Lincoln, Davis linked by time and place

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Stories from the Heartland by John Friedlein

By John Friedlein


By John Friedlein ELIZABETHTOWN — Talk about an inclusive birthday party.

Two of history’s biggest rivals — Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis — will soon turn 200. And it’s creating a weird convergence here in an area that, while claiming Lincoln as a native son, preferred his foe.

Appropriately, the Hardin County History Museum is a house divided. Lincoln — who is receiving a well-funded, two-year birthday bash — has his own room. Davis — who turns 200 tomorrow — has local memorabilia in a glass case.

One of the Davis items is a caricature of the Confederate president drawn on a wall by a Union soldier held prisoner in a downtown attic.

The sketch  — which looks like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Don King — has been recorded for posterity by Elvin Smith Jr., who in 2006 was featured in this column for recording other Civil War graffiti written on the ceiling of a Bowling Green cave.

The soldier who sketched the unflattering Davis picture — which in the 1970s was lost to remodeling — didn’t do so because he was mad at his captors. No, his own army had detained him and others for boozing it up.

Actually, a few soldiers being held in the attic died when a Confederate cannonball struck the Main Street building. Museum spokeswoman Susan McCrobie is not sure if the “artist” who poked fun at the reb leader was one of them — perhaps a victim of karmic retribution. The caricature wasn’t signed; the only thing the sketcher wrote was Davis’ name above an over-sized nose.

We do know he was from up north — Ohio probably.

Somebody from around here apparently would’ve been more kind with the pencil. Davis’ image among Southerners was of a well-bred and stately man, McCrobie said.

While this was a border state. Those with clout in Elizabethtown were Southern sympathizers, she said. For instance, the daughter of Lincoln’s Elizabethtown sister-in-law got into an argument with Abe’s boy at the White House over who was their president — she said Davis, and Tad, of course, defended his dad’s job title. The elder Lincoln is said to have settled the disagreement, putting a child on each knee and saying he was the boy’s president and the girl’s uncle.

Kentucky, which is Davis’ native state, too, also has taken a one-on-each-knee approach — albeit one that favors Lincoln — with the two men. Statues of both Davis and Abe stand in the Capitol rotunda.

By the way, the Hardin County History Museum’s exhibit features the prototype for the Davis sculpture. It’s usually on display at the Brown-Pusey House — not too far from where the wall doodler was kept.

And the state, which is spending millions of dollars to promote its Lincoln ties, will sponsor a Jefferson Davis commemoration in Fairview this weekend, and the Kentucky Historical Society will have a day-long symposium in Frankfort on June 27.

Several local Lincoln events are planned this month — including a discussion at the main Hardin County Public Library on Thursday about Kentuckians’ attitude toward him during the 1860s.

It’s called: “Lincoln the Unloved.”

John Friedlein can be reached

at (270) 505-1746 or at  jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com.