Abe Lincoln, Assassinations, Auctions, Museums, Politics

Abraham Lincoln’s Hat Needs You!


Original publish date:  September 3, 2018

Attention Hoosiers, Abraham Lincoln needs your help. More specifically the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in Springfield, Illinois is appealing to all friends of Mr. Lincoln to lend a hand in their hour of need. Last week I traveled to the ALPLM to speak with the State Historian of Illinois and Director of Research and Collections, Dr. Samuel Wheeler. Although his title and resume may sound imposing, “Sam” is a breath of fresh air for the Lincoln historical community. Dr. Wheeler’s appearance is immediately disarming, his countenance inviting and friendly. Sam breaks the long-established mold of the elderly historian whose gray hair, Meerschaum pipe and leather-elbowed corduroy jacket are calculatedly designed to intimidate. Sam’s youthful appearance and ready smile invite everyone to come, sit and talk history for awhile.

Dr. Sam Wheeler

Dr. Samuel Wheeler is the tenth State Historian in Illinois history and when you consider that 2018 is the state’s Bicentennial year, you may deduce that they choose their historians carefully. Sam’s specialty is the cool stuff: the history of Illinois, the Civil War Era, and the Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Wheeler’s life mission is to protect, preserve, and promote history through education. During his three years at the helm, he has devoted much of his time to assisting other museums, libraries, historic sites, documentary projects, and historical societies. He regularly speaks to diverse audiences across the country, writes for scholarly journals and popular magazines, and offers commentary to newspaper, radio, and television outlets. In short, Dr. Wheeler is a busy man.
The subject of my visit is a topic that has occupied social media, blog spots and chat rooms for the past few weeks. The ALPLM is in danger of losing some of its most precious Abraham Lincoln relics and associative memorabilia. If the ALPLM cannot satisfy a substantial financial liability by October 2019, priceless Lincoln relics will have to be sacrificed to meet their obligation. Meaning that these items will likely end up in the private collections of millionaires never to be displayed publicly again. While the amount of the liability, $9.7 million is staggering, Dr. Wheeler points out that “if we could just get every citizen of Illinois to donate one dollar each, we would wipe out that debt in no time.” Sam continues, “and if you could get Indiana to pitch in the same, we can keep the collection open for generations to come.”
LogoThe ALPLM’s “problems” began back in 2007 when it purchased the famous Taper collection for $23 million. “The collection is amazing,” says Sam, “the Lincoln top hat and bloodied gloves seem to be the items that resonate most with people, but the collection is much more than that.” Dr. Wheeler says that the uniqueness of the Taper collection centers around its emphasis on assassination related items, a field that had been largely ignored by Lincoln collectors at that time of its assemblage. The collection was created by Louise Taper, daughter-in-law of Southern California real estate magnate S. Mark Taper. She created the exhibition The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America which was at the Huntington Library from 1993–1994 and at the Chicago Historical Society from 1996-1997.
According to the ALPLM’s website, “Louise Taper amassed the largest private collection of Lincolniana in more than a half-century, highlighted by 1 of 3 stovepipe hats known to have belonged to Lincoln; the earliest of his boyhood sumbook pages, ca. 1824-1826; and more than 100 letters or notes in the hands of Abraham or Mary Lincoln. Also among the 1,500 items in the collection are manuscripts by friends and contemporaries, personally owned books and clothing or other accouterments, prints, broadsides, newspapers, artworks, period photographs, and assassination-related materials.”
The ALPLM acquired the Taper Collection two years after they opened the $150 million facility on April 19, 2005. To blunt public charges that the ALPLM had bit off more than it could chew, Dr, Wheeler compares the museum to a 13-year-old child. He states, “Not too many 13-year-olds have got it all together. We’ve matured a lot in the last two years.” Sam notes that in those two years, the ALPLM has streamlined much of their operation citing as examples that more of the collection has been digitized for research and the museum’s six research rooms have been pared down to one.
Presidential-Museum-CreditALPLM3“Bottom line,” Sam says, “we need to keep the collection here. That is our first priority.” It is easy to see how important this collection is to Dr. Wheeler by simply watching his eyes as he speaks. To Wheeler, the collection is not just a part of the museum, it is a part of the state of Illinois. Sam relates how when he speaks to groups, which he does quite regularly on behalf of the ALPLM, he often reaches into the vault to bring along pieces from the Taper collection to fit the topic. “People love seeing these items. It gives them a direct connection to Lincoln.” states Wheeler.
When asked if he has a particular favorite from the Taper collection, Dr. Wheeler smiles and says, “I’m particularly drawn to the gold cufflink that Lincoln was wearing at Ford’s Theater that night.” However, Sam is quick to point out that what makes the Taper collection so special is the depth of quality it represents. The collection contains Mary Lincoln’s hand fan carried to the theater that night, locks of hair from members of the Lincoln family, and the oldest piece of writing by Abraham Lincoln known. It is a page from 15-year-old Abraham Lincoln’s 1824 schoolbook whose content Dr. Wheeler can recite by hear. “Abraham Lincoln is my name/ and with my pen I wrote the same/ I wrote in both haste and speed/ and left it here for fools to read.”
Dr. Wheeler also informs that the Taper collection contains a treasure trove of letters written by John Wilkes Booth and his entire family as well as the ring J.W. Booth presented to his fiancée Elizabeth Sumner. “We also have stage costumes and the handwritten character sketch for John Wilkes Booth’s role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth,” says Wheeler. “Our main objection for the collection, is that we keep it in the public realm. That is imperative.”
The Lincoln Library foundation recently said, “If the foundation is not able to secure commitments in the very near future to retire most-if not all-of the remaining $9.7 million debt, it will have no choice but to accelerate the possibility of selling these unique artifacts on the private market-which would likely remove them from public view forever.”
gettyimages-468377946Hoosiers may ask, why doesn’t the ALPLM just ask the state of Illinois for the money? After all, with 300,000 visitors annually, the Lincoln Library Museum is one of the most popular tourist sites in the state of Illinois and is prominently featured in all of their state tourism ads. Well, the state is billions of dollars in debt despite approving a major income-tax increase last summer and as of the time of this writing, has yet to put together a budget. To the casual observer, one would think that financial stalemate between the state and the museum would be a no-brainer when you consider that the ALPLM has drawn more than 4 million visitors since opening in 2005. The truth is a little more complicated than that. Illinois State government runs and funds the Lincoln library and museum. The separately run foundation raises private funds to support the presidential complex. The foundation, which is not funded by the state, operates a gift store and restaurant but has little role in the complex’s operations, programs and oversight.
Aside from the items previously mentioned, the Taper collection, which numbers over 1500 pieces, also includes a pair of Lincoln’s eyeglasses and his billfold. The Taper collection includes about 100 Mary Todd Lincoln letters, giving the Lincoln presidential library a total of 500-out of only 600 in the world.
Museum officials are sorting out which Taper collection items were donated and transferred to the state, and what might end up for sale-if it should come to that. One item that won’t be on the auction block is the state’s rare copy of the Gettysburg Address, written in Lincoln’s own hand. Luckily, the document wasn’t part of the Taper purchase. The state’s collection of Lincoln artifacts, tens of thousands strong, draws researchers from across the globe and gives the public a chance to see up close the man many Americans feel was the greatest President in U.S. history.

