accomplished lawyer, US Ambassador and Secretary of War for Presidents Garfield and Arthur. In fact, most historians consider Lincoln to be our country’s second most effective Secretary of War behind only Jefferson Davis. Yes the same Jefferson Davis who opposed his father during the American Civil War as President of the Confederacy.
Robert Lincoln studied at Harvard University from 1861 to 1864 and much to the embarrassment of his father, Mary Lincoln prevented her son from joining the Union Army until shortly before the war’s conclusion in 1865. He briefly held the rank of captain, serving in the last weeks as part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s immediate staff and never saw actual combat. He was in the room at Appomattox when Lee surrendered.
Lincoln’s distant relationship with his father was due in part to the fact that Abraham Lincoln spent months on the judicial circuit during Robert’s formative years growing up in Springfield and later Robert was away at college when his father attained the White House. Although Abe was proud of Robert and thought him bright, the two lacked the same strong bond Father Abraham had with Bob’s younger brothers, Willie and Tad. There can be no doubt that Robert deeply admired his father and he wept openly at his deathbed.

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Mary, Robert, Abraham and Tad Lincoln.

Following his father’s assassination, in April 1865, Robert moved with his mother and brother Tad to Chicago, where Robert completed his law studies at the University of Chicago. Robert was admitted to the bar on February 25, 1867. In 1868, Robert Lincoln married Mary Eunice Harlan, the daughter of Iowa Senator James Harlan, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Senator Harlan is perhaps remembered for an 1865 incident as Secretary of the Interior under President Andrew Johnson, when he found a copy of Leaves of Grass on Clerk Walt Whitman’s desk (left there as the poet was making revisions) and found it to be morally offensive. “I will not have the author of that book in this Department”, he said. “If the President of the United States should order his reinstatement, I would resign sooner than I would put him back.” Robert and Mary had two daughters and one son: Mary “Mamie” Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln II (nicknamed “Jack”) and Jessie Harlan Lincoln.
After his father’s assassination, Robert’s life continued to be connected to sadness and tragedy. After all, Robert was invited to accompany his parents to the Ford’s Theatre but declined (citing what we would today call “Jet Lag” from his trip home from the war front) and instead he went to bed early at the White House. He was informed of the shooting just before midnight and was at his father’s bedside when he died. No doubt, the decision not to accompany his parents haunted him for the rest of his life. Not only for the supposed inability to protect his father, but also for the prospect that he too might have died in the attack.

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Mary, Willie, Robert, Tad and Abraham Lincoln.

In 1875, perhaps rashly and ill-advised, Robert had his mother Mary committed to a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinois. Mary’s eccentric behavior has been well documented. Nevertheless, Robert tasted the sting of public criticism and rebuke for the first time in his young life. The incident led to a profound estrangement between Bob and his mother and the two never fully reconciled.
Coincidentally Robert was was just a few feet away when President James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1881. Lincoln was serving as Garfield’s Secretary of War at the time and cradled the President’s body on the railroad platform as medical personnel arrived on scene. Later, on September 6, 1901, at President William McKinley’s invitation, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. From then on, Lincoln would politely refuse all Presidential invitations with the comment “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.” However, he did attend the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922 in the presence of President Warren G. Harding. Harding was dead within a year.
Lincoln’s son Abraham Lincoln II , aka “Jack”, died in London at the age of 16 from blood poisoning after a freak infection set in following surgery to lance a boil under his arm. Jack was originally buried in the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Ill. but his mother (coincidentally named Mary) had Jack’s remains dug up and re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery after her husband Robert died in 1926. The cycle of sadness followed Robert after his death as Jack’s body was removed from the President’s tomb, where it had rested near his illustrious grandfather for 40 years, and removed to Arlington. Robert himself had expressed his intentions to be buried next to his father and son in Springfield, but for unknown reasons, his wife changed the plans. The empty crypts of both men can be found in the President’s tomb in Springfield to this very day. As a final irony, Jack’s name was not added to his father’s Arlington memorial until 1976.

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Lincoln’s great-grandchildren Robert Todd Lincoln (Bud) Beckwith and Mary “Peggy Lincoln Beckwith.

