Feb. 12, 1809, was a cold Saturday in Kentucky. A little boy was born that day in a crude log cabin to Tom and Nancy Lincoln.
The boy, Abe, had a 2-year-old sister named Sarah. In his boyhood, he wore buckskin breeches and a coonskin cap, and most of the time went barefoot in the wilderness. The Cumberland Trail passed by the cabin door. Abe had large ears and listened, watched and wondered about the world outside his own neck of the woods.
Abe’s father was somewhat shiftless, always thinking the grass was greener on the other side. He could hardly sign his name and scoffed at education. Nancy tried to make sure her kids were given a few months of schooling each year. During Abe’s childhood, one year would have covered all the formal school he received.
In 1816, restless Tom moved his family to Ohio with everything they owned on two pack horses. Abe walked, toted a gun and kept his eyes out for Indians, as his grandfather had been killed by an Indian. Tom had watched his father fall dead and the Indian came after him, but his brother shot him dead just before he attacked Tom.
For the first cold winter in Ohio, they lived in a half-faced shelter with leaves for the floor and for their beds. Water had to be brought from a spring a mile away. Abe had to help cut 143 logs for the new cabin. From the age of 7, as Abe was large for his age, he cut logs or used the axe until he was 23. He shot one turkey from inside the cabin and never killed another living thing.
Tom never completed the cabin as he should have. He hung a skin over the door opening where the cold wind blew inside. The logs were not even chinked, and the floor was dirt. They ate mostly wild game, berries and nuts. The “milk sickness” came in 1817-18, killing cows and humans. Their neighbors died on their bed of leaves; Tom built their coffins. Days later, Nancy got it and died, leaving the two young children without a mother.
A year later, Tom left the kids alone and went back to Kentucky to get a wife. He went to a widow he had known in childhood who had three children and told her he needed a wife and she needed a husband. They married, loaded all her stuff and went back to the cabin.
Sarah Bush Lincoln had left a beautiful little home and found an old cabin thrown together that she was expected to live in. The kids had not kept themselves clean. The first thing she did was demand a trough of water and soap and had them take a bath and that Sarah shampoo her ratty hair. She believed in education. Later, Abe referred to her as an angel.
Abe always was to be seen with a book under his arm or with his feet propped up reading one. He pulled fodder three days to pay for a book he had borrowed and gotten wet from rain after he put it between the rafters. He read anything and everything.
He also loved to tell stories and jokes to anyone willing to listen. His father was provoked by his strange son. Tom was restless again and saw greener pastures in Illinois, so he uprooted the family again in 1830. Here, Abe became known as the “rail-splitter,” as he split rails to enclose 10 acres of land and 4,000 rails for other settlers. As was the rule in those days, Abe had to work for his father until he was 21. Later, he worked on the river on a steamboat and in a store, was a postmaster, surveyor, state assemblyman and licensed lawyer. He made his first dollar from a ferrying passenger. He earned the nickname “Honest Abe” because he walked several miles to give a lady back a nickel that he had overcharged her in the store. He could quote many passages of the Bible, but loved the book of Psalms. In 1849, he patented a device for freeing ships that had run aground, patent No. 6469.
In 1842, he married Mary Todd, a rich, highly educated woman from Kentucky. Her parents did not approve of her marrying a poor, homely fellow. Mary’s parents owned more than 200 slaves, while Abe’s family had never owned any. He was very much against someone owning another human being.
In the following years, they had four children, but three died while young. Abe was elected by the Whig Party to the House of Representatives in 1847. Mary insisted on moving to Washington with him, but was disappointed with the filthy city and soon moved back to Illinois. During this time, he wrote her a few letters. During his campaign, all he spent was 75 cents for a keg of cider!
Abe weighed 180 pounds, stood 6-foot-4 and wore the famous stovepipe hat that added several more inches. The hat served as his filing cabinet, as he kept it full of letters and papers. His kids loved to stretch a string in the path he would be walking. The string was just high enough that others could walk under it, but when their daddy walked under it, his hat would be knocked off and all his papers would go flying on the ground. He always had trouble with his lanky arms, big hands and feet.
On the cold rainy morning of Feb. 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln, the lanky rail-splitter, made his way to the railway station of the Great Western. One small engine attached to a baggage car, smoking car and one passenger coach made up the Presidential Special. Abe and his family were headed to the White House as he was the 16th President of the United States. The finest possible leader had been chosen for one of the most dangerous, exacting terms ever held by an American president. The next four years would be the heartbreaking Civil War.
Abe’s horse was “Old Bob.” He owned three dogs in his lifetime — Honey, Fido and Jip. He loved cats; Tabby was the cat in the White House. He had him seated in the chair beside him at the dining-room table and fed him with a gold fork throughout the meal. His wife chastised him for it.
“If this gold dinnerware was good enough for President Buchanan, it is good enough for Tabby,” he said.
Abe’s salary while president was $25,000 per year. It is said that his wife, Mary, was a spendthrift and spent more than he made. She was highly criticized for spending so much while the country was in war. She was the most unpopular first lady ever at that time. She and Abe were never photographed together. Mary attended church some, but Abe never joined a church. In 1863, Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November to be a national holiday, Thanksgiving Day. The King of Siam offered a young pair of elephants to the president as a gift, but he politely refused them.
On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln, 56 years of age, and his wife attended Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., with 1,698 other people to see the play “Our American Cousin.” As the play was almost finished, a shot rang out from a Derringer pistol. The bullet struck President Lincoln in the head. John Wilkes Booth, an actor, was the assassin. Later, in a room, Mary was so beside herself that the man in charge ordered her out of the room and to not be let back in.
Lincoln died the next morning at 7:22. Mary never laid eyes on him again. She did not attend the funeral that was held in Springfield, Ill. The body of their son, Willie, who had died in 1862 at the age of 12, also was on the funeral train in order to be buried beside his father. Millions met the train along the 1,700 miles journey.
Three days before the assassination, Lincoln had told his friend and biographer, Ward Hill Lamon, his dream about his death. Lincoln left no will; his estate was worth $85,000 at the time of his death. Mary had many debts that came due now.
As time went by, Mary became deranged, and her son had her declared mentally ill and placed in an asylum. Later, she got out, went to Paris for a short time and returned to live with her sister in Springfield. She was almost blind at that time, along with many other health problems. She stayed in a darkened room with all the blinds drawn tight and died of a stroke in 1882 at the age of 63. Today, doctors think she was bi-polar. She was buried in the Lincoln Tomb with her husband and three children in Oakridge Cemetery. She was buried with her wedding ring with the words “Love is Eternal” engraved in it.
In 1909, the Lincoln penny was made. President Theodore Roosevelt wore a ring with a lock of Lincoln’s hair in it during his inauguration in 1905. In 1922, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated. Lincoln’s coffin has been moved 17 times and opened five times. Grave robbers tried to steal his remains in 1876.
(Most of the above information came from Wikipedia and the book “Abe Lincoln Log Cabin to White House” by Sterling North.)