Carl Sandburg and Marilyn Monroe

The Taper collection also included a dress worn by 1950s movie star Marilyn Monroe, an admitted “fan girl” of the 16th President. The blonde bombshell’s dress was considered a non-Lincoln item that potentially would fetch big bucks to help pay off the loan. Perhaps to show that they were serious, in late July the ALPLM sent Monroe’s slinky black dress off to a Las Vegas auctionhouse, where it fetched $50,000 from the lucky bidder. Also sold were seven original photographs of Monroe, which sold for $3000 each. However, an original bust of Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg failed to sell. All proceeds from the Julien’s sale went towards the outstanding debt. Hopefully Lincoln relics will not be next up on the auction block.

Author Doris Kearns Goodwin

Dr. Wheeler is doing his best to get the message out. Aside from his normal 60 hour work week he spends nights and weekends all over the state and country talking about Lincoln, the museum and sounding the alarm to save the collection. The museum is getting help from cherished friends like Doris Kearns Goodwin who will be speaking at the ALPLM on October 29 with “proceeds from this event to benefit the campaign to secure a permanent home for Lincoln’s most personal effects comprising the Taper collection.” Interested and concerned Hoosiers can help by visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library website at http://www.alplm,org and there is a “Save the Lincoln Artifacts” go find me page on the web.
If every Hoosier would chip in a few bucks we could honor our state’s favorite son and help our neighbors in Illinois at the same time. Skip that latte for Lincoln. Snap off that sawbuck for the rail splitter. Honest Abe is depending on you.

Politics, Television

What’s the matter with Minnesota?

What's the matter with Minnesota image

Original publish date:  December 7, 2017

Al Franken resigned this week. The Democratic Senator from Minnesota left office under a cloud of sexual misconduct accusations that surfaced in the autumn of last year. It was the end of a fairytale career by the former Saturday Night Live comedian who first came to Washington DC after a narrow victory in 2008. Narrow might be too tame a word to describe Franken’s surprise win. He won his seat by the scant margin of 312 votes out of nearly three million votes cast. I asked then, and with the news of Franken’s resignation, I will ask again, what’s the matter with Minnesota?

Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

I am a native Hoosier who has followed politics all my life. I know that, in the arena, Midwestern states follow observational patterns that earn reputations. Indiana is the cradle of Vice-Presidents, Ohio is the home of Presidents, Illinois Governors go to prison and Minnesota elects unconventional candidates. I guess when you are talking about the state that gave us Prince, Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Charles Schulz, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roger Maris, Wolfman Jack, Jane Russell, Billy Graham, Charles Lindbergh, Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, Dr. Demento. Fred Zollner of the Zollner Pistons, unconventional may be the watchword. Don’t forget, Minnesota was also home to Paul Bunyan, the Jolly Green Giant and Rocky and Bullwinkle.
z 1101600201_400To be sure, Minnesota has given us very normal politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey and Jimmy Carter’s Vice-President Walter Mondale and Senator Eugene McCarthy. All 3 men ran for President (Humphrey and McCarthy against each other in 1968) and all 3 men lost. Although mainstream, all 3 were unconventional in their own ways. McCarthy was the grandfatherly looking darling of the Anti-Vietnam War Hippy protesters, most of whom were one third his age. Humphrey was a peace seeking dove who became the hawkish voice of the LBJ administration during the Vietnam War. And Mondale was the first to chose a woman as his running mate (Geraldine Ferraro 1984).
z 1101840618_400You may not realize just how prolific Minnesota has been in baby boomer’s collective national political conversation until you realize that Mondale, McCarthy or Hubert Humphrey were on the Democratic ticket as candidates for President or Vice President in the 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 elections. Minnesota is known for a politically active citizenry, with populism being the driving force among the state’s political parties. Minnesota has consistently high voter turnout, in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, 77.8% of eligible Minnesotans voted – the highest percentage of any U.S. state or territory – versus the national average of 61.7%.
To understand what’s wrong with Minnesota, we must first understand the North Star State’s Democratic party. But, although Humphrey, McCarthy, Mondale and Franken were all elected as Democrats, officially, Minnesota does not have a Democratic Party. In Minnesota, the party goes by a different name: the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL for short. Formed by a merger of the Minnesota Democratic Party and the social democratic Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party in 1944, Minnesotans claimed that although their state may have space for a thousand lakes, there wasn’t room for two left-of-center political parties. Although the Farmer-Labor Party achieved great success in the state, electing a number of statewide candidates, including the rabble-rousing Gov. Floyd Olsen, Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey and Minnesota Attorney General Walter Mondale, the party eventually merged with the Democrats. Today, Minnesota Democrats identify themselves as “DFLers”
z 44830_lgThe history of Minnesota electing non-conventionals goes back to 1876 when the state elected John Pillsbury as their 8th Governor. Name sound familiar? Yes, he was the namesake of the Pillsbury doughboy and served from 1876 to 1882. He died in 1901. Following the food theme, Minesota also elected Frank B. Kellogg tot he Senate in 1916. No, he wasn’t the cereal guy, but he did become Secretary of State, British Ambassador and a Nobel Prize winner in 1929.
z 30520_lgThen came (and came-and came-and came) Harold Stassen, Minnesota Governor (it’s youngest ever) from 1939 to 1943. Stassen was a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President nine times between 1944 and 1992 (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992). He never won the Republican nomination, much less the presidency; in fact, after 1952, he never even came close, but continued to campaign actively and seriously for President until just a year before his death. When you add Stassen’s name alongside those of McCarthy, Mondale and Humphrey, a Minnesotan was on the ballot for every Presidential election for six decades.
z Jesse_Ventura_FullThen came Jesse Ventura. The former navy seal turned pro wrestler known as “The Body” was born James George Janos in Minneapolis in 1951. In the Minnesota gubernatorial election of 1998 he was elected the 38th Governor of Minnesota and served from 1999 to 2003 but did not seek a second term. Ventura ran as a candidate for the Reform Party of Minnesota. Ventura went on to gain the highest approval rating of any governor in Minnesota history, with some polls ranking his public approval as high as the 73% in 1999. Ventura is widely regarded as one of the first candidates to effectively use the Internet in a national political campaign.
The last name on my list of unconventional Minnesota candidates is the very first name mentioned in this article: Al Franken. Alan Stuart “Al” Franken (born May 21, 1951) first gained notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live. Franken, along with his stand up partner Tom Davis, was one of the original SNL writers back in 1975. Born in New York City, Franken moved to the Twin Cities after attending Harvard College. Franken received seven Emmy nominations and three awards for his television writing and producing but his most famous character was self-help guru Stuart Smalley.
Franken has acknowledged using cocaine and other illegal drugs while working in television, stating that he stopped after John Belushi died of an overdose in 1982. In 1995, Franken left the show in protest over losing the role of Weekend Update anchor to Norm Macdonald. In 1995, Franken wrote and starred in the film Stuart Saves His Family, based on his SNL Stuart Smalley character. The film was a flop and its aggregate rating of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes is one of the all-time lowest.
z 9780440504702Franken then hosted a nationally syndicated, political radio talk show, The Al Franken Show, and authored six books, four of which are political satires critical of conservative politics. The success of his radio show and books led Franken to run for the U.S. Senate. Franken’s narrow victory was challenged but upheld. The most famous incident that emerged revolved around a ballot that would come to epitomize Franken’s victory. It was a ballot that had been marked twice, once for Franken and once for a write-in candidate known as “Lizard People.” This ballot gained infamy, not only for the absurd nature of a vote being cast for Lizard People but also for whether it should be counted for Franken or for lizard people. Eventually, the ballot was thrown out altogether. Franken was sworn into the Senate on July 7, 2009 (seven months after the congressional session had started) and was re-elected to a second term in office in 2014.
How can this state of 5.5 million people resting closer to Canada than Washington DC be so politically relevant yet so quirkily unconventional? Minnesota is the 12th largest but only the 21st most populated, dontcha know. Minnesota is made up of 13,136,357 acres of total surface water, more area than the size of Hawaii and New Jersey combined, yet they can claim more golfers than any other state in the union. Uff da! The Gopher state’s official bird is a loon, Skol! So, seriously, what is the matter with Minnesota? The world may never know. One thing’s for sure, Minnesota has led the league unorthodox political relevancy for most of our lives. Do I think that reputation will continue in the 21st century? You betcha.


