On the 157th anniversary of his unforgettable Gettysburg Address speech, we’re paying homage to Abraham Lincoln with some crazy facts you may not have known about our 16th President.
“Four-score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” – Abraham Lincoln
November 19th marks the 157th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s momentous Gettysburg Address. The speech was offered in dedication to the National Cemetery of Gettysburg on November 19th, 1863.
The Gettysburg Address was a short speech, masterfully delivered in less than two minutes, only about 10 sentences in length. In fact, a man named Edward Everett spent over two hours speaking before Lincoln’s time slot. Yet, only a few short words would be remembered that day on the dewy fields of Gettysburg.
Taking place just months earlier in July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg had been the apex of the South’s efforts to gain a foothold in the Union. After a hard-fought battle over the course of three days and a combined 51,000 casualties, the bloodiest conflict of the Civil War, the Confederate forces were ultimately forced to withdraw.
Looking for a trip through history? Take a guided virtual tour of Gettysburg National Military Park.
But in those two minutes, Abraham Lincoln, thoughtfully and eloquently, without grandeur or spectacle, captured the defining moment of his presidency, as he emphasized liberty and equality as ideals still needed to be embraced by a young nation such as the United States.
But who was Abraham Lincoln? Was he actually any of the things pop culture has made him out to be? Separating fact from fiction, the man from the myth, here are some fun facts about the 16th President you may not have known.
Did you know there were multiple versions of the Gettysburg Address?
It’s true: the exact wording and delivery of the Gettysburg Address remains lost in history, as there was no way to faithfully capture audio in the 1800s.
However, there are five known copies of the Gettysburg Address penned in Lincoln’s handwriting, each with a slightly different text, named for the people who had received the copies: Nicolay, Hay, Everett, Bancroft and Bliss.
It is widely considered that the Nicolay Copy is the original speech document, because the first page is written on White House stationery, and the second page is written on a different type of paper. The other four copies of the address were written for events and fundraisers benefiting the troops.
Lincoln was a prolific wrestler who is enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame
Watch out Mr. Booth, Honest Abe has a chair! We can’t promise that this image is real or historically accurate, but this is how we imagine it would’ve gone down.
How good was Lincoln at wrestling? Very good. As the story goes, he participated in over 300 wrestling matches over the span of 12 years, but only lost once. Standing at 6’4” and 180lbs, President Lincoln would have been a formidable giant in the 1800s.
The single recorded defeat of Lincoln in his 12-year wrestling career was a regimental championship match against a man named Hank Thompson while Lincoln was serving with the Illinois Volunteers during the Black Hawk War in 1832.
Looking for a fun children’s book on the subject? Check out Abraham Lincoln, Pro Wrestler by Steve Sheinkin.
Lincoln once faced off in a broadsword duel at Bloody Island
Lincoln didn’t like to talk about this, but once upon a time, when dueling was still legal in Missouri, the lengthy Lincoln was challenged to a duel by a man who was 5’9″.
The dispute started after Lincoln publicly dissed James Shields, the Illinois State Auditor, for his incompetence following the total collapse and closure of the Illinois State Bank. Lincoln called out Shields in a fiery newspaper editorial in The Sangamo Journal, then Shields demanded Lincoln retract his statements through a series of letters and court filings.
After Lincoln refused to retract his comments, a fight to the death would be the only way to resolve the issue in Shields’ opinion. The encounter would take place on Bloody Island, an infamous sandbar in the Mississippi River.
Since Lincoln was the one challenged, he was given the choice of weapon for the duel. Lincoln’s choice? “Cavalry broadswords of the largest size.”
This is how it all went down. Image: The Telegraph
“I didn’t want the damned fellow to kill me, which I think he would have done if we had selected pistols,” Lincoln would later explain.
The duel was ended without loss of life, when Honest Abe reportedly decapitated a high-hanging limb of a nearby tree, exhibiting his sheer height and strength advantage.
Abraham Lincoln invented the Secret Service, just before he was assassinated
Just hours before his assassination on April 14, 1865, Lincoln signed legislation creating the U.S. Secret Service as a federal law enforcement agency. That very evening, Honest Abe was shot at Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth.
