Demarcating the home Abraham Lincoln was born, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site memorializes the humble roots of one of our greatest presidents. He was born in February 12, 1809, in a single room log cabin on his father’s Sinking Spring Farm. The major emphasis on his roots as the son of a farmer helps the narrativization of our memory that Lincoln’s strong work ethic and stoical character were shaped through his rough childhood.
Image found from this blog of a cross-country road trip. The visit itself was only a side stop during the family’s marathon of baseball games. This subtlety references baseball’s emergence around the Civil War, as well as the site’s slow deterioration in memory and honor.
A neoclassical granite and marble monument sits atop the hill where Lincoln’s birthplace used to be. The memorial was completed in 1911, with fifty-six steps leading up to it that symbolize his age. Inside houses a thirteen by seventeen foot single-room log cabin, made as a reconstruction from pictures of the original. In 1919, Todd Lincoln, Abraham’s eldest son, commented that the original probably rotted long ago.
The sign near the entrance expresses that this log cabin was where Abraham Lincoln was born and that he was destined to preserve the Union and free the slaves, rather than stating the structure was a reincarnation of his birthplace. Even this site as Lincoln’s birthplace could be thrown into controversy, since, at the time, one of the few documents that proved Lincoln was born in Kentucky was an article in the newspaper that confirmed the location of his parents’ marriage. The clause on the sign further emphasizes the importance of its own site in the establishment of Lincoln’s character over others, such as his boyhood home in Indiana, where he spent most of his childhood, or his later young adult life in Illinois.
Converting from a modest farm to a grandiose establishment, mirroring Greco-Roman architecture, represents the transition of Lincoln from a vernacular memory to an official memory. Before the commemoration, he was honored in stories of his heroism by reuniting the United States, or vilified by the South for stealing from states’ rights. But after the building of this structure, and the Lincoln Memorial about 10 years later, his prominence in American history had risen into national pride. Revitalizing the original, deteriorated location by compensating the neglect with a greatly funded monument represents retrospective nominalization of the birth site, since no one would commemorate someone who had not yet become famous. These glorifications help propagate the remembrance of the savior of our nation.
This image of official material memory is from here, along with other interesting sites of memory for other important figures in American History.
This image of an interpreted architecture was found here. The site also has many other images from Sinking Spring Farm.
As mentioned before, the displayed log cabin was a reconstruction of the original. After the Lincoln Family moved away from Sinking Springs Farm, the original building fell into disrepair. Almost a century later, A.W. Dennett bought the land. Along with his agent James Bingham, they rebuilt a replica to commemorate and commercialize the land and attract tourists. But because of the remote location, they disassembled the cabin and went on tour with it. They stopped everywhere from Nashville to Buffalo. Eventually, they started also displaying Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s boyhood home along with Lincoln’s. But during their travels, many logs were swapped or intermingled. Eventually, the display was moved back to the farm, where, like Plymouth Rock and UNC’s Old Well, it was elevated, and in some aspects, caged in a Greco-Roman temple, as pictured and mentioned above.
Plymouth Rock and UNC’s Old Well both add a Classical frame around their memorialized sites. This gives them an air of formality, but also a hint of solemnness, as if separated from the areas surrounding them.
Dennett’s and Bingham’s commercialism demonstrates the desire to profit retroactively from the Lincoln story and fame. Their original endeavor to commemorate Lincoln, by re-erecting an interpretation of the log cabin, held a selfless spirit. However, without an audience, neither their return on investment nor their objective to propagate the former president’s memory would be successful. By traveling, they sacrificed the fidelity of the model, but gained the money, fame, and goal of underscoring Lincoln’s legacy.
Including Davis’s home during the era of Jim Crow Laws was an easy way to pander to the full American audience. Where Lincoln would have been a decent advertising point for Republicans, Northerners, and Blacks, Davis would cater to everyone else, maximizing Dennett’s and Bingham’s bottom line. Because the logs of the two homes travelled together, they mixed. After returning enough logs back to Sinking Springs Farm, the National Park Service reconstructed the cabin. Ironically, cognitive memory dictated the cabin, and the logs used, were Lincoln’s, even though much of the structure was suspected to have originated from Davis’s model, and those that were from the original duplicate probably did not originate form the original single-room log cabin of the farm.
The ultimate shift of this log cabin, from a poor farmer’s home to a paradigm of honesty, freedom, and unity, lets loose a slew of stories. Many of which are narratives of who the people think Lincoln was and how his childhood impacted his decisions during the American Civil War. The cabin itself, is necessary in forming a collective memory, since most memories require a material object to trigger such remembrance, even if the structure itself has had many narratives to explain its origin.
Abraham Lincoln Online, 2015. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. Historic Places. Accessed on April 5, 2015. http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/sites/birth.htm
Courier-Journal. 1876. Lincoln’s Birthplace: The Marriage Certificate of His Farther, from the Clerk’s Office of the Washington County Court. Louisville Courier Journal. Accessed on April 14, 2015. http://cs.unc.edu/~zhaomark/AMST/Lincoln.pdf
Klitzman, Zach. 2011. Remembering Lincoln’s Birthplace. President Lincoln’s Cottage Blog. Accessed on April 12, 2015. https://lincolncottage.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/remembering-lincolns-birthplace/
Miller Center, 2015. Abraham Lincoln. American President: A Reference Resource. Accessed on March 22, 2015. http://millercenter.org/president/lincoln/essays/biography/2
National Park Service. 2015. The First Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace. Accessed on March 22, 2015. http://www.nps.gov/abli/index.htm
Featured Image was found here.