Producers: Joy Flynn, Marsha Hellard
Principal Videographer: Matt Grimm
Additional Videography: Brandon Wickey, Joy Flynn
Audio: Brent Abshear, Chuck Burgess, Roger Tremaine
Editor: Otis Ballard
This special edition of Kentucky Life is made possible in part by a grant from the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
Slide Show of photos by KET staff photographer Steve Shaffer
Lincoln: ‘I, too, am a Kentuckian.’
His face is on the penny, the $5 bill, and Mount Rushmore. Every place he ever lived is maintained as an official historic site, and each is a place of pilgrimage for visitors from around the world. He is one of history’s most recognizable, quoted, and written-about figures and the yardstick by which other American presidents are measured. But before any of that, Abraham Lincoln was a Kentuckian—a baby born in a log cabin on the frontier near what is now Hodgenville; a little boy making his first explorations of the world outside at the nearby Knob Creek Farm. And though his family moved on to Indiana and then Illinois in search of better circumstances, he was surrounded and influenced by Kentuckians all his life.
This extended edition of Kentucky Life traces the ties that bound Lincoln to the state of his birth and looks for the man behind the icon by visiting some of the places he knew. Host Dave Shuffett tours sites associated with Lincoln, introduces the stories of other Kentuckians in his life, talks with historians about the legacy of this extraordinary man, and explores the complex relationship between Kentucky and its most famous—but not always most favorite—son.
Some of the places visited in Lincoln: ‘I, too, am a Kentuckian.’:
- a Jefferson County site where, in 1786, Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather was killed by Native Americans
- the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, 2995 Lincoln Farm Rd., Hodgenville, KY 42748, (270) 358-3137 • The park preserves 116 acres of Thomas Lincoln’s original Sinking Spring Farm, where his wife Nancy gave birth to Abe on February 12, 1809. A private association formed in the 1890s raised money for the marble memorial building and hired renowned architect John Russell Pope (who also created the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC) to design it. Contrary to the stories told by some early promoters of the property, the log cabin inside is neither the original cabin nor a replica built with some of the same logs, but a representation of the style of cabin common at the time. The birthplace has been a national historic site since 1916.
- Lincoln’s boyhood home at Knob Creek farm, now administered as part of the birthplace historic site • The first place Lincoln remembered living, this farm is where he got his first schooling, where a baby brother was born and died, where young Abraham saw slaves being taken south for sale—and where a quick-thinking friend saved the future president from drowning. Kentucky Life chronicled the volunteer effort to purchase and preserve the farm in two previous visits, in Program 617 and Program 1118.
- Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, 2916 E. South St., Lincoln City, IN 47552, (812) 937-4541 • The Lincoln family lived here during Abraham’s pre-teen and adolescent years, and his mother, Nancy, is buried here.
- New Salem, IL • Young Abraham met several fellow Kentuckians in the town where the family next settled. They included the girl whom many believe was his first true love and a Green County native who turned down his proposal of marriage.
- a house in Hancock County where Lincoln argued his first legal case—representing himself
- Farmington Historic Home, 3033 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY 40205, (502) 452-9220 • Once the center of a 500-acre plantation where slaves grew hemp and other crops, Farmington was the home of John and Lucy Speed and their 11 children (including two from widower John’s first marriage). One son, Joshua Speed, moved to Springfield, IL in 1835 to start a business. There he befriended a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, who asked for credit at Joshua’s store until he could get his own career going. Speed also offered his fellow Kentuckian a place to stay, and the two roomed together for six years, until Joshua returned to Louisville in 1841 after the death of his father. Later that year, Lincoln paid a three-week visit to Farmington to recuperate from a break (temporary, it turned out) with Mary Todd.
- Greensburg • This small town in Green County, the hometown of host Dave Shuffett, was also the birthplace of William Henry Herndon. Like Lincoln, Herndon moved away from Kentucky as a boy and ended up in Springfield, IL. He was working at Joshua Speed’s store—and studying law—when Lincoln arrived. Herndon and Lincoln went into legal practice together, and Herndon served as an adviser as Lincoln got into politics. After Lincoln’s assassination, Herndon wrote the first important biography of his former law partner and made a living as a lecturer on the late president.
- Mary Todd Lincoln House, 578 W. Main St., Lexington, KY 40508, (859) 233-9999 • Lexington society belle Mary Todd, a descendant of one of the town’s founders, met young attorney and state legislator Abraham Lincoln while living with a sister in Springfield, IL. The couple made several visits to her family home in Lexington, which later became the first site restored to honor a first lady. Like many Kentuckians, Mary felt the painful divisions caused by the Civil War within her own family, which included several staunch Confederates. Kentucky Life previously visited the restored Mary Todd Lincoln House in Program 422.
- Springfield, IL • The many Lincoln-related stops here include the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, 413 S. 8th St., Springfield, IL 62701, (217) 492-4241; the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, Old State Capitol, Springfield, IL 62701, (217) 785-7289; the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, 112 N. 6th St., Springfield, IL 62701, (217) 558-8844; and the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site, 1500 Monument Ave., Springfield, IL 62702, (217) 782-2717.
- Gettysburg National Military Park, 97 Taneytown Rd., Gettysburg, PA 17325, (717) 334-1124 • These fields, site of the bloody three-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War, provide a compelling backdrop for exploring Lincoln as president, commander in chief, and preserver of the Union.
- Lincoln Memorial, 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC 20024, (202) 426-6841 • We also visit the Kentucky State Capitol to see the statue of Lincoln in its rotunda and consider the state’s tangled relationship with its native son, who did not carry Kentucky in either of his presidential races, and watch sculptor Ed Hamilton at work on a new statue commissioned for Louisville’s Waterfront Park in honor of the Lincoln Bicentennial in 2009.
Historians and commentators featured in Lincoln: ‘I, too, am a Kentuckian.’ include
- Alicestyne Adams, Kentucky Underground Railroad Research Institute, Georgetown College
- Bryon Andreasen, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
- Jean Harvey Baker, professor of history, Goucher College, and author of Mary Todd Lincoln, A Biography
- Sandy Brue, chief interpreter at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
- Anne Butler, professor, Kentucky State University, and director of the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
- Ed Hamilton, Louisville sculptor
- Harold Holzer, Lincoln scholar and author of Lincoln at Cooper Union
- Kentucky state Sen. Dan Kelly, Springfield
- John Kleber, Kentucky historian and professor emeritus of history at Morehead State University
- James Klotter, state historian of Kentucky
- Anne Marshall, professor of history, Mississippi State University
- Tommy Turner, Larue County judge executive and member of the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
- Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln scholar, author, and co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, Galesburg, IL