Magazine article The Saturday Evening Post

In the Footsteps of the Lincolns

Magazine article The Saturday Evening Post

In the Footsteps of the Lincolns

Article excerpt

"Stranger, do you know where Lincoln lives?" These words, spoken in jest by Abraham Lincoln to a neighbor when he first beheld his newly renovated house back in 1856, were hardly a prophecy. Today, in Springfield, Illinois, the city that calls itself "Mr. Lincoln's Hometown, " everybody knows where the 16th president's green-shuttered brown house stands. One of the principal memorials to "Old Abe," the house now basks in a revival of interest since its 1988 reopening following a massive restoration. Daily, as many as 3,000 visiting history buffs, vacationers, and schoolchildren pour through the only home Lincoln ever owned, which he would find a "matter of profound wonder," just as he said of his marriage to Mary Todd.

Actually, Springfield has been accustomed to visitors flocking into town, ever since Lincoln was nominated for president in 1860. But Springfield shares the Lincoln lore with four other major sites associated with the roots and remembrances of " Old Abe. " Nearly a thousand miles of Lincoln trail trace a journey out of the wilderness to the substantial lawyer's life in Springfield; 3,000 markers dot the countryside where he lived in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. The major Lincoln meccas leading to Springfield are centered around Hodgenville, Kentucky; Lincoln City, Indiana; and Charleston and New Salem, Illinois. Each of these rustic sites vividly re-creates the boyhood that Lincoln called the "short, simple annals of the poor" and the sturdy frontier spirit predominant in his life.

Lincoln's first years were spent among the blue-green knob hills of north-central Kentucky in a log cabin that may or may not still exist. As the centennial of Lincoln's birth approached in 1909, a national fundraising campaign resulted in 100,000 Americans' making donations for a memorial building to safely enclose the cabin that tradition had identified as the Lincoln home. When the imposing memorial, constructed of pink granite and Tennessee marble, was completed by the Lincoln Farm Association in 1911, a humble log cabin was placed as the interior focal point. No actual documentation of its authenticity exists other than local hearsay, and some historians scoff at the idea that the 1809 cabin has survived. But the thousands of annual visitors to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace and National Historic Site seem satisfied that they are viewing a typical home of the area in the Lincoln era, if not the authentic building.

Faulty land titles were the bane of many Kentucky pioneer farmers, and Tom Lincoln's experience was no exception. In 181 1, when Abe was two, a questionable land deed uprooted the Lincolns and began what would become the family's 20-year search for a productive farm. They moved first to Knob Creek, about ten miles from the Lincoln birthplace, and once again tried farming. A reconstructed cabin marks the 5-year stay along Knob Creek, which Lincoln said was among his earliest boyhood recollections. Tom Lincoln's "itchy foot," combined with more title problems and a growing disdain for the slavery prevalent in the area, caused Tom to move the family again. Indiana was their destination. In December 1816, Tom and Nancy Lincoln, nine-year-old Sarah, and seven-year-old Abe crossed the Ohio River and ventured through the forests into what is now Spencer County, where they settled near Little Pigeon Creek.

The Lincoln Heritage Trail picks up in present-day Lincoln City, Indiana. A memorial there features reminders of not only the growing-up years of Abe, but also the lives and surroundings familiar to other pioneer families who settled the region. The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial comprises a working pioneer farm, a replica of the Lincoln cabin, a museum and interpretive center, and the small graveyard started when Nancy Hanks Lincoln died of the "milk-sick" in 1818. The entire site is lushly wooded, with self-guided history trails and nature outlooks. Nearby at Lincoln State Park is the present-day Little Pigeon Baptist Church, where Tom Lincoln and his second wife, Sarah Bush Johnston, were active in the 1820s. …

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