Saturday, February 20, 2016

Singleton writes of little-known facts about President Abraham Lincoln

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Little-known facts about Abe Lincoln” was originally published in the Feb. 7, 2002 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

I don’t believe that there is a person alive who knows anything about our past history that doesn’t have a special time or period that they like to study and think about. As for myself, I can sit all day and read and study the dreadful times of the Civil War. As  I have stated many times in my writings, both sides of my family were directly involved in this bloody time in our history; this probably is one of the major reasons why I have read and studied everything I come across about this bloody and awesome time in the history of our country.

Regardless of the many lives that were lost on both sides and the blood that was shed, many happenings and events of this period happened in strange surroundings and when studied and discussed tend to be on the funny side. The horrors of the war are never funny, but some of the events sometimes touch the funny bone.

Much has been said and much more has been written about President Abraham Lincoln and the part he played in the dreaded Civil War. If one studies and researches history, this man played a major part in this war that divided our country for a number of years. Some of the decisions that this man made during his time in the White House affects us even today. But even though he was a great man, much fun was passed from one to another of the people that knew him. I mean no disrespect, but I would like to mention a few events of the lighter side.

Photographs of President Lincoln were few and far between before 1860. But as he became more and more in the eyes of the public, everyone from school children to the Union soldiers drew pictures of him and the way he looked. Never was he seen when his clothing was neat and matched as it should have been. A lot of people were awed by his huge hands and feet and his extremely long arms and legs. One lady who knew him said this: “His skin was shriveled and yellow. His shoes, when he had any, were low. He wore buckskin breeches, a linsey-woolsey shirt and a cap made from the skin of a squirrel or coon. His breeches were baggy and lacked by several inches meeting the tops of his shoes, thereby exposing his shinbone, sharp, blue and narrow.”

Another friend that knew Lincoln said that his trousers were always about five inches too short. Though a vest or coat was customary, he never wore one. He frequently wore only one suspender. “He wore a calico shirt, tan brogans, blue yarn socks and an old straw hat.”

D.H. Wilder, who knew Lincoln before he was president, said this: “He had legs that you could fold up; his knees stood out like the hind joint of a Kansas grasshopper. Most of his buttons were always missing off his shirt. He was very tall, gawky and rough looking; his pantaloons didn’t meet his shoes by at least six inches.”

Emilie Todd, the younger sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife, had this to say about her brother-in-law. “When I first saw him, I kept thinking of ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk,’ and I feared he might be the hungry giant of the story. He was so tall and looked so big with a long, full black cloak over his shoulders. He wore a fur cap with ear straps which allowed but little of his face to be seen. Expecting to hear ‘Fe, fi, fo, fum,’ I ran and hid behind my mother’s skirts.”

A British journalist after first seeing Lincoln had this to say about him. “To say that he was ugly is nothing, add that his figure is grotesque is to convey no adequate impression. Fancy a man about six-feet high, and thin in proportion, with long bony arms and legs, which somehow seem always to be in the way; with great rugged furrowed hands, which grasps you like a vice when shaking yours, with a long scraggly neck and a chest too narrow for the great arms at his side. Add this to his figure, a head, coconut-shaped and somewhat too small for such a stature, covered with rough, uncombed hair, that stands out in every direction at once, a face furrowed and wrinkled and indented as though it had been scarred by vitriol. A high narrow forehead, sunk beneath busy eyebrows, somewhat dreamy eyes, that seem to gaze at you without looking at you. Put this together with a close-set, thin-lipped stern mouth, with two rows of large white teeth, and a nose and ears that seem to have been taken by mistake from a head twice the size.

“Clothe this figure then in a long, tight, badly fitting suit of black, creased, soiled and puckered at every salient point, put on large, ill-fitting boots, gloves too long for the long, boney fingers, and a hat covered to the top with dusty fluffy crepe. And then add to this an air of strength, physical as well as moral, and then add a strange look of dignity coupled with grotesqueness, and you will have the impression left upon me by Abraham Lincoln.”

Lincoln’s seemingly total unconcern about his looks and his clothing may have stemmed from his early life. On the western frontier where he grew up, it didn’t matter a hill of beans how a boy or girl, man or woman dressed. All accounts indicate that he ignored repeated attempts to provide for his personal security. This man put everything within his power into the preservation of the Union. His failure to heed the warnings of his advisors proved to be his downfall. Perhaps had he survived and had the chance to finish his term as president, things might have been different, even today.

But the winds of change blow in many directions; we cannot understand many of the strange events that await in the distance. History has proven this time and time again. As we try to look into the future as to what is to come with the coming of a new president, all we can do is speculate.

Since the coming month of February is often referred to by our historians as “Lincoln Month,” I think that we should give some thought to this past president although the month of his birth is yet to come.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, moved to Monroe County in 1961 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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