Friday, October 30, 2009

A New Memorial To Lincoln In Indiana

One of the nation's newest memorials to Abraham Lincoln is located in Lincoln State Park, Indiana, almost immediately across the state highway from the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Plaza was dedicated on June 12, 2009. I had the pleasure of visiting this new memorial during my trip last month to Spencer County, Indiana, where Lincoln spent 14 years living from the age of 7 until he reached adulthood at 21.

The plaza is really a bisected circle, each half representing different stages of Lincoln's life. The front part of the memorial is in honor of Lincoln's youth spent here in this area, while the part facing away from the entrance to the plaza honors his presidency. Here is an artist's sketch of the plaza, which will hopefully give you a better idea of what the layout is.



As the visitor enters the plaza, one can see various granite pedestals which contain quotes either from Lincoln himself or from those who knew him. An example of one such pedestal is shown below:



Others feature quotes from friends such as Nathaniel Grigsby (a neighbor of Lincoln's in Indiana), and Lincoln's secretary John Nicolay. One of these markers has the quote attributed to Lincoln in which he refers to his "angel mother."

The main focus of the plaza is the center semi-circular structure depicted below. Each of the stone slabs with the dates over them represent the approximate height of Lincoln in that year as he grew to a final height of 6'4" by 1830, when the Lincoln family relocated to Illinois.



The other side of this structure contains the beautiful larger-than-life bust of Lincoln along with along with the text to his two most famous speeches, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address.

According to the description under the bust of Lincoln, his closed left hand represents his desire to hold onto the Union, to prevent one nation from becoming two. His open right hand represents his desire to "bind up the nation's wounds" and extend "charity to all" once the Civil War was over. The photo below is a wider shot of the bust and the text of his speeches.


The artists who came up with this design are Mr. George Morrison and Mr. Will Clark. The bronze figure of Lincoln, twice life-size, weighs 400 pounds. There are over 90 pieces of stone in the memorial, quarried in Indiana. The single largest slab of stone weighs more than 3,400 pounds.

I was struck by both the beauty and uniqueness of the plaza. While it certainly lacks the majesty of other memorials to Lincoln, it is very striking and far more interesting than a simple statue would have been. The quotes featured on the pedestals around the plaza help the visitor to understand Lincoln a bit better, and to get a feel for how people felt about him. I'm pleased that the portion representing his presidency includes the text of his speeches. The plaza sits in the woods which Lincoln knew so well. It's a moving experience to visit the plaza.

Lincoln State Park is named not for Abraham, but rather his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The park includes the Little Pigeon Church where the Lincoln family worshipped and the cemetery where his sister, Sarah, is buried. More about that in the next post.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Still More Abraham Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

I hope the readers of The Abraham Lincoln Blog will forgive me another post about The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. There's simply too much to cover about the park in only one or two postings. I visited the park for the first time in September and have enjoyed sharing my visit with my readers. I've previously written about the history of the park itself, about Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and about the Memorial Building. This post will conclude my descriptions of the Boyhood Memorial.

Pictured above is a replica log cabin intended to give park visitors an idea of what the real Lincoln cabin was like while Abe and his family lived here from 1816-1830. The National Service Park ranger who was portraying a pioneer woman that day told me that the true cabin was just 3 square feet larger than the replica. I don't know the dimensions, but it must have been very cramped with Thomas and Nancy Lincoln plus two children living in it. And when Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston, she brought her own three children to live with the remaining three Lincolns. The replica cabin is part of the "Living Historical Farm" which shows how the family farmed, raising crops and livestock. It occupies four of the original 160 acres of the Lincoln farm. A short trail leads the visitor to the original spring on the farm, which I've pictured below. Obviously, it's not much too look at. Since it's closed off, I don't know if the spring is still flowing.



Located just a short distance from the replica cabin and farm is the preserved location of a cabin which the family began constructing in 1829. Archaeological excavations revealed the location in 1917. The dig found some hearth stones and the original sandstone foundation of the cabin. Obviously, the logs have disappeared long ago. Today the cabin site is marked by bronze replica logs and a hearth. This is pictured below. As you can see, the site of the cabin is blocked by the stone wall so visitors don't destroy what's left.

Finally, there is the Trail Of Twelve Stones, a 1/2 mile path through the woods which displays stones taken from sites which are closely related to Abraham Lincoln. It's more interesting than one would think. Each stone is marked with a plaque, explaining where it came from and why it's associated with Lincoln. They are spaced evenly along the trail through the woods in order to hold the visitor's interest. The first stone you come to was taken from Sinking Spring farm in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln's birthplace. Others are from the foundation of a store where Lincoln worked in the area; a newspaper building where he visited; from the home of Mary Todd in Lexington, Kentucky; from The White House; from Gettysburg; from the U.S. Capitol building; and from the Peterson House in Washington, D.C. where Lincoln died. The rock and plaque pictured below tell part of Lincoln's story.


















