“Do you want to see Lincoln’s birthplace?” my husband asked me.
“What, are we in Illinois?” I asked in complete confusion. We recently took a 3,000-mile road trip from Norwalk to Dallas (home of our grandchildren) by way of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana — a triangular route which took us out of the way but enabled us to visit New Orleans, which held fond memories from my husband’s childhood. More about that, perhaps, in another column.
But I digress — and this road trip was full of digressions. Here, I am trying to explain my confusion over being asked (my husband’s way of telling me) about stopping at Lincoln’s birthplace.
After all, Illinois license plates say “Land of Lincoln.” But, last I knew before I fell asleep, we were in Kentucky, toward the end of our road trip, heading for Cincinnati and then home. To my surprise, we were to take a slight detour to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, which is in a National Historical Park about three miles south of Hodgenville, Ky., on U.S. 31.
We started out at the visitor center there, where we watched a 15-minute video explaining how the original Abraham Lincoln (President Abe’s grandfather, for whom he was named) was a pioneer who settled in Kentucky and was killed by Indians. His son, Thomas (President Abe’s father) was a carpenter turned farmer who bought Sinking Spring farm, where Abe, who became president of the United States, was born and lived the first years of his life in a simple log cabin — definitely not in Illinois.
We visited the birthplace memorial, climbing the 56 steps leading up to it, symbolizing the 56 years Lincoln lived before his assassination. Oddly, the log cabin is housed in a huge marble and granite building with columns, somewhat similar to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
But this memorial in Kentucky contains not a huge statue of Lincoln, but a one-room log cabin which is similar to the one in which the Lincoln family lived — very plain and small. Only a few days before, I had been playing with “Lincoln Logs” — a building set some of you may know of — with my grandchildren and it looked very similar.
Later, the Lincolns moved to another place in Kentucky (known as the Knob Creek Farm, also a place you can visit, although we did not) and then the family moved to Indiana. Only later in life did Lincoln live in Illinois.
The story of a man born in a simple log cabin who became the president of the United States is a true one — his humble beginnings were in the farmlands of Kentucky and it made me feel good knowing that a person who started out this simply could become the leader of our nation.
And the fact that Illinois claims him, even though he is actually from Kentucky? I would have been more surprised to learn this fact, were it not that, upon moving to Norwalk decades ago, I learned that Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio.
You see, I am from New Jersey, and New Jersey claims credit for Edison, the great inventor. As a child I learned with pride that Edison’s lab was in Menlo Park, N.J. When I moved here to Ohio and learned about the Edison Birthplace in Milan, I thought that could not possibly be correct. That was my awakening to the fact that states like to claim credit for their famous people. So I can accept that Honest Abe, who freed the slaves and fought the Civil War, was a Kentucky man, just like Edison is an Ohioan. In our great country, with talent and determination, anything is possible.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]