Civil War, Gettysburg, Politics

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part I.

General James Longstreet

Original publish date:  June 8, 2018

Visiting Gettysburg has been a constant in my life for nearly 30 years now. If you are a fan of American history, there is no better place for you than Gettysburg. Although it’s been 155 years since the last shots were fired, the landscape of Gettysburg is ever changing and the battle goes on. In the three decades since I first visited the Borough, (in Pennsylvania, they are called Boroughs, not towns) I’ve seen battles over towers, casinos, cycloramas, visitor centers, hotels, railroads, Harley Davidson’s and monuments. And the one thing I’ve learned from all of them is that there’s always a story behind the story.
This is a story about a General, a monument, an artist and one of the most interesting women you’ve never heard of. And, like the battlefield itself, this is a story of duty, devotion, romance and controversy. Confederate General James Longstreet is a name familiar to all students of the Civil War. Longstreet, born January 8, 1821, looms large among the luminaries of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy but most likely not in the way you might think. The Lost Cause was a misguided Victorian Era view of the war that downplayed slavery and lionized the Confederate military resulting in a movement to glorify the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. The ideology continues with the modern day Confederate monument debate I’ve written about in past columns.

Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet at Gettysburg.

Longstreet was the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his “Old War Horse.” He served under Lee as a corps commander in the venerable Army of Northern Virginia, participating in many of the most famous battles of the Civiil War. Longstreet’s most controversial service was at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, where he openly disagreed with General Lee on the tactics used in attacks on Union forces, most notably, the devastation of Pickett’s Charge.
A month after Gettysburg, Longstreet requested and received a transfer to the Western Theatre just in time for the Battle of Chickamauga. Despite the ineptitude of Commanding General Braxton Bragg, Chickamauga became the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater and Longstreet deserved and received a good portion of the credit. Longstreet’s enmity towards Bragg ultimately resulted in his return to Lee’s army in Virginia where he soon found himself squared up against his best friend on the Union side, Ulysses S. Grant. Both men served together during the War with Mexico and both served as best man for their weddings. The two men were so close that Longstreet called Grant “Sam” and Grant called Longstreet “Pete”. As further proof of the strong connection between the Generals, Grant married Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent, on August 22, 1848.

General James Longstreet

When Longstreet found out that Grant had been elevated to command of the entire Union Army, he told his fellow officers that “he will fight us every day and every hour until the end of the war.” Longstreet’s attack in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 6, 1864) helped save the Confederate Army from defeat in his first battle back with Lee’s army, but it nearly killed him. The General was wounded during the battle when he was accidentally shot by his own men while reconnoitering between lines. The friendly fire incident took place about 4 miles away from the place where Rebel General Stonewall Jackson suffered the same fate a year earlier.
A bullet passed through Longstreet’s shoulder, severing nerves, and tearing a gash in his throat. General Micah Jenkins, who was riding alongside Longstreet, was also shot and died from his wounds. Longstreet’s wound caused him to miss the rest of the 1864 spring and summer campaign, He rejoined Lee in October 1864 and served admirably during the Siege of Petersburg, the defense of the capital of Richmond, and the surrender at Appomattox. As Lee considered surrender, Longstreet told his commander that he though his friend Grant would treat them fairly, but added, “General, if he does not give us good terms, come back and let us fight it out.” General James Longstreet was a man of contradictions whose story was about to get way more contradictory.

General James Longstreet Circa 1866

After the close of the Civil War, Longstreet angered his former countrymen by daring to criticize Robert E. Lee, campaigning for Ulysses S Grant and assimilating to life in the Union. In Southern eyes, Longstreet committed blasphemy for critical comments he wrote in his memoirs about General Lee’s wartime performance, by joining Lincoln’s Republican Party and voting for U.S. Grant (twice!) and for accepting work as a diplomat, civil servant, and administrator in the reunified Federal Government of the United States.
However, anti-Longstreet feelings were not just limited to his fellow countrymen. When the “Reconstructed Rebel” applied for a pardon from President Andrew Johnson he was refused, despite a personal endorsement from Union Army General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson reportedly told Longstreet in a meeting: “There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble.” Luckily for Longstreet, the Radical Republicans in the US Congress hated Johnson more than Johnson hated Longstreet and they restored the General his rights of American citizenship in June of 1868.

