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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006 03:44 pm

Pigs, ice cream, and socks

Snapshots of the Great Emancipator’s life, set to verse

Several years ago, Dan Guillory began a series of poems about Abraham Lincoln’s life. The poems, chronicling the events and people in the life of the 16th president, are written from Lincoln’s perspective. To mark Lincoln’s birthday, we’re publishing a selection — the third year we’ve done so.  — Editor
Ice Cream at the Smiths Mary Todd Lincoln’s younger sister Ann Marie married Clark M. Smith, a successful Springfield businessman, who owned the C.M. and S. Smith Store on the old Capitol Square. The Smiths moved into the house at 603 S. Fifth St. that was later purchased by Dr. Vachel Thomas Lindsay, the father of poet Vachel Lindsay. Interestingly enough, the Smith house was built by the same Rev. Charles Dresser who had sold the Lincolns their home at Eighth and Jackson. On Sunday afternoons in the late 1850s, the Lincolns would often walk a few blocks to visit their relatives and socialize while making ice cream. The recipe for strawberry ice cream used here is drawn from Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (1843), the most popular cookbook of its day (Mary Todd Lincoln owned one). Sugar at this time was not refined as today’s white granulated sugar is. It was sold in blocks or “loaves.” Rock salt, snow, or natural ice was packed into the ice-cream churn around a covered vessel called the freezer. Although the future president did not exhibit much of an appetite for most dishes, Dr. Wayne C. Temple, in The Taste Is in My Mouth a Little (2004), argues that Lincoln had a pronounced sweet tooth. These ice-cream socials may have represented some of Lincoln’s last peaceful moments before the tumultuous years of the presidency.
Clark, the good merchant, purveys firewood, brown and white Eggs, oiled leather boots, slouch hats, rock salt and loaves Of sugar. Mary offers a bowl of pulpy red strawberries And Clark supplies two pounds of loaf-sugar and half A gallon of cream so thick it whitewashes the insides Of his bucket. I add rock salt and chunks of pond-ice. We talk, filling the churn, grinding-grinding, religion Weather and politics, grinding-grinding, until the silence Is purified into ice and sweetness, the cupped coldness Savored on the tongue, that too-sharp moment, quickly Melting into impossibility, like the surrounding heat Rising in vapors over the rain-darkened garden. ______________
Pigs in Taylorville During the time he served on the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court, under the watchful eye of his good friend Judge David Davis (whom he later appointed to the Supreme Court), Lincoln considered Taylorville his last stop on the circuit before returning home to Springfield. Local tradition has it that, on one occasion, the orderly business of the court was interrupted by a noisy group of porkers under the floor. In a humorous moment, lawyer Lincoln asked Judge Davis for a writ of quietus against the vociferous hogs and proceeded to coax them away. On May 28, 2005, sculptor John McClarey unveiled his bronze statue “The Last Stop” on the Christian County Courthouse lawn, commemorating this event. It is worth speculating whether Lincoln saw the symbolic and metaphorical implications of the pigs, especially after he settled in Washington as the 16th president.
Such whining, wheezing, snorting, and grunting — A guttural affront to the dignity and gravitas Of the court and all legislative proceedings. My Learned brothers, whether Democrat, Republican, Or Whig, I say to you, Learn well the lesson Of big-bellied swine who inhabit the lowest reaches Of the legal establishment, who wallow tenderly in pools Of mud, supping on the very scum of the earth, sticking Their snouts into every unspeakable place — by dint Of their cacophonous wailings, they shatter the concord And peacefulness that empower all rational discourse. Then, utterly exhausted by their efforts, they roll over On a bed of their own waste, snoring into oblivion. ______________
Socks in Danville, September 21, 1858 In 1855, Dr. William Fithian built a house in Danville, Ill., that later became his office. Like Lincoln, Fithian was an Illinois legislator in Springfield, and he knew Lincoln quite well. During the Civil War, Fithian served as a U.S. Army surgeon. In the late summer of 1858, during the hectic season of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, an overworked Lincoln visited Danville and attempted to give a speech from Fithian’s front porch, but he had earlier suffered from severely swollen feet and could not pull his boots back on, causing him acute embarrassment and momentary panic. Fithian saved the day by positioning Lincoln on his second-floor balcony in such a way that his socks would not be visible to the crowd below. Although we do not possess the text of that speech, it is probable that Lincoln spoke about the great issue of slavery and its various political and legal manifestations, such as the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), the controversial Dred Scott case (1857), and “popular sovereignty” (or states’ rights) as promulgated by Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s archenemy. Danville was the last site in Illinois where Lincoln spoke on his way to Washington, D.C., Feb. l1, 1861.
Feet and ankles swollen like a sycamore tree! Hot blisters rising up like knots and buds. Enough talk of Compromise and Constitution! In this Inferno, no more boundary lines And demarcations, no more Free and Slave States! For even a man with swollen ankles and no boots On his feet knows Evil when he sees it And can stand up for what is right Even in his stocking feet, high on a balcony In Old Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois.
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