Of Robert’s remaining children, Jessie Harlan Lincoln Beckwith (1875–1948) had two children, Mary (“Peggy”) Lincoln Beckwith [1898 – 1975] and Robert (“Bud”) Todd Lincoln Beckwith (1904–1985). Robert’s other daughter, Mary (“Mamie”)Todd Lincoln (1869–1938) had one son, Lincoln Isham (1892–1971). Isham married but never had children. Peggy, who was rumored to be a lesbian because she smoked cigars and wore men’s pants, also never married or had children. Her brother Bud married three times but had no heirs.
That is where my personal story begins. As it happens, the 1920 Robert Todd Lincoln check that I purchased was also signed by Bud. This intrigued me as I knew little or nothing of Bud Beckwith and wondered why the check would be signed by both men.
Bud was an attorney and self described “playboy” who often listed his profession as “gentleman farmer of independent means” rather than lawyer. He served in the Coast Guard during World War II, which resulted in a lasting hobby of boating and sailing. To say that “Bud” Beckwith was eccentric is like saying water is wet.
At some point, Bud Beckwith realized that he was the last heir to the Lincoln name, the last direct link to the martyred President. In this role, he realized he was now the repository of the everyday Lincoln papers and mundane family belongings perhaps unworthy of museum stewardship but valuable just the same. Among those were the cancelled checks of his grandfather. Bud decided to forever link his name with that of his illustrious namesake by counter signing some of the checks that were left to him with his full name, “Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith” beside the fountain pen signature of “Robert Todd Lincoln”. He would sometimes send these checks out to autograph collectors who wrote asking for signed mementos from Bud or his family.

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Brentano’s Bookstore as Robert Todd Lincoln would have known it.

My check was written by the son of President Abraham Lincoln on December 17, 1920. It was made out to “Brentano’s” bookstore in New York City for nine dollars and seventy cents. It is easy to imagine Secretary Lincoln walking into Brentano’s on that Friday evening one week before Christmas before heading back to his estate, “Hildene”, in Manchester Center, Vermont. Was he buying books to give away as Christmas presents or to read on the 4 hour train ride home to Hildene? Perhaps he was buying books about his father?

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Brentano’s Bookstore Scene from Seinfeld

And Brentano’s? Well, if you are a fan of the “Seinfeld” TV show, you know Brentano’s. It was the setting for the 1998 episode titled, “The Bookstore” in which George is accused of taking an expensive art book into the bathroom causing the book to become forever “flagged” as unreturnable. Jerry also catches his Uncle Leo shoplifting in the store. As you can imagine, pop culture fanatic that I am, I was thrilled to establish my own personal link between Abe Lincoln and the iconic computer age television sitcom.

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Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower and Robert Todd Lincoln “Bud” Beckwith.

The last living person with a direct link to President Abraham Lincoln, Robert’s namesake grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, aka “Bud”, died alone in a nursing home in Saluda, Virginia (about 45 miles from the Confederate Capitol of Richmond) at the age of 81 on December 24, 1985 at around 6:05 pm. Nearly 65 years to the day after my check was signed. History lives my friends. You can touch it, dream about it and in many cases buy it and make it your own. My suggestion? Go and visit your local antique store, there are many fine shops and malls around Irvington, the Indianapolis eastside and all the way out to Greenfield and beyond on the Historic National Road. You just never know what you might find. History awaits you.

Abe Lincoln, Presidents

Did you forget Lincoln’s Birthday? PART II.

