Abraham Lincoln has been on my mind this week because Wednesday was the 150th anniversary of his assassination. Plus, I just returned from a trip to Illinois, the land of Lincoln, where it seems one is always several miles from a Lincoln site. Sure enough, I was in Charleston, in the eastern part of the state and noticed a sign for “Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site.” So, on a beautiful sunny early spring day, I drove through the flat farm country curious to see yet another Lincoln site.
Turns out Abraham Lincoln never lived here. His father and step-mother, Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, ended up on this farm site. Abe, himself, owned a portion of the land which he deeded back to his parents for their use during their lifetime. He was close to his widowed step-mother and made a final visit to see her in this area before heading to assume the presidency in Washington. Son-in-law Dennis Hanks later wrote of that visit: “It soon became known in town that Mr. Lincoln had arrived and hundreds came to see him.” Augustus Chapman, husband of Lincoln’s niece, wrote that Lincoln told him that his stepmother “had been his best friend in this world and that no man could love a mother more than he loved her.”
The present log cabin was built by Civilian Conservation Corps crews in 1934 and based on photographs and contemporary descriptions. The original was disassembled and carted to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where it was on display. No one is sure where the pieces ended up after the Fair.
The farm is interpreted as an 1840s working farm site, with heirloom varieties of livestock and crops. This was a time when many members of the extended Lincoln family lived in the area. Lincoln’s father worked hard to eek out a living from the soil. On a good day a man and a team of horses could plow a 2 1/2 acre field, walking a distance of 25 miles. I learned that in his 73 years Thomas had lived many places, reflecting the migrating patterns of many Americans. He was born during the American Revolution in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and moved to western Virginia (now Kentucky). Sadly, Thomas witnessed the murder of his father by a Native American while clearing his fields. Thomas repeated this story many times to his children and Abraham said it was the one story “more strongly than all others imprinted on my mind and memory.”
Abe was born in Kentucky, but when he was seven, the family moved to Indiana. But of course it is Illinois that is most closely associated with the Lincolns. They ended up there in 1830. By this time Abe was old enough to leave the nest and went out on his own, settling in New Salem, and embarking on a path quite different from his father.
On my visit to the farm, surrounded by the freshness of early spring, I couldn’t help but notice the black crepe draped across the front of the cabin and wonder at the scene when the devastating news arrived from Washington that fateful day. On this farm in the middle of the Illinois prairie, the wave of national grief was very personal. The night of my visit, a theater troupe was presenting a play titled, “An Evening at Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865.”