To be honest I totally blanked this week. I stared in front of my computer going, “What can I talk about this week? Nothing going on with games or music or comics that I care about.” As many of you know come the week of Hallowe’en, I’ll be going back to my roots and starting a new column instead of the Daily Pulse. It’ll still be here in the Monday main event slot, but it’ll be very similar to the Vampire Classifieds ezine I used to write back in the later 1990’s that everyone loved so much. But instead of focusing on just the folklore, rituals, taboos, and beliefs in regards to the dead and undead across the world, it’ll be all kinds or urban legends, superstitions and the like. It will be called NYOGTHA, or Things that Should not Be. As long time readers from my days before Retrograding, InsidePulse and 411mania may remember, I do take requests, so if you have questions from “Why do silver bullets hurt werewolves” on down to, “So, did two teenagers drive home from lovers lane and find a bloody hook in the doorhandle?” I’m your guy.
This week, I’m going to give you a sample to prep you for what you’re in for from here on out. What can I say? You can get pop culture from a hundred other writers at Inside Pulse. But who else is going to give you something both entertaining and educational? Only your subcultural icon of course.
So let’s begin with a taste of things to come.
A President’s birthplace built 30 years AFTER his death?
Considering we are 30 days from the President Election here in America, and I’ve been watching a lot of my friends in Australia violently swearing about the re-election of John Howard, I thought I’d expose one of American’s little known historical…oh let’s call it what it is: lies. A lie created to help the Kentucky Tourist industry simple because god knows no one would willingly go to Kentucky, right? I mean, what’s there besides moonshine and inbreeding, right?
The falsehood in question is the log cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky. You know, the cabin where Abe Lincoln was supposedly born.
Let’s go back in time to December 1908. Abe’s father Thomas bought Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville. His son and our future president and ’emancipator’ of the slaves was born in a small cabin on the farm on February 12th, 1909. Two years later, the Lincolns moved ten miles away.
Now all this is pretty well known historically. However, after Lincoln was assassinated, the birth cabin was gone. Three different people went looking for it, but nope, there was nothing but empty farmland. Either it had been condemned, torn down, or the logs had been recycled into other cabins.
In 1895, a man named Alfred Dennett purchased Sinking Spring Farm through his agent James Bingham. Alfred then instructed James to build a log cabin on the land.
Bingham bought a two story cabin from a neighboring farm, pulled it apart and used the best logs amongst the rubble to build a new cabin. Dennett had pictures taken and circulated them to various papers and other forms of media and passed off the new cabin as the one in which Abe Lincoln was born.
Although Dennett had tried to create a new tourist attraction which he was sure would make him a hefty sack of loot. Dennett quickly learned, much to his chagrin, that no one was willing to would actually go to a tiny Podunk town to see an ‘old’ log cabin. So the two men, dismantled the cabin and starting touring it around the country. The first stop? The Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897. To up the scam even more, they built yet another log cabin and claimed it was the birthplace of Jefferson Davis.
The next stop for the two cabins that deceit built? The 1901 Pan-American exposition in Buffalo. Then they went to Coney Island. Here a funny story happened. They were only going to be showing the Lincoln cabin, but at the Coney Island event, the logs of the two cabins became intermingled and being the crafty businessmen they were, Dennett and Bingham billed the cabin as “The Lincoln and Davis Cabin.”
Robert Collier , publisher of Collier’s Weekly, bought the Hodgenville and set up the Lincoln Farm Association. Collier also bought the Lincoln Logs and had them shipped back to Collier. Next up, Collier hired the architect John Russell Pop to design a memorial that would house the cabin. Next he gathered lawyers to make the residents of Hodgenville sign affidavits swearing the Lincoln log cabin was real. Can we say fraud boys and girls? I knew we could.
The logs ‘returned’ back to the Lincoln farm in 1906. The cabin was rebuilt in a local park, and because it was the logs of both the Davis and Lincoln cabins. It was twice as big as the cabin should be, and of course was much larger than any tiny boyhood cabin of our ex NWA champion and President would have lived in.
