Born in a one-room log cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln has been a source of inspiration and admiration for countless generations of Americans. You may know that the sixteenth President of the United States drafted the Emancipation Proclamation and delivered the Gettysburg Address. And you may even know that he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre and that he was a lawyer and senator before winning a contentious election in 1860. But did you know he was estranged from his father and didn’t attend his funeral in 1851? Here are some other tidbits about Honest Abe you may not know.
He Didn’t Always Have His Famous Beard
While often depicted with a beard, Mr. Lincoln only grew it before his inauguration in March of 1861. He was urged to do so by advisers and supporters in order to give him a more refined or stately look. But it was a letter from eleven-year-old Grace Bedell that ultimately convinced the president to sport whiskers. She was inspired to make the suggestion after seeing an exaggerated likeness of Lincoln. Commenting to her mother, she said, “He would look better if he wore whiskers.” Lincoln read and responded to her letter and had a full beard by the time he was sworn in on March 4, 1861.
He Invented a Device to Help Steamboats Navigate Shallow Waters
It was Lincoln’s brief career as a ferryman that inspired him to invent a way for steamboats to navigate shallow waters without having to unload cargo. After being stranded twice during his steamboat voyages, he came up with the concept of attaching empty metal air chambers to the sides of the boats. He patented the idea in 1849. However, it was considered not all that practical since it required a lot of air in the chambers to actually be effective and never produced.
John Wilkes Booth’s Brother Saved Lincoln’s Son
During a break from school, Lincoln’s son Robert Todd was traveling from New York City to visit his father in Washington, D.C. While on a train platform in Jersey City, NJ, Robert was unintentionally pushed backwards by the crowd. A hand reached out to grab him before he fell into the space between the platform and a moving train. He recognized the man who saved him as well-known stage actor Edwin Booth, who happened to be the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the man who would later end his father’s life. Edwin didn’t know who he had saved until a grateful Robert sent the actor a letter thanking him.
He was a Self-Taught Lawyer
Lincoln was a self-taught learner for most of his life. As a young man, he taught himself how to read, figured out how to run a general store, educated himself on how to survey land, and learned how to be a postmaster. Abe’s penchant for self-learning continued when he began his legal career. He never went to law school nor did he have any formal law-related training. Instead, he earned a certificate from the Illinois Supreme Court that attested to his “good moral character.” He was later granted a license to practice law in 1836 by two of the court’s justices. As a lawyer, Lincoln (and his various partners) handled more than 5,000 cases.
He Issued the First ‘Turkey Pardon’
Shortly after being elected to his first term as president, a holiday bird was sent to the White House. While the plan was to literally eat it for dinner, the president’s precocious son, Tad, grew attached to the turkey. He begged his dad not to have it “prepared” for dinner. Tad’s father responded by granting an “order of reprieve” to spare the life of the bird his son had named Tom. On a related note, it would be over a hundred years before the term “pardon” was first used in connection with the tradition of setting the White House turkey free prior to Thanksgiving.
Lincoln continued to make news several years after his death. Grave robbers attempted to steal the former president’s body and hold it for ransom. In 1876, a group of Chicago counterfeiters attempted to snatch Lincoln’s corpse from its final resting place in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. The plan was to demand $200,000 and the release of one of the gang’s members who was already behind bars. However, Secret Service agents found out about the plan and stopped it. There have also been rumors of Lincoln’s ghost making occasional appearances at the White House. But that’s a fact that’s much harder to verify.