Mike and I didn’t spend our entire time eating pork and green beans in Louisville. Being both history geeks and Lincoln buffs, we spent a morning and early afternoon in and around the town of Hodgenville. We first heard about Hodgenville back in February (I think) through the film Being Lincoln: Men with Hats, a documentary about Lincoln presenters and their annual convention. That was what prompted us to head down to Kentucky for spring break. Even if you’re not a Lincoln buff, and even if you do nothing else but visit Hodgenville, it’s a nice little trip. Absolutely beautiful country. You can see why Thomas (Abe’s dad) or anyone would have wanted to put down stakes there. True, the attrition rate was horrendous, but at least while settlers were starving/freezing to death or choking on their own tubercular blood, they had some pretty country to look at.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site is the official starting place of Honest Abe’s story. Abe was, as the story goes, born in a long-gone, single-room log cabin at the site. The only object in the park that has any connection with Lincoln (though in extremely modified form) is Sinking Spring, the source of the family’s water supply. Signs advise against tossing coins into the spring pool or, should you take the time to climb the gate and reach out for a handful, to drink from the spring. Sounds like a good idea.
And look! Just beyond the trees you can see the Beaux-Arts temple Thomas Lincoln constructed out of logs with his own two hands, an axe, and a 1900s work crew.
The former Lincoln farm (which didn’t provide very good soil for farming and which the Lincolns had to leave a few years after due to litigation), was later bought up by such personages as William Jennings Bryan and Mark Twain, and later Robert Collier, publisher of Collier’s Weekly in order to preserve Lincoln’s legacy. In 1909, the temple’s cornerstone was laid by President Teddy Roosevelt. Pres. Taft showed up a few years later for the dedication, and a few other presidents have stopped by over the decades to deliver speeches and suck up all that positive rail-splitting energy, man.
Inside the temple you’ll find a genuine phony log cabin that President A.L. wasn’t born inâ€”at the time of our visit the temple was closed for repairs, but it doesn’t sound like we missed much. Amusingly, the site’s brochures seem embarrassed about the place’s gaudiness in the park’s otherwise pastoral surroundings. “Uh, people used to build this fancy memorial crap all the time back then,” the brochures mumble, “Sorry about that.” Mike made the observation that the famously humble Lincoln would have been aghast at the ostentatiousness of it all. Good thing he didn’t live to see his tomb.
Stop by the Nancy Lincoln Inn, right across from the temple, for a grand selection of Lincoln knickknacks and the voodoo doll John Wilkes Booth used in his first failed attempt on the president’s life.
Back in Hodgenville we visited the Lincoln Museum, which features one of my favorite roadside attractions: wax dioramas. Lincoln is shown debating Stephen Douglas, being sworn into office, delivering his Second Inaugural Address (if you haven’t read it, you simply must), and enjoying a play at Ford’s Theater.
“Pipe down, Short-Round, I’m talking.”
Also, death/life masks. During feeding time, the Abe Face eats a whole live rat.
Unfortunately, Nate chose to act uncharacteristically insane in the museum’s confining quarters, so we kind of whipped through. Naturally, we took time for the requisite cut-out photograph. It is a little-known fact that I am as fugly as Mary Todd Lincoln.
The town center has a distinguished bronze statue of Abe created by sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman. I think Lincoln is the president most often reproduced in statue-form. Some people can’t take a bad photo. I posit that Lincoln couldn’t take a bad statue. Man, he was one suave son of a bitch. Look at that statesmanlike bastard!
Overall, a great little road trip. And be sure to stop and have lunch at Abe’s Country Kitchen. They serve the classic plate lunch of meat and two sides. I went with the country-fried chicken with green beans (and pork) and fries, because who needs an unclogged heart anyway? Be sure to pick up a mug. I think these are our sixth and seventh Lincoln-themed mugs, allowing us to drink our coffee with malice toward none and with charity for all each morning.