General James Longstreet Circa 1876

Leaders of the Lost Cause movement cited Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg as the main reason for the Confederacy’s loss of the war. When Grant appointed Longstreet as surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1868, his old friend General D.H. Hill said: “Our scalawag is the local leper of the community.” When Northerners moved South for financial gain, they were called Carpetbaggers, Hill wrote that Longstreet “is a native, which is so much the worse.”
In 1868, the Republican governor of Louisiana appointed Longstreet the adjutant general of the state militia and by 1872 he became a major general in command of all militia and state police forces within the city of New Orleans. Longstreet continued his role as an anathema to his former Confederate colleagues when he led African-American militia against an armed force of 8,400 members of the anti-Reconstruction White League at the Battle of Liberty Place in New Orleans in 1874. Longstreet commanded a force of 3,600 Metropolitan Police, city policemen, and African-American militia troops, armed with two Gatling guns and a battery of artillery.
The White League charged, causing many of Longstreet’s men to flee or surrender, the General rode to meet the protesters but was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner. Federal troops were sent by President Grant to restore order. There were casualties of 38 killed and 79 wounded. Longstreet’s role in this racial battle sealed his fate among his former countrymen. This sad episode ended his political career and he went into semi-retirement on a 65-acre farm near Gainesville, where he raised turkeys and planted orchards and vineyards on terraced ground that his neighbors derisively named “Gettysburg.” A devastating fire on April 9, 1889 (the 24th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox) destroyed his house and most of his possessions, including his personal Civil War documents and memorabilia.
General-LongstreetThe attacks on Longstreet began in earnest on January 19, 1872, the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth and less than two years after Lee died. In a speech at Washington College, former Rebel General Jubal Early exonerated Lee for the defeat at Gettysburg: Early said Longstreet was late. Early claimed Longstreet’s delay on the second day somehow led to the debacle on the third. The following year at the same venue, Lee’s artillery chief William N. Pendleton, charged that Longstreet disobeyed an explicit order to attack at sunrise on July 2. Although both allegations were false, Longstreet failed to rebuke them publicly for three years. The delay damaged his reputation, and by 1875, the Lost Cause mythology had taken root.

General George Pickett

Perhaps the most astonishing of these Longstreet attacks came from a very unexpected source. The widow of his friend George Pickett. Longstreet and Pickett had enjoyed a long, close association stretching all the way back to their service together in the Mexican War and their association to West Point. Longstreet served with distinction in the Mexican–American War alongside many of the men he would find himself fighting with (and against) at Gettysburg. In the Battle of Chapultepec on September 12, 1847, he was wounded in the thigh while charging up the hill with his regimental colors. As he fell, he handed the flag to his friend, Lt. George E. Pickett, who carried it on to the summit.
In the winter of 1862, during a scarlet fever epidemic in Richmond, Virginia, three of the four Longstreet children (Mary Anne, James and Augustus Baldwin) died within eight days. The blow was almost too much for Longstreet. An aide noted that his “grief was very deep,” while others commented on his change in personality. Because the Longstreets’ were too grief-stricken, it was General George Pickett (and his 16 year-old future bride LaSalle Corbell) who made the burial arrangements. Pickett shared Longstreet’s condemnation of Robert E. Lee’s actions at Gettysburg openly stating “that old man (Lee) had my Division slaughtered.”
Pickett went on to a less than stellar financial career in the insurance business and never forgave Lee for destroying his division (and career). He lived the final years of his life quietly and modestly, farming and battling declining health. Pickett rarely spoke publicly about his war experiences and died on July 30, 1875, at the age of fifty. After Pickett’s death in 1875 Pickett’s third wife LaSalle began to write and lecture about her famous husband. While her general husband had spent his last years brooding about the disastrous charge that bore his name, his financially burdened widow decided to make the most of an opportunity.
In an attempt to revitalize his memory, she traveled around the country lecturing about her famous husband in an attempt to transform him into the hero of Gettysburg by way of the Lost Cause. Often, Pickett’s enhancement came at the cost of Longstreet’s reputation. It is ironic that Pickett should benefit at the expense of his friend and mentor, James Longstreet. Her tales of her husband’s life & times were highly romanticized and exaggerated making it hard to separate fact from fiction.

General George Pickett and LaSalle Corbell Pickett 

LaSalle Corbell Pickett authored the celebratory history “Pickett and His Men” (1913), which historians claim was plagiarized, and two collections of wartime letters (1913, 1928), which historians claimed were fabricated. Nevertheless, her image of her husband at the moment his charge began—”gallant and graceful as a knight of chivalry riding to a tournament,” whose “long, dark, auburn-tinted hair floated backward in the wind like a soft veil as he went on down the slope of death”—has stuck in the American imagination. And her letters have been cited in works as diverse as Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel “The Killer Angels” (1974) and Ken Burns’s documentary “The Civil War” (1990).
It would take a century of slow reassessment by Civil War historians to restore General James Longstreet’s reputation. Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel The Killer Angels, based largely on Longstreet’s memoirs and later made into the film “Gettysburg”, helped restore Longstreet’s reputation. Military historians now consider Longstreet among the war’s most gifted tactical commanders on either side of the Civil War. Part of that reassessment is due and owing to a child bride, a gifted artist and one of Gettysburg National Battlefield’s newest monuments.
NEXT WEEK: PART II of General James Longstreet at Gettysburg.


Otis Cox. Auditing a lifetime of public service.

Otis article
Otis E. Cox-Indiana State Auditor from 1982 to 1986.

Original publish date:  August 30, 2012

I received a phone call from an old friend the other day with some shocking news. One of my heroes and mentors in life, former Indiana State Auditor Otis E. Cox, called to tell me that he and his lovely wife Pat were moving from Anderson to Fishers. You may wonder, why is THAT shocking? Well, its shocking to me because Otis E. Cox is as much a part of Anderson as the Wigwam gym (home of all those great Anderson Indians basketball teams), Gene’s root beer stand (home of the Spanish Dog with cheese) and Lemon Drop drive-in (home of the legendary onion burger). Otis Cox might as well be “Mr. Anderson,” at least in my mind. No matter where I go or who I meet, seems everyone has ties of some sort to Anderson.

