Sunday, April 11, 2010

Land of Lincoln

No, not Illinois...Abe's Birthplace in Hodgenville, KY

Okay, I'm going to admit it: I absolutely love the above photo I took in Hodgenville's town square - one of the many I took over spring break. This batch of photos is comprised of two trips to the Lincoln homestead since the memorial was under renovation on our most recent excursion. Born here on February 12, 1809, Lincoln moved to Indiana with his family in 1816. Little is known about the emancipator's childhood. Lincoln himself noted that his youngest days in Kentucky could be summed up in a sentence taken from Gray's Elegy: "The short and simple annals of the poor."

Lincoln's ancestors came to America from England in 1637 and subsequent generations lived in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and then Kentucky. The first Abraham Lincoln (the president's grandfather), was killed in a 1786 Indian attack on his farm. Thomas, the president's one-day father, sat at his fallen father's side. The native was about to take young Thomas as a captive, but his uncle Mordecai killed the Indian with a musket at the last moment. Just think how one bullet changed history in this case!

Contrary to one myth, Abraham Lincoln wasn't born an illegitimate child, although his mother may have been. (Mother Nancy Hanks is a direct ancestor of actor Tom Hanks.) Although Lincoln's father was at times a hard man, Thomas instilled in Abe some of his most admirable traits - hard work and perseverance. Nevertheless, the relationship was strained and Abraham did not even attend his father's funeral in 1851. Abe had one sister, Sarah, who died in childbirth at age 21 in 1828. Brother Dennis died within the first week of his life in 1810.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on May 5, 1818 from "milk sickness," a type of viral infection obtained through contaminated milk from cows who ate poisonous white snake root. This sudden disease causes fever and eventual coma. Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnston the following year, who cared for young Abraham with equal affection and nurturing.

This grand temple sits on the likely cabin site of Lincoln's Sinking Springs farm. Begun shortly after the 1909 centennial, the monument has 56 steps leading to the top - each representing a year of Lincoln's life.

This is the "traditional" or "symbolic" Lincoln cabin. This is not the cabin in which Lincoln was born. In 1894, entrepreneur A.W. Dennett bought the farm to create a tourist attraction. When nobody came, he disassembled the cabin on site to make a roadshow out of it (as well as Jefferson Davis's supposed birth cabin, some 100 miles away). The two structures were on exhibition at numerous fairs and expos throughout the country. But when Dennett went broke, both cabins were disassembled again, became mixed up, and thrown into storage.

It was not until 1906 that the Lincoln Farm Association retrieved the "sacred" logs and brought them home to the tune of $350,000. However, due to recent wood core samplings from the cabin, it is said the majority of these logs date from the 1830s-1840s - twenty to forty years after Lincoln's birth. Other experts argue that the cabin may be more connected to the life of southern adversary Jefferson Davis that Lincoln! Little bro Mark stands in front of the cabin in our 2008 visit.

This spring is the likely reason the Lincoln's located where they did. It is located at the base of the monument hill. The 300 acres were purchased for $200. The rather cheap price may have been due to the poor, red clay soil largely unsuitable for farming. The original cabin was likely 16x18 feet in diameter with a clay chimney. Thomas Lincoln was most talented in cabinet making and was an incredibly hard worker. Although Abraham himself was a hard worker, one friend called him "lazy" because he would rather be "reading" and "Ciphering." Until age 21, Abraham was forced to give all of his monetary earnings to his father - a practice he long despised.

A view of the memorial from the back of the park's visitor center.

Penn State Altoona student Justin Shope, Dustin Faust, me, and Eric Sral visit the site in March 2010.

In 1811, when Abraham was only two, the family moved ten miles away to property at the more fertile Knob Creek. It was here that Lincoln grew from a toddler into a young man. His first views of slavery may have formed here as well. The nearby road was a highly traveled highway on which slaves were transported from one plantation to another. Furthermore, his teacher, Caleb Hazel, was an abolitionist in the extreme. Although Lincoln showed some political patience for slavery in his first term as president, his true, deep-rooted moral attitude against the abominations of slavery is a trait that must be understood to truly grasp his character and motives throughout life. The family moved to Indiana in 1816. This cabin is a reconstruction.

One of the reasons the Lincolns moved to Indiana was because Thomas Lincoln, a devout Baptist, was strongly opposed to slavery, for both moral and economic purposes. This is a modern view of the Knob Creek property. Walking alongside the small stream, it was very easy to imagine the young Abraham playing in the meadows and woods. The silence and serenity of this spot almost reached a sense of spirituality! A very beautiful area and sunset indeed.

See what I mean? I was able to capture this rather unique "halo shot" of the Lincoln memorial on Hodgenville's town square. The sun was right behind the statue's head. Lucky again...

Click to enlarge and read more about "Hodgen's Mill" and its rich history in relation to the Lincoln Family. There is also additional information on the 1909 Lincoln statue and its creator.

This most recent statue was dedicated on the bicentennial in February 2009. Facing the direct opposite side of the town square, perhaps they will dedicate a third and fourth statue for the respective 300th and 400th anniversaries of Lincoln's birth. The statue in question is extremely idyllic and mythical, fitting in very well with the idolized theme of the Lincoln epoch.

Here is a four minute segment of the film from the visitor center. Narrated by late actor Burgess Meredith, the opening is a bit short on facts and a bit long on bad 70s music, but it will give you a good feel for the scenery of the area nevertheless.

Me, Eric Sral, and Dustin Faust visit downtown Hodgenville, small but charming and quaint. Stay tuned for the next installment of the history trip!

1 comment:

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