Lincoln II

Original publish date:  March 14, 2019

In 1909, to honor the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, President Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in issuing the Lincoln head penny. It was a smash hit. But the new coins were not beloved by everyone.
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They were too thick for vending machines and, much to the dismay of the telephone company, could pass for nickels. The highly polished, shiny new pennies gave thieves fits: one train robber in Altoona, Pa., carted off a bagful, worth $50, while leaving another bag, containing $5,000 in gold, behind. The New York Times advocated for the return for the “Indian Head Cent” featuring the Native American which had graced the coin since the Civil War. “The red Indian in his war bonnet, the sole survival of aboriginal North America, was of value as a cultural memorial, if for nothing else.” They called the loss of the Indian Head penny “another ill-considered freak of Mr. Roosevelt’s will.” It suggested that the “foolish” replacements “find oblivion in the tills of the coin collectors.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer compared the new coin to “the cheap little medal that used to be given away with bags of pop-corn.” In The New York Herald, a letter to the editor called it “only useful to adorn a church collection plate or feed a penny slot chewing gum machine or to be given to our ‘kids’ for lollipops.”
By the end of 1909, the Mint had stamped out more than 100 million of the new pennies. Some still viewed the new coin as a novelty. A drugstore in Syracuse offered one to every customer; a store in Galveston, Tex., threw one in if you bought three pairs of women’s hosiery. A jeweler in Fresno, Calif., offered Lincoln penny hat pins and brooches for 25 cents, and Lincoln penny cuff links for 50 cents. The Lincoln penny remained a powerful method of payment all the way through the Great Depression. z lincoln-wheat-cent-steel
During World War II, homefront shortages led to the production of a special silver steel penny. In 1943, the Mint decided to halt production of copper pennies because copper was needed for production of war materials. These new Lincoln Penny coins were made out of steel and plated with zinc to make it look shiny on the outside.
However, they were a problem from the start. New shiny pennies were often mistaken for dimes. Magnets in one cent vending machines placed inside to pick up steel slugs now became jammed on the new legitimate steel pennies. And while the front and back of the new pennies were galvanized, the edges were not and sweat and moisture would quickly rust the metal. After public outcry, the Mint discontinued production of the steel cents and developed pennies made from salvaged brass shell casings augmented with pure copper that was used for 1944–46-dated cents, after which the prewar composition was resumed. Although steel pennies continued to circulate into the 1960s, the mint collected large numbers of the 1943 cents and destroyed them.
The steel cent is the only regular-issue United States coin that can be picked up with a magnet. Even though the history regarding the steel penny is interesting, it is not valuable and remains a very common coin, over a billion coins were issued and most are worth a few cents each. On Lincoln’s 150th birthday in 1959, the penny lost half of its original design, the wheat stalks were removed and replaced by the Lincoln Memorial. When the Lincoln penny made it’s debut in 1909, the Lincoln monument was in its earliest design stages in the nation’s capital.
z 1983-doubled-die-reverse-lincoln-memorial-centIn 1983, the copper was replaced with lighter, cheaper zinc- which explains why penny bending bar bets got easier to win during the Reagan years. And businesses continued to give Lincoln pennies away. Every visitor to the old Lincoln Financial Museum in Fort Wayne received a Lincoln penny in change as did visitors to the House Where Lincoln Died museum in Washington, DC during the fifties and sixties. Today, the few people who still bend over to pick them up are invariably those least able to stoop.
Even if the revelation of the Lincoln penny creation story comes as a surprise to most, the connection of Abraham Lincoln and the Lincoln cent is an obvious one. The same thing could be said of another American institution named after the sixteenth president: Lincoln logs. But like the penny, this popular toy has a backstory that you probably weren’t aware of.