Otis and Pat have lived in Anderson all of their lives. Otis for 71 years and Pat for considerably less than that. He graduated from Anderson high school and followed that up by graduating from the General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University). Otis, a Democrat, was elected Madison County auditor in 1976 and again in 1980. He was then elected State Auditor in 1981 serving in that post from December 1,1982 to November 30, 1986. Upon leaving office in 1986, Otis went back to his hometown and ran for Mayor of Anderson in 1987 losing by a  mere 94 votes. An astonishingly thin margin in a city of 60,000+, but Otis, true to his humble personality, eschewed a recount on the grounds that “the people had spoken.” Otis would win re-election to the post of Madison County Auditor in 1992, a generation after first attaining the post in 1976. In 1996 and 2000, Otis served as a Madison County Commissioner before retiring in 2004.

I wore this back in 1982 campaigning with Otis in what seemed like every county in Indiana. Lots of miles, lots of heat and lots of rain on this thing.

I first met Otis as a young collector of political memorabilia just barely after I got my driver’s license. He was always honest, patient and kind with this tinhorn, just learning the ropes of collecting history and participating in the Indiana political process. When he was elected State Auditor, Otis kindly appointed me as one of his deputies at the Indiana Statehouse. A post I held from 1982 to 1985. At that time, Otis E. Cox was 4th in line of succession to the Governor’s seat and the highest ranking Democrat in the state.

Otis counted among his deputy auditors; Mary Moriarty (Adams)-District 17 City Councilwoman, Nancy Michael-former 44th district State Representative and Mayor of Green Castle, & Ed Mahern-longtime 97th district State Representative who holds the singular distinction of being the very first babyboomer born in Indianapolis (arriving two seconds after Midnight on Jan. 1, 1946). Otis Cox helped mold the future of Indianapolis politics for decades to come and his strength of leadership resonates in the Capitol City to this very day. During all those years in office in the State Capitol, Otis dutifully went home each night to Anderson in Madison County.

I drove up to Madison County last week to sit and reminisce with Otis and Pat about old times, politics and their next move in life. Otis is what most would call a loyal “Yellow Dog Democrat”, a political term applied to that part of the electorate who vote solely for Democratic candidates. It is believed that the term originated in the South after Republican president Abraham Lincoln led the Union against the Confederacy to describe those voters who would “vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican”. The term is now used to describe any Democrat who will vote a straight party ticket under any circumstances.

PO-dukakis-bentsen-button_busy_beaver_button_museumI often tell friends that I won my wife Rhonda’s heart back in 1988 when I walked into her store wearing a Dukakis / Bentsen for President campaign pin during the election. She gasped and asked me, “Where did you get that?” to which I reached into my pocket, pulled an identical pin out and presented it to her. Pat tells a similar story about meeting Otis for the first time in the early 1960s. “He walked up to me and asked me if I voted for John F. Kennedy” to which I answered “No.”  He asked me “Well, why not?” and I said, “because I wasn’t old enough.” From that point on, the pair were inseparable while working for LBJ, RFK, McGovern culminating with Otis himself being swept into office with the Jimmy Carter election in 1976.

The Cox’s fondly recall that 1976 election, Otis’ first, with several humorous stories about the role Anderson and the state of Indiana played in the Carter victory. “In 1976, there were several people running for the Democratic nomination. Hubert Humphrey, Sargent Shriver, George Wallace, Walter Mondale, Scoop Jackson, Fred Harris, Robert Byrd, Lloyd Bentsen, Birch Bayh, and of course, Jimmy Carter. ” Otis says, “They were all planning to come to Indiana for the primary, back then the Indiana primary really meant something, not like today. All of the candidates advance people were frantically calling Madison County Democrats to find places for these guys to stay. Everyone chose a candidate and Jimmy Carter was the last on the list. A friend of ours took the Carter’s in, (much to the later chagrin of all who’d chosen another candidate), and you know, Jimmy Carter stayed friends with them for decades afterwards. Even invited them to their home in Plains, Georgia whenever the couple traveled down to Florida.”


Jimmy Carter-Larry Conrad-Otis Cox 1976 campaign pins.

Otis was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1976, 1980 & 1984. I asked him about the upcoming conventions to which he replied, “It’s not the same today as it was back then. There are no races anymore. Everything is decided before the convention. It’s more of a formality now than a real convention. In 1980 we had the Carter versus Ted Kennedy fight at the DNC and in 1984 there was the Mondale versus Jesse Jackson delegate fight. Gary Hart was still mixing into that convention as well.” Otis says, “Now its all cut and dried. The Republicans won’t even seat the two delegates pledged to Ron Paul at their convention this week.”

I asked Otis about his time as State Auditor. He smiles that trusting smile that helped sweep him into office back in 1982 and replies simply, “I enjoyed the time I spent there.” When asked if he’d run for office again, he flatly says, “No” then stops and reflects a moment before adding, “Well, if I were twenty years younger, sure.” He talks about the changes he’s seen in the political system during his lifetime of public service. Otis is startled today by the lack of cooperation between members of opposing parties at every level of government. “When I was in the State Auditor’s office both parties worked together, they strive for it. Even though I was the lone Democrat, the other offices bent over backwards to help me. Especially the Governor’s office, whatever we needed, they provided. No questions asked. Mind you, this was on a daily basis. You just don’t see that today at any level.” remarks Otis.

I asked the former State Auditor and his bride how they felt about leaving the only place they’ve ever called home. After all, the Cox’s are moving from a county that many consider to be one of the state’s most economically depressed to a county that is often ranked as one of the most prosperous in the nation. After all, Madison County’s unemployment rate at is nearly 2 points higher than the national average, job growth is 6% lower than the national average, individual income is over $5,000 less than the national average and median household income is over $ 14,000 less than the national average. On the other hand, Hamilton County’s unemployment rate at is nearly 2 1/2 points lower than the national average, job growth is nearly 1% higher than the national average, individual income is over $ 10,000 more than the national average and median household income is a staggering $ 30,000 above than the national average. Although separated by an insignificant distance, that’s a significant lifestyle change.

“Well, we’re not really leaving Madison County,” Pat says “Our friends are here, our bank is here and our doctors are here.” Pat volunteers her time at St. John’s hospital in Anderson (where both of my children and my wife were born). She donates her time making floral arrangements for the patients and plans to continue her duties there. “It’s actually about the same commute for me, 15-20 minutes depending on traffic,” Pat says “Traffic can be bad, but I’m going the opposite direction. I’m going out of Hamilton County when everyone else is coming in.”

Otis Cox will always retain his love for Madison County but laments the loss of industry to the city and county of his birth. “Sadly, the manufacturing industry is gone and I don’t see it coming back.” he says. The automotive industry has a long association with the city; at one time employing some 25,000 auto workers in nearly twenty different General Motors affiliated plants located all around Anderson, trailing only Flint, Michigan in that regard.  Pat chimes in, “We just lost the Emge meat packing plant (on west 8th street), it’s so sad.”  Ever the optimist and booster for his birth county, Otis points out, “But things are looking up, we got the Nestlé’s plant and 300 new jobs a few years back.”

