A Reporter's Lincoln

A Reporter's Lincoln

A Reporter's Lincoln

A Reporter's Lincoln

Synopsis

From 1886 to 1909, Walter B. Stevens, chief of the Washington bureau of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, interviewed many people who had known Abraham Lincoln. As the centennial of Lincoln's birth approached, the Globe-Democrat assembled some of these materials for the series "Recollections of Lincoln", which appeared in early 1909. In 1916 about half of the "Recollections" articles appeared in A Reporter's Lincoln, published by the Missouri Historical Society. That work is reproduced here, supplemented by articles that were either omitted or only partially reproduced in the 1916 edition.

These little-known accounts flesh out the Lincoln record in a number of important ways. We find valuable new information on the Lincoln-Douglas debates and interesting testimony on Mary Todd Lincoln and Lincoln family traditions. The editor provides useful annotation on the identities of the informants and the likely veracity of the materials.

Excerpt

In 1886, the chief of the Washington bureau of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Walter B. Stevens, began interviewing people about Abraham Lincoln. Over the next twenty-three years, in his spare time, Stevens pursued Lincoln informants in the nation's capital, in Illinois, and in Missouri. As the centennial of Lincoln's birth drew near, the Globe-Democrat gathered together many of these articles for a series entitled "Recollections of Lincoln," which ran in the paper's Sunday Magazine between 3 January and 11 April 1909. Readers were informed that "[u]nder a commission from the Globe-Democrat Mr. Stevens has visited and is still visiting the homes and haunts of Lincoln in search of new facts, new light on old facts--the recollections of people who knew Lincoln more or less intimately, some of whom were closely associated with the great president, but whose knowledge of the man and of events connected with his life has never spread beyond the circle of their friends." Stevens, the Globe-Democrat declared, "has succeeded in collecting a vast amount of exceedingly interesting and delightfully entertaining information which will add much to our knowledge of Lincoln's personality and to that popular affection which is the strongest characteristic of his memory."

In addition to interviews conducted by Stevens, "Recollections of Lincoln" contained Lincoln materials owned by a St. Louis businessman, William K. Bixby, as well as reminiscences gathered by the Lincoln Centennial Association of Springfield, Illinois, and by the Historical Society of Bloomington, Illinois. At times it is difficult to tell whether Stevens interviewed an informant or whether he simply reproduced statements given to others. He sometimes leads the reader to think he interviewed an informant when he in fact merely reproduced a written record. a case in point is the letter by John F. Mendonsa. On at least two occasions he falsely claimed to have interviewed a subject when in fact he copied the words from another source. in 1887 Stevens asserted that he "had the pleasure of an interview with Mr. Dennis Hanks. . . . Mr. Hanks is now eighty-eight years of age, well preserved, and never tires of speaking of the many virtues and excellences of his relative." Stevens's account of Hanks's words replicates several paragraphs from an interview that had run in the Chicago Tribune in 1885. Similarly, Stevens's "interview" with Adlai E. Stevenson contains . . .

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