z inventors-wright-john-lloyd-lincoln-logs-ad-hb3-656-banner-editLincoln Logs is a U.S. children’s toy consisting of notched miniature logs, used to build small forts and buildings. They were invented by the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. 24-year-old John Lloyd Wright came up with the idea for Lincoln Logs on a visit to Tokyo, Japan, while working as chief assistant for his father in 1916. John was working side-by-side with his father on the design of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel. The foundation of the hotel was designed with interlocking log beams, making the structure one of the first “earthquake-proof” buildings in the world. The Imperial Hotel ‘s design that allowed the hotel to sway but not collapse in case of a tremor, would be one of the few buildings that remained standing after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo.
z Imperial_Hotel_Wright_HouseUnlike the hotel, the relationship between father and son crumbled long before the hotel was ever completed. Suddenly out-of-work, John Lloyd Wright decided to construct a miniature model that could be used to teach children the basics of construction and engineering while encouraging imaginative play. Using the blueprint for the Imperial Hotel as a model, he created a toy construction set that consisted of notched pieces of wood that children could stack to build log cabins, forts and other rustic buildings. Unlike standard building blocks before them, the interlocking system of miniature logs could withstand the shockwaves unleashed by children’s playing roughly with the toys. When Wright created the toy, the First World War was well underway, although America had not yet entered the fray.
Fresh off Lincoln’s 100th birthday in 1909, the name Abraham Lincoln had been re-established as the American standard. And what better name for a well-constructed stacked-beam log cabin toy than Lincoln Logs? Some have attributed the toy’s name choice as an homage to the young inventor’s father, Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born Frank Lincoln Wright (he changed his middle name to Lloyd to honor his mother’s family, the Lloyd Joneses). Still others say the name is simile on ‘linkin’ logs. Regardless, it is likely the imaginative building toy would have been a hit by any name.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJohn Lloyd Wright organized The Red Square Toy Company (named after his father’s famous symbol), and unveiled the toy in 1918. Wright was issued U.S. patent 1,351,086 on August 31, 1920, for a “Toy-Cabin Construction”. Soon after, he changed the name to J. L. Wright Manufacturing. The original Lincoln Log set came with instructions on how to build Uncle Tom’s Cabin as well as Abraham Lincoln’s cabin. Lincoln Logs makes a lot more sense than “Uncle Tom’s” logs now doesn’t it? The instruction sheet featured a simple drawing of a log cabin, a small portrait of Lincoln and the slogan “Interesting playthings typifying the spirit of America.”
The toy was a hit, following as it did Tinker Toys and the Erector Set which debuted a few years before. During World War II, Americans were encouraged reign in their spending, buy only American-made goods and conserve precious metal for the war effort. While production of other toys during World War II was curtailed, wooden Lincoln Logs continued to roll off factory lines. Later, sparked by the brand new medium of television, the toys’ popularity peaked during the 1950s. The toy’s frontier charm tied in perfectly with popular children’s shows such as “Davy Crockett” and “Bonanza” that were watched by tens of thousands of young “baby boomers” during the Ike Era. Lincoln Logs and John Lloyd Wright were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999, and more than 100 million sets have been sold worldwide.
z WrightBlocksIn the 1930s, Wright attempted to build on the success of Lincoln Logs with Wright Blocks, a toy construction set with interlocking wooden shapes that allowed budding architects to build castles or other complex designs. Wright Blocks, however, proved too intricate and lacked the same appeal as Lincoln Logs. John Lloyd Wright sold his company to Playskool in 1943 for only $800. The copyright for Lincoln Logs eventually passed to toy companies Milton Bradley and Hasbro and finally, K’NEX. In 1949, a company in Denmark developed “Legos” based in large part on Wright’s original design. In February 2015, Lego replaced Ferrari as the “world’s most powerful brand”. Can you imagine, the Ghostbusters Firehouse Headquarters, Star Wars Millennium Falcon, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Castle…all made out of Lincoln Legos? It was just that close.