Otis and Pat are moving to be closer to their adult kids, Angie and Chris, who live in the Noblesville / Fishers area. The Cox’s are moving to Britton Falls, a Del Webb adult resort community for ages 55-and-over located near Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers. Otis proudly chirps, “It’s just like going on a vacation.” He looks forward to no more yard work and no more stairs in their new ranch style home. He continues, “But Anderson will always be home. I will miss Anderson.”

I asked Otis if he had any regrets from his decades of public service. He pauses, leans back in his chair, places his fingertips together with his index fingers brushing the tip of his nose as his thumbs gently touch his chin, “Yes, I had one regret.” he replies. “When I was commissioner, I was always sorry that I couldn’t get a couple roundabouts built in Anderson at places I felt needed them. But you know, now that I’m spending so much time in Hamilton County (which has well over 100 roundabouts) I’m getting sick of seeing them.” followed by a hearty laugh from the man who was once the most powerful Democrat in the State of Indiana. Well, Otis, if that’s your only regret from all those years of public service, I’d say you’ve served your city, county, and state well. Enjoy your retirement my friend, you’ve earned it.

Politics, Presidents

Andrew Jackson’s Hair.

Original publish date:  December 7, 2013               Republished June 1, 2018

Relic lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair.

As many of you know, I collect “stuff.” In particular, historical stuff. Especially, slightly creepy historical stuff. For years, whenever my kids saw a $ 20 bill, they would delightfully squeal out the phrase “That Glorious Mane” and giggle devilishly between themselves. While I always understood the reference to Andrew Jackson’s famous head of hair. I never really understood the origin of their inside joke. It was like reading a New Yorker magazine cartoon, sure, I can read it and smile, but I don’t always get it. And try as I might, I still have not found the source for the “Glorious Mane” quote. So, when I ran across a genuine lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair at several years ago, I had to have it.
The lock of hair is held in place by an ornate wax seal affixed to a descriptive card of provenance and has been professionally framed for posterity. The card reads: “Hair of Andrew Jackson, a portion of lot 96 of the personal relics of President Andrew Jackson consigned and guaranteed genuine by Andrew Jackson the fourth. The item came from the collection of Forest H. Sweet of Battle Creek Michigan, one of the most famous autograph manuscript and relic collectors of his day. Sweet specialized in Abraham Lincoln, so much so that during the years around World War II, he compiled a comprehensive book of Lincoln collectors and their collections that is still prized by collectors today. So, the provenance of the Andrew Jackson lock of hair was beyond reproach.
Currency RedesignLong story short, I won the item. Needless to say, I was excited. Hours turned into days and days turned into weeks as I waited for the General’s lock of hair to arrive. It came via the United States postal service and I could hardly wait to get my first peek at it. Turns out, the item was far more attractive than I expected (for a lock of dead guy’s hair that is). The thick lock of reddish grey hair is about 1.5 inches in length and looks to contain somewhere between 25 and 50 strands of hair. The blue wax seal features an “S” initial that was undoubtedly applied by Forest H. Sweet himself. I could hardly wait to reveal the relic to my children. Sadly, the unveiling was less than I expected. “That’s nice daddy” was the general consensus. It was like buying a kid a Christmas present only to find that they are more interested in playing with the shipping box.
Okay, so my kids weren’t excited, but I was. Macabre as it seems, bestowing locks of hair on friends, family members, and admirers was common practice in the 19th century. Locks of hair from many renowned historical figures can be found in the collections of museums all over the world. I must admit, this is not the first lock of celebrity hair that has found it’s way into my collection. I once owned well documented strands of hair from George Washington, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. But this Andrew Jackson blood relic is a full robust lock, a good ole’ hank, a veritable pinch of hair right off the head of Old Hickory himself!
z andrew_jacksonI simply could not resist researching (my wife might say obsessing over) my cherished new relic. Much to my surprise, while searching the net I actually found a website and active blog devoted to “That Glorious Mane“. The website, called “American Lion”, is associated to Andrew Jackson’s hair in name only. But it does touch on the macabre hobby and, more importantly, vindicates my strange purchase by discussing famous locks of hair that have sold recently at auction. In December of 2011, 12 strands of Michael Jackson’s hair, reportedly fished out of a shower drain at New York’s Carlyle Hotel after Jackson stayed there for a charity event during the 1980s, sold at auction in London for around $1,900 to an online gaming casino. The casino plans to use the hair in the construction of a special roulette ball (I don‘t understand it either).
The King of Pop apparently can’t hold a candle to the King of Rock-N-Roll though. For the day after Jackson’s hair was sold, a Chicago auction house sold clumps of Elvis Presley’s hair (cut and saved after Elvis’ 1958 Army induction) in Illinois, selling for $15,000.
Okay, if you’re still creeped out by the thought of collecting hair, which truthfully, I can’t blame you for, keep in mind that the hobby was once considered to be the height of cool. The Victorians LOVED designing and wearing hair jewelry, often weaving strands into intricate designs which they incorporated into necklaces, earrings, and pins. To say nothing about picture frames, paperweights and other household decorations. Seems that Queen Victoria is credited with starting the trend. When her beloved Prince Albert died, the distraught monarch had several rings made out of his hair, which she wore daily. Consider that famous Victorian writers like Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sir Walter Scott, and John Keats often referenced locks of hair in their works.

