Facts about the real Abraham Lincoln

Contributor Benjamin Brown looks at 10 interesting facts about Abraham Lincoln, who is getting a bit of media attention this week as a movie debuts about Lincoln’s fictional exploits as a vampire hunter.

Photograph by Alexander Gardner, 3 October 1863.

Okay, let’s set the record straight: Abraham Lincoln was no vampire hunter. Though he never gave television’s Buffy Summers competition to purge vampires (as evidenced by the poor reviews for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), he is recognized for a number of things throughout his remarkable life. Let’s take a look at some of our 16th president’s achievements and fun facts.

Facially fantastic?

Lincoln was nowhere close to our most handsome president. Even some of his most passionate supporters did not find him physically appealing. However, he did gain recognition for being the first president to sport a beard while in office. Shortly after the 1860 election, a little girl wrote to a clean-shaven Lincoln, suggesting that he grow whiskers. Needless to say, Lincoln took the girl’s grooming tip.

Frontier phenom

Born in Hardin County, Kentucky, Lincoln was the first president born outside of the original 13 colonies. Lincoln was raised in Illinois where he worked as a rail splitter, a ferryboat captain, a clerk in a general store, and a postmaster, and eventually a skilled attorney. His frontier accent was prominent throughout this life. He would pronounce get as git and there as thar.

Giving George Washington a run for his money

Growing up on the frontier, Lincoln hardly had a year of schoolhouse education. He still became a proficient reader and writer. One of his favorite books was Parson Weem’s exalting biography of Washington. Not only do the two men grace American currency, but they are constantly in contention with each other for America’s best president among historians.

Lincoln-mania was running wild

For all you fans of HBO’s Eastbound and Down, protagonist Kenny Powers once uttered, “Besides getting shot in the back of the head, do you know what else Abraham Lincoln did? He was a champion wrestler in high school.” As outlandish as the television show is, Lincoln was indeed a skilled fighter. After defeating an opponent with a single toss, Lincoln allegedly bellowed, “Any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns!” No one took up the challenge. His skills were highly regarded by local residents.

Wife strife

Although Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, was charming, she was not well-liked in Washington. Ironically, Mrs. Lincoln came from a southern family and four of her brothers joined the Confederate army. Congressmen even accused her of being a Confederate spy. Such accusations deeply upset her, but it was her husband’s death that really took a toll on her mental health. She was eventually admitted to an insane asylum.

First shot, third to die

Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated, but his death was not the first presidential tragedy. He was actually the third to pass away while in office. The 9th president William Henry Harrison lasted just a month in office before succumbing to pneumonia which he caught while giving his inaugural address – the longest in history – in the bitter cold. 12th president Zachary Taylor died from a digestive illness after downing a bowl of cherries and a pitcher of milk.

So, it was you!

In 1862, President Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A melodramatic account on the horrors of slavery, the book infuriated many southerners and supporters of slavery. Upon meeting her, Lincoln is said to have exclaimed, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book and started this great war!”

Abe and JFK

There are a number of eerie similarities between Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. For example, both were shot in the head on a Friday by Southerners. Not coincidental enough? Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theatre and Kennedy was killed while riding in a Lincoln automobile, made by Ford. Now that’s scary – take that, vampires!

Aging not so gracefully

In the four years Lincoln was president, he appeared to have aged nearly 20 years. Lincoln ran for president in 1860 as a 51-year-old with a thick head of hair and a near-wrinkleless face. In 1863, Lincoln had a receding hairline and crow’s feet. By 1865, Lincoln’s youthful face of 1860 had vanished: eye bags were prominent, his complexion was paler, and what was left of his hair had started to gray. Lincoln was president during one of the most tumultuous times in American history and likely endured hundreds of sleepless nights and stressful days. The physical toll was noticeable. For a full slide show of Lincoln’s aging face, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPe4kPFZ6ts

“You’re fired!”

Think of Abraham Lincoln as the Donald Trump of his time. Lincoln grew frustrated by the subpar performances of many Union generals and fired them. Casualties of Lincoln’s discontent include Irvin McDowell, John Pope, George McClellan (twice), and many more. He eventually found his man in future president Ulysses S. Grant. Grant had a reputation as a bit of a drinker, but a successful general nonetheless. Lincoln said of Grant, “Find out what whiskey he drinks and send all of my generals a case.”

Though Lincoln was not a vampire hunter, he still found plenty success as one of America’s greatest executives.

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