Abe Lincoln, Pop Culture, Presidents

Did you forget Lincoln’s Birthday? PART I.

Lincolan part I

Original publish date:  March 7, 2019

So, what did you do for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday? Go out to dinner? Go to church? Get together with friends and family? Wait, you knew February 12th was Honest Abe’s birthday didn’t you? Well, don’t feel bad, nobody else did either. But once upon a time, everyone celebrated Lincoln’s birthday.
The move to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday began after his 1865 assassination. In December, the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee agreed that Feb. 12, 1866 should be set aside for ceremonies in the House of Representatives. Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was asked to give a eulogy for Lincoln at the event. When the day arrived, the Capitol was closed to the public and guests filed into the House chamber for the commemoration, which began at noon. The president’s birthday was commemorated by both houses of Congress, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, officers of the army and navy, and many foreign representatives.
z Lincoln-PostcardInside the House chamber guests listened to historian George Bancroft (former Secretary of the Navy and the man who established the Naval Academy at Annapolis) talk about “the life, character, and services of Lincoln…forming one of the most imposing scenes ever witnessed in the land.” The address took nearly two hours. The push for a formal celebration quickly spread to state capitals, legislatures and city councils. Most northern states quickly warmed to the idea but bitterness over Reconstruction and the cult of the “Lost Cause” among southerners scuttled attempts to make Lincoln’s birthday a Federal holiday.
Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky, and to the first few generations after his assassination, that date on the calendar had meaning. Of the 48 states that made up the United States in 1940, exactly half celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday as a holiday. Most celebrations took place in schools, churches, veteran’s halls and political functions. Unlike other traditional American celebrations, Lincoln was not honored with parades but rather with ceremonial dinners and speeches. The states continued to recognize the holiday, which was in close proximity of Washington’s Birthday holiday less than two weeks later, for another 30 years until Congress stepped in and changed all that.
z 51rOas9eAmLIn 1971 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The law shifted several holidays (Veteran’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Lincoln’s Birthday and Columbus Day to name a few) from specific days to a Monday. The reason behind the change was seen as a way to create more three-day weekends and reduce employee absenteeism. The birthdays of George Washington and Lincoln were only 10 days apart, so they were blended into Presidents’ Day.
z pc 1Eventually, individual states created their own Presidents’ Day holidays to be observed on the third Monday in February. This celebration has been enacted in some fashion by 38 states, though never federally, and each varies by state. Some mark the day as a specific remembrance of Washington and Lincoln while others view it as a day to recognize all U.S. presidents. Alabama celebrates Washington and Jefferson. A few states still recognize Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 as its own official holiday. Most notably, Kentucky, his birth state and Illinois,his adopted home state, both celebrate Lincoln’s birthday as an official state holiday, along with a few other states including New York, Connecticut, and Missouri. However, this number has declined in recent years, when California, Ohio and New Jersey ended the celebration of Lincoln’s birthday as paid holidays to cut budgetary costs. Unfortunately, more states now celebrate Black Friday as a holiday than celebrate Lincoln’s birthday. Indiana and Georgia are a couple states that recognize Lincoln’s Birthday on the day after Thanksgiving aka Black Friday.
z pc 2In most states, Lincoln’s birthday is not celebrated separately, as a stand-alone holiday. Instead Lincoln’s Birthday is combined with a celebration of President George Washington’s birthday (also in February) and celebrated either as Washington’s Birthday or as Presidents’ Day on the third Monday in February, concurrent with the federal holiday. Good for George Washington. Sad for Abraham Lincoln. Once upon a time, Lincoln’s birthday was a milestone for Americans to pause and honor greatness.
The centennial of Lincoln’s birth was the largest commemoration of any one person in American history. On the morning of February 12, 1909, the forts around New York Harbor, the National Guard field batteries, and the battleships in port all fired at once to honor Abraham Lincoln. At noon the Gettysburg Address was read in the public schools across America. The culmination of the 100th anniversary was the minting of the first coin bearing the image of an American president, the Lincoln penny. Lately, it seems like the only talk we hear about the penny come from those who want to abolish it. But there may be more to that little copper coin than meets the eye. Well, copper depending on what year you’re talking about. If your Lincoln penny has a date before 1982, it is made of 95% copper. If it is dated 1983 or later, it is made of 97.5% zinc and plated with a thin copper coating.
Since that auspicious debut in 1909, probably no other object in human history has been reproduced more often: to date 1.65 trillion times and counting my friends. That is 1,650,000,000,000 in case you wonder what it looks like. The US Mint estimates 200,035,318,672 are currently in circulation. So what happened to the other 1.4 trillion pennies? Lost in couches? Under car seats? Buried in back yards? My father-in-law Keith Hudson once told me that if you have a stubborn tree stump in the backyard that you want gone just stick a copper penny in it. Well, I don’t know about that but it sure does get you thinking. Maybe that explains where all those pennies went.
z256154_1Regardless, the U.S. Mint still produces more than 13 billion pennies annually. That’s approximately 30 million pennies per day; 1,040 pennies every second. More than two-thirds of all coins produced by the U.S. Mint are pennies and the U.S. Government estimates that $62 million in circulated pennies are lost every year (according to Bloomberg). In fact, the penny is the most widely used denomination in circulation and it remains profitable to make. Each penny costs .93 of a cent to make, but the Mint collects one cent for it. The profit goes to help fund the operation of the Mint and to help pay the public debt. The average penny lasts 25 years.
The penny was the very first coin minted in the United States. In March 1793, the mint distributed 11,178 copper cents. During its early penny-making years, the U.S. Mint was so short on copper that it accepted copper utensils, nails and scrap from the public to melt down for the coins. That 1909 Lincoln centennial penny was the first U.S. coin to feature a historic figure and the first to have the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”. Lincoln faces to the right, while all other portraits on coins face to the left. To date, there have been 11 different designs featured on the penny.
Legend claims that we owe that Lincoln penny to Teddy Roosevelt. Privately, President Theodore Roosevelt told intimates that American coins were “pedestrian and uninspiring”. In July 1908, he sat several times for Victor David Brenner, a Lithuanian-born Jew who, since coming to the United States 19 years earlier, had become one of the nation’s premier medalists. Lincoln, like most immigrants, was Brenner’s personal hero. He was the first American he learned about from his tenement house on New York’s Lower East Side. During those White House sittings, Brenner showed Roosevelt a bas-relief sculpture of Lincoln based on a Mathew Brady photograph. Roosevelt, a great admirer of Lincoln himself, allegedly decreed that Brenner’s Lincoln must go on a new penny to commemorate Lincoln’s 100th birthday in 1909.
Putting Lincoln on the most widely circulated coin made perfect sense, after all, it was Lincoln who’d said “Common-looking people are the best in the world; that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.” Brenner received $1,000 for the commission. Production of the Lincoln penny began at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia on July 10, 1909. The sculptor asked that he receive the first 100 of the new Lincoln pennies, but his request was deinied, so great was the anticipation. Fearing regional jealousies, the Mint ordered the coin be released across the country simultaneously. That May, the Boston Globe reported, “The new Lincoln cents, it seems, will be distributed the first week in August…It is so hard to wait!”