Locks of Presidential hair on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Keep in mind, the Victorians did not only collect hair from dead people, though. Most often it was the living that handed out their hair to be woven into special keepsakes, as a reminder of life’s fleeting beauty. Remember, hair changes color and falls out in time, so young lovers and fans might ask for a few locks to be woven into watch chains and jewelry so they might think of their idol daily. And in fairness, most locks of the rich and famous were asked for while the subject was still very alive, just like you might ask for an autograph. Hair collecting has been traced all the way back to the 16th century Swedes, who are believed to have started the practice out of sheer boredom during endless Nordic nights.
Nowadays, with the introduction of D.N.A. to the daily lexicon of society, collecting hair takes on a whole new meaning. In the case of “The General” (Jackson’s personally preferred title) a lock of hair could conceivably unlock the mystery of the man himself. With apologies to my dear Irvingtonian friend Dawn Briggs (bring up the name to her and you‘ll understand why I‘m apologizing), it is hard to deny that Andrew Jackson was an interesting man. You either loved him or you hated him. Jackson was long and lean, standing at 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and weighing between 130 and 140 pounds. He had penetrating deep blue eyes and was known for his unruly shock of red hair, which had turned completely gray by the time he became president at age 61. Jackson was one of our more sickly presidents, suffering from chronic headaches, abdominal pains, and a hacking cough caused by a musket ball in his lung that he carried for most of his life. Jackson had a few bullets in his body, the results of at least two known duels, both of which he won. The lead bullet often caused the General to cough up blood and sometimes made his whole body shake.
andrew jacksonIn addition, Jackson suffered from dysentery and malaria contracted during his military campaigns. He was known to have an addiction to coffee, enjoyed a drink or two on occasion, and incessantly chewed tobacco to the extent that brass spittoons were everywhere in the White House. Despite Doctor’s orders, Jackson refused to give up these three vices, regardless of the fact that they gave him migraines. The afore mentioned bullets undoubtedly caused the General to suffer from lead poisoning, quite literally. Luckily, 19 years after that 1832 duel, the bullet causing the most damage was extracted in the White House without anesthesia. Afterwards, Jackson’s health improved tremendously .
The first recorded attack on a sitting President was against Andrew Jackson. On May 6, 1833 while in Fredericksburg Virginia dedicating a monument to the mother of George Washington, a disgruntled sailor named Robert B. Randolph jumped from the crowd and struck the President with his fist. Randolph fled in hot pursuit by several members of Jackson’s party, including the famous writer (and Irvington namesake) Washington Irving. Jackson did not press charges.
On January 30, 1835, the first attempt to kill a sitting US President occurred just outside the United States Capitol, again against Andrew Jackson. As Jackson exited the East Portico after a funeral, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed housepainter from England, aimed a pistol at Jackson, which misfired. Lawrence quickly pulled a second pistol, which also misfired. Legend claims that Jackson then beat Lawrence senseless with his cane. The President’s friend, frontiersman Davy Crockett, restrained and disarmed Lawrence, undoubtedly saving the would be assassin’s life. Lawrence, who claimed to be England’s King Richard III (dead since 1485) blamed Jackson for the loss of his job. Lawrence was judged insane and institutionalized. Ironically, afterward the pistols were test fired again-and-again and each time they performed perfectly.
SAAM-XX107_1For years, Jackson treated his aches and pains by self-medicating with salts of mercury (often used as a diuretic and purgative in the mid 19th century), as well as ingesting sugar of lead (a lead acetate-used as a food sweetener). Historians have long believed that Andrew Jackson slowly died of mercury and lead poisoning from two bullets in his body and those medications he took for intestinal problems. As proof, historians believe that his symptoms, including excessive salivation, rapid tooth loss, colic, diarrhea, hand tremors, irritability, mood swings and paranoia, were consistent with mercury and lead poisoning. One of Jackson’s doctors liked to give the lead laden sugar to both Andrew and his wife Rachel. They not only ingested it, but used it to bathe their skin and eyes. Jackson’s well-documented, unpredictable behavior were textbook signs of mercury poisoning. Historians described these signs as “thundering and haranguing,” “pacing and ranting” and “at one moment in a towering rage, in the next moment laughing about the outburst. “
In an effort to settle the case once and for all, in 1999, two strands of the General’s hair were acquired from the Hermitage for testing. Tony Guzzi, assistant curator at The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, Tennessee said, “We have several samples of Jackson’s hair. Admirers often requested a lock, and he would just cut one off and send it to them.” An account left by one person who visited the retired statesman at his home in 1844 relates, “we were each given a lock of Jackson’s hair, which we received with eagerness, and it will be kept as a rich legacy by each of us.” Over the years, some of the locks of hair were returned to The Hermitage by descendants of the original recipients.
179444858_492e321928_bThe submitted strands were taken nearly a quarter century apart for better comparison to check for elevated levels of the heavy metals. The first sample was from 1815, the year of Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans, the second was from 1839, toward the end of Jackson’s life. According to the American Medical Association, while the mercury and lead levels found in the hair samples were “significantly elevated” in both samples, they were not toxic, said Dr. Ludwag M. Deppisch, a pathologist with Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine and Forum Health. Officially, Andrew Jackson died at The Hermitage on June 8, 1845, at the age of 78, of chronic tuberculosis, dropsy, heart disease and kidney failure. In other words, the General died a natural death after leaving an extraordinarily unnatural life.
So, you see, a scientific argument might be made for my acquisition of a lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair. I know, I know, that might be compared to the old “reading Playboy for the articles” argument. But the hobby is not as strange as it may sound, or, as you may think. A quick search of the net will turn up locks of hair belonging to Poet John Keats and our first President George Washington in New York City’s Morgan library, Thomas Jefferson in the Library of Congress and from Frankenstein author Mary Shelley in the New York Public Library. Collecting hair may have fallen out of favor nowadays, but it must be noted that hair is one of the few body parts to survive well after the death of the original owner. For the bereaved and the beloved, it presents a direct link of faded youth and lives lost in an intensely personal way that no picture or video could ever achieve. As for my part, I just think its cool.

Abe Lincoln, Indianapolis, Museums, Politics

Mike Pence & The Abraham Lincoln Mallet.

Pence Lincoln Mallet

Original publish date:  February 14, 2016.

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

z mallet 5
Steve Haaff and Governor Mike Pence.

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


z pence
Governor Mike Pence and Alan E. Hunter
Homosexuality, Politics, Pop Culture

Joe McCarthy & the Lavender Scare. Part II

Lavender scare II
Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy in 1950.

Original publish date: April 7, 2016

The Joe McCarthy Red Scare era of political repression stands curiously at odds with most Americans memories of the 1950s Ike years where Roy Rogers ruled the range and every kid wore a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. Last week’s article explored the anti-communist fervor that led to the name change of the Cincinnati Reds to the Cincinnati Red legs. This article will attempt to tell the story of another aspect of those terrible days that has been mostly forgotten and long neglected by the history books.
From 1950 to 1954, the question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” resonated thru the halls of Congress and struck fear in the hearts of even the most hearty of American Heroes. Walt Disney, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly and Ronald Reagan were among those called to testify. The hearings succeeded in destroying the careers of many employed in governmental, motion picture, literary and fine arts communities.
However, there was another question asked more in hushed whispers echoing in the back conference rooms away from the glare of the cameras. While those cacophonous communist accusations grabbed all the headlines out front, security officials posed this question at least as frequently but much more discreetly: “Information has come to the attention of the Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual. What comment do you care to make?”

April 1956 DARE magazine cover.