CONCLUSION
I hope my series of posts about The Lincoln Boyhood Memorial has given the reader a good understanding of both the park itself and of Lincoln's 14 years he spent living in this part of Indiana. It was my first visit here and I enjoyed it very much. I liked it far more than I do the Lincoln Birthplace Memorial, and in some ways, I enjoyed it as much as I do Springfield. To be sure, it's a low-key place. You can't visit an original home he lived in here, he wasn't born here, he's not entombed here. Yet, there's a simplicity about the park which appealed to me greatly. The forests and land which make up the park still appear much as they did nearly 200 years ago when Lincoln grew up in the area. The museum in the Memorial Building, while small, is blessedly free of the "Disney-like" displays in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. It tells his story without sound effects, cheesy statues, and other flashy attractions, which to me are a huge distraction from the history of the real man.

In fact, while I was in the visitor center of the Memorial Building, there was a group of Cub Scouts visiting that day. Each boy, probably no older than 10, was enthusiastic and excited about his visit. They were clamoring to learn about Abraham Lincoln and how they could get their "Junior Ranger" certification from the National Park Service. Their attention was held without high-tech displays or computers or other special effects. That's a good thing, in my opinion. And I write this even though my career is in Information Technology with my degree in Computer Science. Yes, I'm "only" an amateur historian.

If you ever have a chance to visit The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana, take the opportunity to do so. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Building

The centerpiece of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana is the Memorial Building. Completed in 1944, it also serves as the Visitor Center at the park. Constructed of a type of limestone, the building houses a small theater which shows a 15-20 minute interpretive film (narrated by Leonard Nimoy) depicting Lincoln's boyhood in Indiana; a small but tasteful museum about Lincoln's youth featuring artifacts; a selection of artwork and prints of Lincoln; and a small chapel and hall where frequent weddings are held.

The most impressive feature of the Memorial Building by far are the five bas-reliefs (carvings) which represent major periods of Lincoln's life. Each carving was made from a solid block of limestone measuring 8 feet tall by 13 1/2 feet wide, weighing at 10 tons! The sculptor was Mr. E.H. Daniels. I cannot describe their beauty adequately.


Kentucky Panel


The Kentucky panel shows the years that Lincoln spent living in Kentucky from the time of his birth in 1809 until 1816, when the family moved to Indiana. Lincoln is shown as a 7-year-old in the center of the carving. Others featured include his father, Thomas, (second from left); Dr. Christopher Columbus Graham (seated) a scientist who visited Lincoln's home and fascinated Abe with wonderful stories; his mother Nancy; his sister Sarah; and his first school teacher.

Indiana Panel


The Indiana panel represents the years Lincoln spent living in Indiana (1816-1830), and features him standing in the center as a 21-year-old man. The others shown include his friend Allen Gentry (second from left) whom Lincoln traveled with on a trip down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans; his father Thomas; and his step-mother Sarah Bush Lincoln.

Illinois Panel

The Illinois panel of course represents the years Lincoln spent living in Illinois, from 1830 until 1861 when he left for his inauguration as the 16th president. Here, Lincoln is shown receiving congratulations from friends upon his election the U.S. Congress in 1846. Represented from left to right are John Stuart, his first law partner; Stephen Logan, another law partner; his good friend Joshua Speed (shaking Lincoln's hand); newspaper editor Simon Francis; Mary Todd Lincoln; and Orville Browning, a Lincoln friend and future U.S. Senator.


Washington Panel

The Washington panel represents Abraham Lincoln as president during the Civil War, meeting General Ulysses S. Grant in Petersburg, Virginia near the end of the war. Grant is shown to Lincoln's right. The other figures represent the hundreds of thousands of men who made the Union victory possible.


"Now He Belongs To The Ages" Panel

The central panel of the Memorial Building is representative of the final legacy left by Lincoln to the nation upon his assassination. The words "Now he belongs to the ages" were spoken by Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, upon Lincoln's death on April 15, 1865. (Yes, some historians claim that Stanton said "angels" and not "ages", but that is a discussion for another time). Lincoln is shown in this panel ascending to Heaven after his death. The other figures are symbolic of the various groups of people to whom Lincoln belongs: laborer; farmer; mother and child; and freed slave. To his right are Columbia (a national symbol); and the Muse of History, Cleo.