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The public lines up to buy Lincoln cents outside the sub Treasury Building, New York City, August 2, 1909.

On Monday, Aug. 2, 1909 the New York Sun reported on the first of the new Lincoln pennies issued by the Federal Sub-treasury (today’s Federal Reserve Bank) to long lines of budding numismatists waiting anxiously in the financial district. “The big man down in Wall Street yesterday was the man who had a few of the new Lincoln cents. He could have had a fairly good time on 10 of them; he could start a celebration on a quarter’s worth, and for 50 of them there was no reason why he couldn’t purchase a regular jubilee.” The lines continued all week long and by Friday, even the rain couldn’t dampen the money rush in Lower Manhattan.
Some people near the front of the lines sold their spots for a dollar. Other more ambitious entrepreneurs hired women, who in a still chivalrous era, were ushered to the head of the line. “Within 15 minutes there were enough girls at the door to make it look like a bargain counter sale on a busy Monday,” The Sun reported. Many in what The Tribune called “the penny-mad crowd” were poor raged looking little children, some carrying a single battered Indian Head penny to trade in. The resale rate hovered around three new pennies for a nickel, but shot up slightly when supplies ran low. It was pretty much the same all around the country.
The Washington Star compared the “penny-chasers” to the crowds watching the Wright brothers test their new “aeroplanes.” The Boston Globe said, “you could get the new Lincoln coins for a cent apiece by spending, say, a dollar’s worth of time.” The Illinois State Register in Lincoln’s Springfield hometown reported that the Lincoln Bank ordered 5,000, but received only 50. Even in the old Confederacy, The Constitution newspaper reported that “demand was so high outside one Atlanta bank the crowd would have made a Chicago bread line look small.”

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Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg wrote, “If it were possible to talk with that great, good man, he would probably say that he is perfectly willing that his face is to be placed on the cheapest and most common coin in the country. Follow the travels of the penny and you find it stops at many cottages and few mansions. … The common, homely face of ‘Honest Abe’ will look good on the penny, the coin of the common folk from whom he came and to whom he belongs.”