It’s February 12. And we all know what that means.
“Time to go buy Valentine candy?”
Uh . . . no.
It’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthdate. Everyone knows this. Well, maybe not everyone. But for me, Lincoln’s birthday has always been one of the highlights of the year. Seriously. For as long as I can remember, February 12 has been a big day for me.
Lincoln has always been my favorite president. I can remember doing research, if you can call looking at his picture in the L volume of World Book Encyclopedia research, in first grade. And my appreciation for him has only grown since elementary school.
I grew up with the traditional rags to riches story of a self-made man, growing up in the wilds of the American west and becoming president. But he’s become much more complex as I’ve had the chance to spend time with him. Perhaps one of the most powerful professional learning experiences I have ever had was spending a week at Gettysburg College with historian Gabor Boritt.
Lincoln is more than just a tall guy with a really good media team. More than a guy who walked three miles in the rain to return six cents in chance and who split wood to make fences.
So today . . . ten things you probably didn’t know about Abraham Lincoln.
1. Lincoln was an awesome wrestler. So awesome that he is in the Wrestling Hall of Fame
Lincoln spent a lot of time wrestling – at least 300 matches. According to Carl Sandburg, Lincoln once challenged an entire crowd of onlookers after one match, yelling “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” Uncomfortable silence. Sounds of crickets. No eye contact. Lincoln’s exploits earned him an “Outstanding American” honor in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
2. He wasn’t always the nicest of people
As a young politician, Lincoln could be pretty harsh during debates and conversations. At a political event in Springfield, he apparently began bullying a man named Jesse Thomas. “He imitated Thomas in gesture and voice,” according to one account, “at times caricaturing his walk and the very motion of his body. The crowd yelled and cheered. Encouraged by these demonstrations, the ludicrous features of the speaker’s performance gave way to intense and scathing ridicule.” Thomas left the platform in tears though Lincoln eventually apologized.
3. He once fought a duel with swords
Okay. He almost fought a duel with swords. A Democrat named James Shields, challenged him to a duel. (See #2) As the challenged party, Lincoln had the choice of weapons and picked “Cavalry broadswords of the largest size, precisely equal in all respects.” Shields was half a foot shorter and no match for Lincoln’s long reach. Asked afterward why he choose these weapons, he said, “I didn’t want the damned fellow to kill me, which I rather think he would have done if we had selected pistols.” Once the parties arrived at the designated dueling ground, the dispute was settled and any swordplay was avoided. (Though, as we all know, Lincoln did get his cuts in during that whole vampire period.)
4. Lincoln carried both normal and perhaps a few unusual things in his pockets
The items in Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night of the assassination were as follows: a pocketknife, a linen handkerchief, a sleeve button, a fancy watch fob, two pairs of spectacles, a lens polisher, a tiny pencil, tiny fragments of hard red and green candy, a fine brownish powder which appeared to be snuff, and a brown leather wallet The wallet contained a Confederate five dollar bill, and nine old newspaper clippings. Confederate money?
5. Grave robbers attempted to steal Lincoln’s corpse
In 1876 a gang of Chicago counterfeiters attempted to snatch Lincoln’s body from his tomb, which was protected by just a single padlock, in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. Their scheme was to hold the corpse for a ransom of $200,000 and obtain the release of the gang’s best counterfeiter from prison. Secret Service agents, however, infiltrated the gang and disrupted the operation. Lincoln’s body was quickly moved to an unmarked grave and eventually encased in a steel cage and entombed under 10 feet of concrete.
6. Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom
When he was president, he used the current Lincoln Bedroom as his personal office. It was there that he met with Cabinet members and signed documents, including the Emancipation Proclamation.
7. Lincoln personally test-fired rifles outside the White House
Lincoln loved gadgets and was keenly interested in the artillery used by his Union troops during the Civil War. Lincoln would often meet with inventors demonstrating military prototypes. Although there was a standing order against firing weapons in the District of Columbia, Lincoln would test-fire rifles around the White House on what is now known the Ellipse.
8. He was a corporate lobbyist and lover of the railroad barons
Before he was president, Lincoln worked as a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad. He helped find and purchase roadbeds for future railroad expansions across the West. He also defended the company in court against landowners and farmers, receiving not just financial compensation for his work but free annual train tickets.
9. He is related to a famous actor
Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, was a distant relative of Tom Hanks. This makes the president and the actor fourth cousins, four times removed.
10. He hated his name
We use the term Honest Abe and Abe Lincoln. But you wouldn’t have used Abe in his presence. He valued his escape from poverty into dignified life and thought that “Abe” was beneath him. Even his wife called him Mr. Lincoln.
Like I said.
Complex. Interesting. Best president ever.
(thanks in part to history.com)