Instantly, the Cabin became a very popular tourist attraction, and they had to hire security guards to prevent people from breaking off pieces of the cabin to take as souvenirs. It was only erect for a week before it was ordered dismantled so that the cabin would be safe.
Three years later, for the Lincoln Centennial, the cabin was re-erected. This time, only some of the logs were used so that the cabin was back to a normal sized domicile. Even the president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt came to lay the cornerstone for the monument that Pop has designed. Teddy’s own words from the speech he gave: “The rude log cabin in which Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, is a symbol of his bonds with the common people, and it has come to mean to them as Americans what the humble stable in Bethlehem means to them as Christians. But just as the world’s faithful have sanctified the birthplace of Christ by housing it within an impressive Church of the Nativity, so the American people have ennobled the birthplace of Lincoln by housing it within a marble Temple of Fame.” I know, I know. Laying it on a bit thick there Teddy, eh?
The Temple was finally finished in 1911. True to par, it was too small for visitors to actually move around inside the cabin without taking great pains to get in there. So rather than make the temple bigger, Pope’s big idea was to shrink the cabin. The cabin was reduced to a mere twelve by seventeen feet in order to fit properly inside the temple.
Ironically, this helped to make the cabin more believable to the American public. It’s the typical American dream after all. A boy went from a backwoods wooden hut of a home to the most powerful man in the country. It’s stories like this that have had been able to make such a lasting impression on the American consciousness and have held the ideology for what Americana represents. Thus the smaller the cabin, the bigger the success, and the more people were willing to eat it up with a spoon. The more rags, the bigger the riches if you will.
The other amusing point is that the National Park Service still hands out instructions for how to make your own life size Lincoln cabin. But the measurements they give are 18 x 16 feet, whereas you can measure the cabin inside the monument as 12 x 17. Cute, eh?
Eventually Lincoln’s own son, Robert Todd Lincoln, disproved the validity of the cabin. Robert pointed out the cabin was billed as a stamp of Abe’s poverty, when Robert pointed out with family records that the Lincoln family was actually well off owning two farms, livestock and a lot for a home in a nearby town known as Elizabethtown.
For a time after Robert proved the cabin was fake, the National Park Service treated it as a monument instead of the real deal. Eventually though, like they do today, the NPS bills the Lincoln cabin as authentic and the one where Honest Abe was born. They will even scold tourists that use flashes on their camera as they claim the lights will damage the logs. The official titles the National Park Service gives the cabin is “Traditional Lincoln Birthplace Cabin.”
The strangest bit of this tale is how many people went on to use the NPS diagram to build replicas of what they thought was the original Lincoln cabin. Even in 1920, John Lloyd Wright, son of the more famous Frank Lloyd Wright, created Lincoln logs named after the fake cabin standing in Hodgenville, Kentucky. In fact the original packages of Lincoln Logs came with instructions on how to make a perfect replica of the cabin.
So what does this tell us? That we as Americans need iconic symbols of the people we have built into heroes? That there is irony about a man nicknamed “Honest Abe” having a false reality built up around him to the point where fiction and reality blur? Personally, I think it just stands for the fact that like so many things in life, we’d rather believe the lie than the truth. That we are willing to accept things at face value rather than crack the veneer and see what lies beneath. But then, that’s where we folklorists/cultural anthropologists come into play.
Holtzer, Harold. “Lincoln’s Early Years” NY Times, 2/8/98.
Knieffen, Fred and Henry Glassic. “Building in Wood in the Eastern United States.” In Dell Upton and John Michael Vlach’s Common Places (Athens: U of GA Press, 1986) 159-181.
Lowen, James. “Lies Across America.” (The New Press, 1999) 166-69.
Pessen, Edward. The Log Cabin Myth (New Haven: Yale UP, 1984.)
