[schema type=”person” name=”Abraham Lincoln” jobtitle=”President” worksfor=”” description=”Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States of America. serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. President Lincoln guided the United States during its Civil War. The Civil War was the U.S.A.’s bloodiest war and a time of moral, constitutional, and political crisis. ” country=”US” ]
Top 10 Strange Facts About Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln is remembered as the United State’s 16th President whose life was cut tragically short by assassination in 1865. Throughout his career, Lincoln made a name for himself as a man who used his political prowess and passion for social change to keep the Union from dismantling during a time that the country was divided by the Civil War, all while catalyzing the emancipation of slaves.
Lincoln’s legacy paved the way for progressive movements such as the Women’s Rights movement and the Civil Rights Movement. In a time where the topic of “politics” is often met with a furrowed brow and latent mistrust, Lincoln remains a figure in American history that encompassed honesty, integrity and strength for our nation.
Lincoln’s life and story has been immortalized in various texts, books and movies. However, there are some anecdotes and stories about the 16th President of the United States that don’t appear in textbooks or on-screen.
From his early days as a wrestler, to a serendipitous encounter with the brother of John Wilkes Booth’s brother, and even dabbling with the occult (no, Lincoln was not a vampire hunter), here are the top strange facts about Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln’s Mother Died from Drinking Poisoned Milk
Nancy Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, died suddenly at the age of 34 after drinking poisoned milk. The death was not due to any malicious intent, but actually the result of an epidemic during the time known as “milk sickness”. Milk sickness is known today as Eupatorium rugosum, or white snakeroot, which is a poisonous herb that was supposedly ingested by cattle during the time of the milk sickness epidemic leading to Nancy Reagan’s death.
William H. Herndon, who co-authored Lincoln’s biography, described the milk sickness and its swift infliction on Nancy Lincoln in detail:
“Her sufferings, however, were destined to be of brief duration. Within a week she too rested from her labors. … Abe and his sister Sarah waited on their mother, and did the little jobs and errands required of them. There was no physician nearer than thirty-five miles. The mother knew she was going to die, and called the children to her bedside. She was very weak, and the children leaned over while she gave her last message.”
One caveat to this story is that Herndon did not clarify Nancy’s signs and symptoms. Although noted as a “tireless researcher,” many present day historians have voiced reservation over Herndon’s findings and the accuracy of said information.
Still, the pervasiveness of milk sickness during this time was largely what influenced the Lincolns to relocate from Indiana to Illinois in 1830.
Lincoln Was a Wrestler
Let’s get ready to rumble…with honest Abe?!
Strange but true, before he came into political power, Lincoln garnered a reputation as a skilled wrestler who, according to History, only lost “…once in approximately 300 matches.”
In his biography “A. Lincoln: A Biography,” author Ronald C. White Jr. details the times during Lincoln’s youth (from the age of nine until his early twenties) that he enjoyed the sport of wrestling.
WWE spoke to White about Lincoln’s wrestling history, and how “honest Abe” was quite the fair fighter. In one instance,Lincoln became very heated when his opponent (who was a sort of “world champion” of New Salem at the time), attempted to trip Lincoln—“a low blow by today’s standards”—when he sensed he was losing the match.
“Honest Abe, never one to break the rules, became incensed and used his long, powerful arms to grab his opponent by the neck and shake him vigorously like a rag doll. With The Clary’s Grove Boys backing up Armstrong, they began to corner Lincoln. Some say that Lincoln offered to take on each member of the gang, but their leader called off the bout instead. The competitors agreed on a draw and Armstrong proclaimed Lincoln to be, ‘the best fella that ever broke into this settlement.’”
Things ended peacefully, however. Lincoln had technically won the match, but due to the physical advantage he had over his opponent from his tall stature, he “did not want to win the match…the two men decided to shake hands out of respect instead.”
Believe it or not, Lincoln’s early years as a wrestler helped fuel his political career. The notoriety—however slight—he had gained had made his name recognizable, and earned several votes when he ran for Illinois state legislature in 1832.
Lincoln Used His Hat as a Filing Cabinet
As iconic (if not more so) as Lincoln’s beard was his stovepipe hat, an eight inch accessory that made the 6’4″ president tower even more prominently–albeit, with humility–over his colleagues and fellow Americans.
Smithsonite Mag notes that the hat was often a source of comedic fodder for caricaturists, and also may have been a deliberate choice by Lincoln to add to his “frontier image,” as the oft worn headgear became battered and worn until Lincoln finally purchased a new top hat later in his career.
Before going to the theatre on the night of his assassination, Lincoln chose a silk top hat made specially by J Y. Davis that featured a mourning band in tribute to his late son Willie. The hat’s brief tenure ended on the floor beside Lincoln after he was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth.
Just as Lincoln had chosen his hats for things like image and homage, he also found several other facilities in the tall accessory.
According to Scholastic, Lincoln used the hat for fashion AND function but storing important papers inside of it. In the book Abe Lincoln’s hat, Brenner describes different stories about the hat, including a time when, “…A group of boys rigged up a high wire and knocked it off [Lincoln’s] head, scattering the papers.”
John Wilkes Booth’s Brother Saved Robert Lincoln’s Life
It is hard for anyone to not be familiar with the name “John Wilkes Booth” the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. You may not be as familiar with the name Edwin Booth, John Wilkes Booth’s brother. During the time, however, Edwin’s name was the more iconic one, as he was a prominent theater actor.
Edwin and John experienced a somewhat volatile relationship, especially when it came to political views. Edwin was a staunch supporter of President Abraham Lincoln, while John was in extreme opposition as a self-proclaimed secessionist.
In a moment of historical happenstance, Edwin encountered Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Lincoln, not long before President Lincoln was assassinated. Before the president’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth, the murderer’s kin would end up saving Robert Lincoln’s life. Today I Found Out shared Robert’s recollection of the event:
“The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.”
When Edwin caught wind of the assassination of President Lincoln and the fact that his brother was the man responsible for the murder, he was enveloped in shock and grief. It was the help of friends that brought Edwin out of his grief and depression following the assassination, as well as the knowledge that he–while President Lincoln’s life had been taken–he had been responsible for saving the life of his son.
Edwin went on to open the Booth Theater which eventually folded, but he continued a lucrative acting career until his death.
Lincoln Had a History-Making Beard
Lincoln’s beard was historic in that he was the first president to showcase a beard. The story behind his choice to grow the beard actually becomes even more interesting.
An Oct. 2014 article from TIME details the story of Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old who originally requested the President—then Republican nominee—add some whiskers to his face. Westfield, NY resident, Bedell, wrote a letter to Lincoln in 1860, which backed up her reasoning for facial hair earning votes. The letter read, in part:
“I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Apparently bristles were a new frontier for the regularly clean-shaven politician. But, being quite the frontiersman himself, Lincoln decided to throw caution—and his razor—to the wind.
He wrote Bedell back and reportedly arranged to meet the precocious preteen on his way to his 1861 inauguration. Grace Bedell later spoke about the face-to-face interaction with Lincoln.
“Taking my hand, the gentleman who had escorted us to the station made a lane through the crowd and led me to the low platform beside the train. The president stepped down from the car, shook my hand and kissed me. ‘You see,’ he said, indicating his beard. ‘I let these whiskers grow for you, Grace.’”
Bedell continued that she had prepared a bouquet of roses to give to the President but was so jolted by Lincoln’s affection, she returned home still clutching the stems. She recollected seeing a mixture of kindness and sadness in President Lincoln’s eyes.