Summary

The descriptions of these panels came from an explanatory handout given by the National Park Service to visitors. Interestingly, these panels are not described anywhere on the official website of The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. The photos I've included are ones I took and others I found on the Internet.

In my opinion, at least, the Memorial Building is beautiful and meaningful. Should you ever have a chance to visit The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, be sure to take some extra time and look at the carvings. They are truly works of art.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lincoln's Mother - Nancy Hanks Lincoln

Today marks the 191st anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln's biological mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. She died on October 5, 1818, when her two children, Sarah and Abraham, were just 11 and 9 years old respectively. Born in 1784, Nancy Hanks Lincoln was only 35 years old when she died of what the pioneers called "milk sickness."

Only the most rudimentary facts are known about Lincoln's mother. She was born in what is now West Virginia, apparently out of wedlock, as Lincoln himself thought. She eventually moved to Kentucky, where she and Thomas Lincoln were married in 1806. There she gave birth to three children, including a son named Thomas, who died in infancy. The Lincolns relocated to Spencer County, Indiana in 1816, which is where she died. We know from Abraham Lincoln's recollections that he helped his father make her coffin and she was buried on a small knoll near their log cabin.

Within a year, Thomas Lincoln returned to Kentucky where he married Sarah Bush Johnston, who had children of her own. They returned to Indiana to the Lincoln children. From all accounts, Lincoln's step-mother treated him and his sister Sarah as her own children, and was exceedingly kind to them.

Unfortunately, we don't know what Nancy Hanks Lincoln looked like. There are no known portraits of her done while she was alive, and she died more than two decades prior to the invention of photography.

A painting of Nancy Hanks Lincoln was completed in 1963 by Mr. Lloyd Ostendorf, the famous collector and organizer of photographs of Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Ostendorf read brief descriptions of her appearance and also studied photographs of other Hanks family members in order to come up with what he felt was a reasonable guess of her appearance. The painting is on display inside the building at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, but I cannot show it to you because it would violate a copyright that the Ostendorf family holds on it.

We in the Lincoln community of enthusiasts owe Mr. Ostendorf a great deal of gratitude for his lifelong research into the photographic history of Abraham Lincoln. Thanks to his studies, we know the exact (or approximate) dates and photographers of most of the images which exist of Lincoln. He came up with the very system we use today to identify these photographs: the "O" system, in which the photos are numbered from earliest to last as "O-1" and so on. Mr. Ostendorf was also an accomplished artist.


Nancy Hanks Lincoln Gravesite


Visitors to the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial near Lincoln City, Indiana can visit a small pioneer cemetery located on the grounds which contains the gravesite of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. If we know little of her from life, we know even less about her in death. The exact location of her gravesite is not known, except it's either in this old cemetery or close by. According to the National Park Service, an admirer of Abraham Lincoln visited the cemetery in 1868 and was greatly upset about the overgrown condition of it. He wrote a poem which was published in a local paper, one of the first accounts of the condition of the gravesite. After a marker which was installed in 1874 had disappeared within 5 years, a local businessman had the gravestone pictured above installed in the cemetery. The inscription reads "Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Mother of President Lincoln, died October 5 A.D. 1818, age 35 years." I took the above photo during my visit to the Boyhood Memorial in September.

The Milk Sickness


In my opening paragraph, I mentioned that Abraham Lincoln's mother died of "milk sickness," which the pioneers knew nothing, other than it apparently came from drinking poisoned milk. Today we know what killed Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and many other of her neighbors in the autumn of 1818. It was caused by cattle eating the innocuous-looking plant pictured above.

It's called "white snakeroot," which contains a poison called "tremetol." When cattle ingest the plant while grazing, it will poison their meat and milk. When humans drink the milk or eat the tainted beef, nausea and vomiting or even coma and death can occur. This poisonous feature of this woodland plant wasn't discovered until the 20th century. It's rarely a problem today for humans, but it still kills an occasional cow if the animal eats the plant. In Nancy Lincoln's time, though, it caused many deaths of the Indiana pioneers and brought terror to everyone, who didn't understand what was making the milk turn to poison.

As luck would have it, I was at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial when the white snakeroot plants were in bloom. I took the above photo of one such plant, which is literally growing next to the cemetery where Abraham Lincoln's mother is buried. It was touching to see these plants growing in abundance around the cemetery and throughout the woods on the grounds of the Memorial. Their predecessors were directly responsible for the first of many tragedies Abraham Lincoln suffered throughout his life.

We don't know much about Nancy Hanks Lincoln, where she's actually buried, or even what she looked like. But we do know that she gave birth to Abraham Lincoln, who rose from obscurity to become our nation's greatest president. And that fact alone makes it important that we still honor her memory, which I hope I've done with this post.

 
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