Peterson, Merrill D. “The Reconstruction of Abraham Lincoln” in David Middleton and Derek Edwards, eds., Collective Remembering (London: Sage, 1991), 100.
Pitcaithley, Dwight. “A Splendid Hoax: The Strange Case of Lincoln’s Birthplace Cabin” (DC: National Museum of American History Colloquium), 4/30/91.
Pitcaithley, Dwight. “Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace Cabin: The Making of an American Icon” (DC: Typescript, no date).
Wecter, Dixon. (NY” Scribner’s, 1972), 228.
As long as I’m focusing on Lincoln, it wouldn’t be one of my columns without focusing on the would-be supernatural aspects of both our 16th President’s life…and death.
It’s well known and documented by historians that Lincoln foresaw his own death. Shortly before his election in 1860, Lincoln had visions of seeing himself in mirrors. There were two distinct images. The first was deathly pale and vanished as he grew near to it. The other was his normal visage. When he told his wife Mary, she said the vision meant that Lincoln would be re-elected to a second term but would not survive it.
Again, ten days before Lincoln was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth, he saw the entire event unfold before him in a dream. The following two paragraphs come straight from Lincoln’s own journal.
I retired late. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a deathlike stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered down-stairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along.
It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? O was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, other weeping pitifully. “Who is dead in the White House?” I demanded of one of the soldiers. “The President,” was his answer. “He was killed by an assassin.” Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have strangely been annoyed by it ever since.”
BUM BUM BUM!
The night before Lincoln died, he told a cabinet member about his dream. The day of his assassination, Lincoln told his personal Bodyguard, W.H. Crook, that he had dreamed for three nights in a row about his impending assassination. Crook begged Lincoln not to attend the production at Ford’s Theatre, believing strongly in premonitions, but Lincoln stated he had to, as he had promised Mary he would attend. According to Crook, Lincoln knew he would die that night, as instead of saying good night, he addressed everyone with “Good Bye.”
Even after Lincoln’s death, the president became associated with supernatural occurrences. For example, a special funeral train took Lincoln’s body to Springfield, IL for burial. The train took 14 days to arrive as it stopped in various cities, allowing mourners to file past the open casket. Over 2 million people turned out to bid Lincoln good-bye. Since then, every April at the anniversary of the assassination, a spectral train is reported traveling along the tracks from Washington DC towards New York State. The train never reaches its destination of Illinois however. Even the Albany Evening Times gave an account of the ghost train rocketing through the area on its yearly visit.
Regularly in the month of April, about midnight the air on the tracks becomes very keen and cutting, On either side of the tracks it is warm and still. Every watchmen, when he feels the air, slips off the track and sits down to watch. Soon the pilot engine of Lincoln’s funeral train passes with long, black streamers and with a band of black instruments playing dirges, grinning skeletons sitting all about.
It passes noiselessly. If it is moonlight, clouds come over the moon as the phantom train goes by. After the pilot engine passes, the funeral train itself with flags and streamers rushes past. The track seems covered with black carpet, and the coffin is seen in the center of the car, while all about it in the air and on the train behind are vast numbers of blue-coated men, some with coffins on their backs, others leaning upon them.
If a real train were passing its noise would be hushed as if the phantom train rode over it. Clocks and watches always stop as the phantom train goes by and when looked at are five to eight minutes behind.
Everywhere on the road about April 27th watches and clocks are suddenly found to be behind.
And of course there are many other stories about the ghost of Lincoln. Everything from spectral sightings of Lincoln at (and in) the catacombs of his monument and tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery, to the White House itself.
Supposedly the ghost of Lincoln still resides within the confines of the White House. Ghostly footsteps on the second floor are attributed to the spirit of Lincoln by staff members. The first person to see the would-be ghost of Lincoln is the 30th president of the United States himself, Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge saw a silhouette of Lincoln staring out a window in the Oval Office, looking out over the Potomac. Since then, Lincoln’s ghost has been seen in this pose. The Poet Carl Sandburg once felt Lincoln’s ghost stand by him at the window.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt claimed to often sense Lincoln’s presence late at night and would point out her little dog, Fala, would bark excitedly whenever the ghost was near, appearing to bark at thin air.
