ALONG the Big South Fork of Nolin's Creek, on a Sunday in frosty February, neighbors like Tom and Betsy Sparrow whispered that it was nearing Nancy's time. When Aunt Peggy Walters, who was to help Nancy, went down the road toward the Lincoln cabin, the Sparrows likely fixed the date in memory: the twelfth of February, 1809. So often, in that Kentucky wilderness, a birth, a death became an elusive event of personal record.
Fifty-six years later when, on a hushed April morning, this child of the frontier, now the sixteenth President of the United States, died of a bullet wound, Abraham Lincoln already belonged to the ages. Lad of the Kentucky hills and Indiana forests, gangling farmhand, railsplitter and shopkeeper, self-taught surveyor and lawyer, hesitant suitor, indulgent husband and father, statesman schooled in the rough and tumble of prairie politics . . . so did Lincoln pass from history into legend, becoming an image of the mind and heart. Time would treat this image kindly; the once gawky, ridiculed figure would acquire dignity, even majesty; into the once homely, deep-seamed face would come composure and even beauty.
Today, a century and a half after his birth, the magic of the man has no geographical boundary. The echo of his thoughts is heard in many lands; his strength of purpose remains vigorously alive wherever people, throwing off the many guises of human oppression, struggle toward the self-determination that he described so beautifully upon a hillside at Gettysburg.
In life, to those who knew and loved him best, Lincoln often seemed an enigma. His devoted partner, William Herndon, once described him as "the most secretive, reticent, shut-mouthed man that ever lived"; and his first biographer, Josiah G. Holland, could not disguise a certain irritation with Lincoln as a subject: "He rarely showed more than one aspect of himself to one man. He opened himself to men in different directions." When Holland told the story of Lincoln's drawing a New Testament from his breast and avowing that here was the "rock on which I stand," Herndon was beside himself with disgust; on the question of Mr. Lincoln's religion, Herndon intended to "tell the truth" about "an infidel--a Deist" who sometimes in his fits of melancholy . . . was an atheist." So argued two who knew Lincoln personally; later biographers, examining the record, were not so confused. Of the Second Inaugural, Lord Charnwood said: "Probably no other speech of a modern statesman uses so unreservedly the