Ford’s Theatre as it is seen today, the site of the Lincoln Assassination. Image: Wikimedia Commons
However, even if the Secret Service had been created sooner, Lincoln would not have been saved. The original mission of the Secret Service was to thwart counterfeiters. It wasn’t until 1901 when two more presidents were assassinated that the Secret Service was given the responsibility to protect Presidents.
Counterfeiters tried to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln, and the Secret Service came to the Rescue!
The incredible saga of Abraham Lincoln would continue even after his death.
In the 1870’s one of the nation’s largest counterfeiting rings was located in central Illinois, headed by “Big Jim” Kennally. In 1876, the gang’s master engraver, Ben Boyd, was imprisoned for a 10-year sentence on grounds of counterfeiting.
With their supply of counterfeit cash running low, the gang hatched a plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s corpse and hold it for ransom from the US Government. The snatchers’ demands? $200,000 paid in gold ($5 million USD value today), and the release of Ben Boyd.
Given the cemetery’s weak security at the time, the counterfeiters actually had a high chance of pulling off the heist. And they would have succeeded, if not for one critical oversight: nobody on the team had experience in grave-robbing, so they invited a man named Lewis Swegles, who they thought was a seasoned body snatcher, to help them in the heist.
Abraham Lincoln’s original sarcophagus. Image Credit: Joe Di Cola
They couldn’t have made a worse choice for corpse management, because Swegles was actually a paid Secret Service informant.
After the gang cut the single padlock securing the site, and pried off the marble sarcophagus to Abe’s grave, Swegles slipped away to alert nearby detectives who were standing by for a sting operation. As the cops’ luck would have it, one of the detectives accidentally discharged his firearm, allowing the graverobbers to flee without the body.
Kinealy’s gang would be captured 10 days later. In 1876, the penalty for grave robbing was a year in prison, which the perpetrators served in Joliet County jail.
Lincoln invented the Thanksgiving holiday
Thanksgiving is for family, football, and turkey dinners. We all know that. But who started the Thursday Thanksgiving tradition? The pilgrims in 1621? George Washington? John Adams? Nope. Wrong.
We assure you that this image would definitely not exist without Abraham Lincoln.
In fact, it is Abraham Lincoln we have to thank for Thanksgiving as we know it. In a presidential proclamation following the bloody battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln set forth a day of Thanksgiving in thanks for the preservation of our great nation.
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” – Abraham Lincoln
With these immortal words, Abraham Lincoln set forth the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. And we’ve been celebrating it ever since.
As a bonus fact, the first presidential turkey pardon was also performed by Lincoln, however, it was for a Christmas Turkey, not a Thanksgiving turkey.
The Man, the Myth, the Legend
There are so many fantastic details about Abraham Lincoln that it almost seems like fiction. So it wouldn’t come as a surprise that Lincoln has found his way into movies and popular culture. Here are some of our favorite Lincoln movies and moments.
Image: New York Times
Starting off with a historically-faithful film, we have Lincoln, which starred Daniel Day-Lewis and was directed by Steven Spielberg. Although all the events featured in the film can’t be fully verified, the filmmakers attempted to portray Lincoln in a realistic way.
Fun fact: Daniel Day Lewis is actually 6’4” in real life, so he didn’t require any shoe lifts or camera tricks to portray Lincoln’s stature.
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
From his mother dying from a vampire’s bite at a young age, to an epic showdown on the eve of Gettysburg, this movie’s only historical basis is that a man named Abraham Lincoln once existed. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter boasts tons of zany vampire-slaying action with nary a dull moment.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Ah yes, Abraham Lincoln has also appeared in a movie alongside Keanu Reeves. In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Lincoln provides a radical spin on the Gettysburg Address.
“Seven minutes ago… we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by our new friends, Bill… and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition which was true in my time, just as it’s true today. Be excellent to each other.”
Abraham Lincoln even made his move from the silver screen to toys. Image: Dallas Vintage Toys
So in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Be excellent to each other.”
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