Today in Tedium: Apologies to Ronald Reagan, but no president has lent himself to kitsch and over-analysis as much as Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the best 16th president a democratically-elected country could ask for. There has been much written and collected about ol’ Abe, and as someone who has seen Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in the theater and lived to tell the tale, I’m probably just as qualified as anyone to talk about Lincolniana. In honor of the dude’s birthday, this issue is all about him. So put on your stovepipe hat and let’s go for a ride! — Ernie @ Tedium
In which we discuss Abraham Lincoln’s face
You probably don’t know your own face as much as the Lincoln Institute’s Richard J. Behn knows Lincoln’s. The Lincoln Institute has numerous articles about the former president—from his time as an athlete, the ways that his moods shifted, to his philosophy on life.
But no article on Lincoln gets nearly as up-close and personal with Lincoln’s face as much as Behn’s does about the man’s facial features. Here’s a sample of the 5,500-word article, full of scholarly quotes:
President Lincoln’s face was a mobile instrument that left a lasting impression. One contemporary observed: “His large bony face when in repose was unspeakably sad and as unreadable as that of a sphinx, his eyes were as expressionless as those of a dead fish; but when he smiled or laughed at one of his own stories of that of another then everything about him changed; his figure became alert, a lightning change came over his countenance, his eyes scintillated and I thought he had the most expressive features I had ever seen on the face of a man.”
If you have a face, you should read this article, which describes, in-depth, the troubles that sculptors had in recreating his face. After you’re done, you’ll probably want to use an Oxy pad or something.
The size of the hat Abe Lincoln was wearing on the night that he died—when he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Lincoln, it should be noted, was already the tallest president we’ve ever had, standing 6-foot-4, but the hat added an extra bit of height to his already notably tall frame. But like a messenger bag on a mustachioed hipster, there were actually practical reasons for wearing the skull protector. “Hats were important to Lincoln: They protected him against inclement weather, served as storage bins for important papers he stuck inside their lining, and further accentuated his great height advantage over other men,” historian Harold Holzer said about Lincoln’s propensity for wearing hats.
Five unorthodox cultural representations of Abe Lincoln
- For the past 50 years, an animatronic display of Abe has been on display at Disneyland, as part of the theme park’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” The display was actually built as a part of a 1964 World’s Fair exhibit, but it’s basically a giant homage by Walt Disney to one of his greatest idols. It’s still working today, but it’s such a weird artifact that the imperfections make some people uncomfortable.
- The early-2000s MTV cartoon Clone High, which put clones of historic figures into a modern-day high school environment, parodied the Disneyland spectacle, but it’s equally as notable for its main character, a teenaged Abe Lincoln. “While the original Abraham Lincoln spent his time freeing the slaves and preserving the Union, this Abe is dealing with issues just as important to him, like being popular and getting a date for the Late Fall-Early Winter Pre-Exam Prom,” the show site explains. This show was awesome, but got cancelled due to a controversy over its Ghandi character. It’s really OK, though; the show’s creators, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, went on to create one of the best animated movies of the 21st century. Everything is awesome!
- If you’re into indecipherable avant-garde music, you may enjoy “L’s GA,” Salvatore Martirano’s 1967 take on Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” “The piece at hand in this essay defies verbal description and is not easy listening,” the blog New Music Buff explains. “It utilizes the text of the Gettysburg Address read by a man in a gas mask breathing helium (which raises the pitch of his voice in a cartoon-like way), 3 sixteen millimeter film projectors and electronic score on tape.” Headphones recommended.
- Since 2013, the Illinois tourism board has been using a miniature plastic Abe Lincoln to promote the state. The commercials start weird, and end up somewhere else entirely. If you always wanted to see your favorite president get all Joe Cocker on you, click here. “They’re not being overly precious with the image of Abraham Lincoln,” AdWeek wrote of the endeavor. (Ya think?)
- And just for kicks, Here’s a photo roundup of people who have Abe Lincoln tattoos.
Let’s discuss the ethics of testing Lincoln’s DNA and/or cloning Honest Abe
Abe Lincoln has been dead for about 150 years now. Think it might be good to check if he had Marfan Syndrome, y’know, just in case?
If this sounds like a weird discussion to be having in 2015, you might be surprised that conversations like this one have been going on for decades—some of them as weird as they sound. Back in 1996, Glen W. Davidson wrote about the concept in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (which is actually a thing), noting that the idea of testing Lincoln’s DNA had been mocked by the Weekly World News a few years prior (they did it more recently, too).
“It is difficult even for experts to determine speculative spoof from hyped fact when it comes to the claims of modern genetic research,” he explained in the piece. “Little wonder then that both the media and the public greeted, with the whole range of human emotion, a proposal to test for DNA in the autopsy materials taken from Abraham Lincoln following his death in 1865.”
But since that time, the momentum for taking some of the former president’s DNA and testing it for historical reasons has gained steam. In recent years, there’s been talk of testing to see if Lincoln had a rare form of cancer that might have killed him if John Wilkes Booth hadn’t gotten there first. The problem, of course, is selling historians and the public on the idea.
Plus, on top of that, if we were to clone him, it’s not as easy as taking his cells, duplicating them, and putting them in a test tube in hopes that Abe will return to life all Clone High style.
“But creating a genetic double that looks like Lincoln doesn’t mean that he would necessarily think and behave like the dead president,” the Science Channel’s Patrick Kiger. “To get that effect, we’d have to somehow equip him with Lincoln’s memories, beliefs and intellectual processes, and duplicate his emotions as well.”
If you give me a working genesis tub, I’ll see what I can do. Until then, however, we’re stuck with a guy who died before the future could save him.
So, question: How do you think Abe would feel today if he were around and he knew about the lingering obsession some historians and the public have with him? If he was alive today, would he be an iPhone or Android guy? Or would he live life hiding from technology, trying to recreate the past, like, say … The Village? (Oops, I just spoiled that movie. Sue me.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna listen to that avant-garde Gettysburg Address rendition again.