President Harry Truman also claimed to encounter the ghost of his predecessor. He supposedly heard and saw Lincoln walking around. However, after Truman left office, the ghost of Lincoln appeared to go dormant as well. At least until the Reagans took control of the White House. Ronald’s daughter Maureen claimed to see Lincoln’s ghost in the Lincoln Room on several occasions.
The Lincoln bedroom has been a sight of many hauntings in the White House. Of course, all involved Lincoln. As the bedroom is head to visiting heads of state, many international leaders have walked away from a night in the Lincoln bedroom believing in the undead. The best example is Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who visited during the Presidency of FDR. The Queen kept reporting the sound of footsteps outside her corridor. Finally there was a knock at her door. She opened it and standing in the threshold was Lincoln himself, dressed in full frock and top hat. The Queen fainted and was revived by staff members.
How much of this is true? The only thing for certain is the journal entry by Lincoln himself. As with any commentary or would be reports of the supernatural, it all has to be taken with a grain of salt. I personally am a tried and true skeptic on any form of paranormal activity. It’s fun to talk and write about, but if you assume everything that goes bump in the night is a spirit or every noise you canÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Ã‚Â¢t explain is a restless ghost, you’re living in a world more fantasy than reality chaps.
Alexander, John. Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories. Arlington, VA: Washington Book Trading Co., 1988.
Cohen, Daniel. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1984.
Fodor, Nandor. An Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. Secaucus, NJ. Citadel Press, 1966. First Published 1933.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits/ New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Moore, R Laurence. In Search of White Crows. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Roberts, Nancy. Civil War Ghost Stories and Legends. Columbia: University of SC Press, 1992.
Scott, Beth, and Michael Norman. Haunted Heartland. New York: Warner Books, 1985.
Taylor, Troy. Haunted Illinois. Alton, Il: Whitechapel Productions Press, 1999.
I don’t think enough people appreciate Tuna. Sadly, thanks to Starkist and Charlie the Tuna, we’re used to Tuna Fish being this awful smelling and horrid tasting crap in a can. But fresh Tuna is one of the tastiest of all fish. Just convince yourself to try it in the fresh version. I know Toro (fatty tuna) is my favorite Sushi, even more than the delicacy that is unagi.
You also know, I’m mainly a French chef, so for this recipe I’d like to go Provincial to the town of St. Remy. This dish can easily be made just by fishing in the local area and picking some of the abundant and wildly growing herbs you need for this dish. Simple and delicious, that is how all the best dishes should be.
Tuna with garlic, tomatoes, and herbs
4 tuna steaks, about 1 inch thick (6-7 ounces each)
3 tbsp Olive Oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbsp white wine
3 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 tsp dried herbs (Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, cilantro)
salt and finely ground black pepper
fresh basil leaves, to taste.
1. Season the tuna steaks with salt and pepper. Heat a very heavy frying pan over high heat until very hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat. Add the tuna steaks and press down gently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 6-8 minutes, turning only once, until just slightly pink in the center.
I should add right here that Tuna is often served pink in the middle. Think of Tuna like you would beef. If you want to cook it all the way through though (ugh. Why not pour ketchup on it too?), reduce the heat and cook for an extra 5 minutes or so.
2. Transfer the steaks to a serving plate and cover to keep warm. Add the garlic to the pan and fry for 15-20 SECONDS. Stir constantly. Then pour in the wine and boil until it is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes and herbs and cook for 3 minutes until the sauce is bubbling. Season with pepper and then pour the sauce over the steaks. Serve garnished with the fresh basil leaves.
And that’s it for this week. If you have questions, urban legends, bits of folklore, or ghost stories you’d like me to cover over the upcoming weeks, start sending in the letters now,