During the Cold War, homosexuals were considered to be as potentially dangerous a threat to national security as were the Communists. Rumors abound that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were havens for homosexuals. Such Scandalous talked proved a perfect addendum to the fervor of the moment and sparked a “Lavender Scare” more vehement and long-lasting than McCarthy’s Red Scare.
During an Era when Lucy loved Desi, Elvis was headed towards an Army haircut and everybody liked Ike, Americans were being secretly questioned about their sex lives in the hallowed halls of Congress. On April 27, 1953 (63 years ago this month) President Dwight Ike Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 into law. Its language was broad: “Any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, or sexual perversion.” Without explicitly referring to homosexuality, the executive order determined that the presence of homosexual employees in the State Department posed blackmail risks and should not be employed.
Over the next few months, approximately 5,000 homosexuals were fired from federal jobs including private contractors and military personnel. Not only did the victims lose their jobs but they were also forced out of the closet and thrust into the public eye as homosexuals. Many more government employees were dismissed because of their homosexual orientation than because of their left-leaning or communist beliefs. These homosexual purges ended promising careers, ruined lives, and pushed many to suicide.
The Red Scare witch hunt, which began as a movement to crush any opposition to the Cold War, also led to the firing, red-listing and public outing of people who didn’t fit the straight-laced classification of main stream America. Quite literally, anyone considered queer were rounded up and branded as subversive, anti-American communist sympathizers. The Lavender Scare’s legacy is that it harmed far more people and continued for a much longer period of time. But most have never even heard of it.
The term for this persecution drew its title from the phrase “lavender lads” used repeatedly by powerful Illinois GOP Senator Everett Dirksen as a synonym for homosexual males. In 1952, Dirksen said that a Republican victory in the November elections would mean the removal of “the lavender lads” from the State Department. The phrase was also used back in the day by Confidential magazine, a National Enquirer style gossip rag known for gossiping about the sexuality of politicians and Hollywood stars.
In 1950, the same year that Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed 205 communists were working in the State Department, Truman Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy said that the State Department had allowed 91 homosexuals to resign. On April 19, 1950, Republican National Chairman Guy George Gabrielson said that “Perhaps as dangerous as the actual Communists are the sexual perverts who have infiltrated our Government in recent years.” Gabrielson charged that the media was not doing enough to alert the population to the “homosexual menace.”
z Prog03-08-770x433The media knew a controversy when they saw it and soon newspapers and magazines helped whip the frenzy into a fevered pitch. The New York Times took the lead, running at least seven stories promoting this anti-homosexual campaign in May of 1950. A month later, the Senate authorized an official investigation, the first of its kind in U.S. history. It was popularly dubbed the “pervert inquiry.”
The politically motivated results of these hearings, issued in December, charged the Truman administration with indifference toward the danger of homosexuals in government. The official “justification” for this witch hunt against gay and lesbian employees was cited as “lack of emotional stability” and “weakness of … moral fiber” that allegedly made them susceptible to Soviet propaganda and recruitment.
438418410_780x439Nebraska GOP Senator Kenneth Wherry concluded in December, “You can’t hardly separate homosexuals from subversives… Mind you, I don’t say that every homosexual is a subversive, and I don’t say every subversive is a homosexual. But [people] of low morality are a menace in the government, whatever [they are], and they are all tied up together.” In 1950, a Senate investigation chaired by Clyde R. Hoey noted in a report, “It is generally believed that those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons.”, and said all of the government’s intelligence agencies “are in complete agreement that sex perverts in Government constitute security risks.”
Between 1947 and 1950, 1,700 federal job applications were denied, 4,380 people were discharged from the military, and 420 were fired from their government jobs for being suspected homosexuals. In the State Department alone, security officials bragged about firing one homosexual per day, more than twice the rate of those charged with political disloyalty to capitalism.
Strangely absent in voice or written opinion on the homosexual debate is the man the movement was named for; Senator Joe McCarthy. While the domestic witch hunt of lesbian, gay men and gender-variant people became an integral component of McCarthyism, Joe McCarthy himself was not the main power behind the anti-homosexual frenzy. True, the senator from Wisconsin did pepper his tirades with references to “Communists and queers.” But as the political crusade took off, McCarthy was nowhere to be seen.
Though he was a member of the congressional committee that spent several months examining the homosexuals-in-government issue, McCarthy mysteriously recused himself from those hearings. Websters defines recuse as a challenge by a judge, prosecutor, or juror as unqualified to perform legal duties because of a possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality. So was Joe McCarthy excusing himself from the issue because he was biased or was he excusing himself because he was gay?

Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy, the middle-aged, confirmed bachelor, may have considered himself vulnerable to questions about his own sexuality that were sure to circulate soon. After all, it was McCarthy who hired Roy Cohn–who died of AIDS in 1986 and is widely believed to have been a closeted homosexual–as chief counsel of his Congressional subcommittee. Together, McCarthy and Cohn, with the enthusiastic support of the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (also believed by many to have been a closeted homosexual),

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Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy and legal counsel Roy Cohn.

vigorously prosecuted any and all accused homosexuals who came before them.
McCarthy did get married in 1953, but it was late in his career and his bride was his longtime secretary. Many viewed the union as a ruse designed to deflect rumors about his sexuality that were beginning to surface. No credible evidence has ever surfaced to confirm (or deny) that Joe McCarthy was gay, but the 1940-50s Era Milwaukee underground (where Joe was from) are filled with stories of the Senator’s escapades in the gay clubs and bars of that Era. Rumors must not be confused with history and should be relegated to files of speculation, gossip and innuendo.
z a5ddb6b06f432e1379d5558762e2b0aaUntil the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as President, no other politician of Irish descent had achieved a national impact comparable with McCarthy’s in twentieth century America. McCarthy took a serious issue, undermined it through reckless behavior and destroyed the lives of many people in the process. McCarthy’s Red Scare didn’t come to an end until he dared to attack the Army with his accusations. A very bad idea when the Oval office is occupied by the most famous General of his generation.
One of the victims of McCarthyism was sexologist Alfred Kinsey of Indiana University. The McCarthy hearings investigated links between non-profit organizations and the Communist Party, but Kinsey and his principal funding source, the Rockefeller Foundation, were clearly the primary targets. The Committee sought testimony criticizing Kinsey’s work and publicized exaggerated tales of his alleged sexual depravity and links to communism, while barring witnesses who might defend Kinsey or the Institute. The Committee ferociously condemned his work and made headlines across America. The Rockefeller Foundation soon withdrew its financial support, which crippled and effectively ended Kinsey’s work. Dr. Kinsey died a short time later in August of 1956 followed by Joe McCarthy some 9 months later in May of 1957.
Most Americans view Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare as a forgotten relic of the Cold War Era. But the Lavender Scare lived on into the Bill Clinton administration. Ike’s Executive Order 10450 baring gays from entering the military was not rescinded until 1995.