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Interesting Things About Abraham Lincoln

If you ask about the top ten presidents in American history, Abraham Lincoln is usually on the list somewhere, if not in first place. His name is everywhere, from the names of cities to political organizations. Anyone with this much attention to their name and history is liable to pick up some legends along the way, and Lincoln is no exception. Here are some of the most interesting things I could find about our sixteenth president, including the myths. Some of them may surprise you.

The brother of John Wilkes Booth once saved the life of Lincoln’s son.

Sometime in late 1863 or 1864, Robert Todd Lincoln was traveling by train from New York to Washington, D.C. when he stopped briefly in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was standing on a crowded platform when he fell between said platform and a moving train. At that moment, a man reached out and pulled him to safety by his shirt. Robert immediately recognized Edwin Booth, a famous actor, as his unexpected savior and thanked him profusely. Edwin, on the other hand, would not learn Robert’s identity until he received a letter a several months later thanking him for his heroism. It would be only a year or two later that Edwin's brother John would assassinate Robert’s father.

No, he was not some weird supernatural nut.

According to the Illinois State Historical Society, most of the legend surrounding Lincoln’s involvement with spiritualism is exaggerated by his detractors, who have told tall tales about weird rituals and even voodoo practices. His wife, Mary Todd, was actually into spiritualism to some extent, seeking comfort after they lost their son, Willie, to typhoid fever. She held up to eight seances in the White House to contact her fallen child and her husband attended a few of them, but he was not a regular practitioner himself.

There are no more Lincolns left.

Though there are several lines of Lincolns out there, none of them are direct descendants of Abe. His last living descendent, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died on Christmas Eve of 1985. Since he had no children of his own, the direct line ceased with his passing. There was some dispute over a son of his second wife, whom he claimed was not his own and the court ruled in his favor, so officially the line is extinct.

He did not predict his own death, as far as we know.

Allegedly Lincoln had a dream one night while waiting for correspondence about the Civil War. In the dream he saw a covered corpse on display in the White House, which was guarded by mourning soldiers. When he asked who it was, he was told that the president had been assassinated. A few days after this supposed dream, he was murdered at Ford’s Theater. Historians have found several inconsistencies in the story that suggest that this and other predictions of his death are myths.

He liked to make fun of himself.

Let’s face it, Abe was funny looking. And he knew it, too. He was known for mocking his own looks in public, though he was confident enough in himself to be the subject of several portraits and photographs. Perhaps his most famous quip was during a debate with Stephen Douglas. His opponent accused him of being two-faced for not taking a strong stand on several political issues, but Mr. Lincoln was having none of that. “If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?” he replied.

A child may have been responsible for his beard.

During his presidential campaign, eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln suggesting that he grow a beard. She said it would be more appealing on his narrow face and that it might increase his chances of winning. Though we cannot tell today how much of an influence this letter had, he did respond positively to her and shortly after their exchange he started to grow out his facial hair. By the time he took office he had the full beard for which he is famous today.

He was the first American president to be assassinated.

We went nearly a century before that first assassination occurred. However, this was not the first attempt on a president. That honor goes to Andrew Jackson on January 30th, 1835. A deranged man approached him and attempted to fire two pistols at the president, but they both misfired. Jackson was enraged by the act and proceeded to beat the crap out of the man with his cane. The assassin was later found to be mentally incompetent and institutionalized.

He was a wrestler before he got into politics.

Lincoln wrestled for twelve years, starting in his early twenties when he defeated a group of bullies in his hometown. He was pretty good at the sport, likely because of his incredible height. (He was six foot, four in a time when men on average were much shorter.) Of the some 300 matches he fought, he lost only once. He was good enough that he was eventually inducted in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. His sporting career may have even contributed to his success in politics in the 1850s, as voters remembered him as a kickass fighter.

He was not originally from Illinois.

Lincoln’s birthplace was Hardin County (now LaRue County), Kentucky, where he was born on February 12th, 1809. He spent his early years in Kentucky and Indiana with his family. Most of his political career, however, took place in Illinois, which is why he is associated so strongly with the state. He moved there in 1830, some say to get away from a “milk sickness” outbreak in his hometown. (That’s a pretty nasty one. Google it if you are curious.)

Legend says he haunts the White House.

Lincoln’s ghost has been reported at numerous locations, including his old law office in Illinois. However, he is most famous for haunting the White House. This is especially true of the Lincoln Bedroom, where numerous people have reported a haunting presence, even if they don’t always see the specter responsible. Grace Coolidge was the first person to report a sighting, but Abe was also spotted by such famous figures as Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Maureen Reagan, and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands (who apparently fainted after seeing him).

Ghost or not, and whatever you think of his politics, Abraham Lincoln was certainly an interesting guy. He was apparently a complete nerd who liked to read a lot, which helped lift him from the poverty he was born into. He educated himself with his myriad books and eventually became a lawyer, working his way into politics simply because he encountered some issues he didn’t like. Eventually that motivation took him all the way to the White House. His story is one that proves that you can do pretty much anything if you put your mind to it. There is always a way, you just have to find it.

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