By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
It's hard to imagine a president who's been more written about, but that doesn't stop historians from researching and reviewing Abraham Lincoln's story—especially in this year that celebrates the bicentennial of his birth. Our friends at the White House Historical Association are contributing by producing two of their popular White House History journals devoted to the 16th president.
In the latest, editor William Seale tells of how Lincoln memorabilia are everywhere in Washington, even in "the Church of Presidents"—St. John's Episcopal, across the street from the White House. Pew 89 is in the last row in a corner next to the door. And that's where Lincoln normally sat (he often left before the end of Sunday services).
But it's at the White House where Lincoln made his mark and lived. Harold Holzer, cochair of the U.S. Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, describes in detail the major highs and lows of family and official life there for the president, Mary, and their kids. We've boiled it down to the Top 10 Lincoln White House Facts.
1. Upon arrival, the Lincolns were not impressed with the White House. Mary found it worn down and determined that it needed a major face-lift.
2. Like lots of Washington projects, Mary's renovation went over budget—by nearly 30 percent. Abe said he'd pay, but the overrun was "hushed up" and Congress paid the bill.
3. The crush of job seekers was so bad that Lincoln drew up a schedule to interview potential hires twice a week for three hours each session.
4. Lincoln appears to have been the first to set up family and official sides of the White House. He had maintenance men build a partition that allowed him to "at least retreat for meals without running the gauntlet of assembled strangers."
5. Mary especially liked the benefits of the White House, like personal servants, valets, and a seamstress.
6. Despite having Abe home all day, Mary's hopes of bringing the family closer together weren't realized. "Ultimately, it conspired in a sense to drive them further apart," pens Holzer. Fact is, being a war president doesn't free up much time for family.
7. To get war news, Lincoln had to walk to the War Department because the White House wasn't equipped with a telegraph.
8. Lincoln inaugurated the photo op on April 26, 1864, when he posed for a picture by Anthony Berger, a cameraman working for the famous photographer Mathew Brady. The painter Francis B. Carpenter had requested the photograph.
9. In many other cases, Lincoln sat for artists, including teen sculptor Vinnie Ream, who produced a bust that was later adapted into the full-length statue featured in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
10. After his assassination, Mary clung to the mansion for five weeks. She noted upon departure that it housed "all the sorrows of my life."
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