To Honest Abe! Abraham Lincoln was born in...


February 11, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Honest Abe! Abraham Lincoln was born in a mobile home 184 years ago tomorrow.

Wait a minute, you are saying to yourself, Lincoln was born in a log cabin. Has Theo flipped?

No. We're both right. Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin on a farm in Hardin County, Kentucky.

Later Lincoln's dad moved the family to Indiana, then Illinois. In the year when Lincoln was elected president -- 1860 -- an admirer bought the old cabin and moved it to an adjacent farm in Kentucky as a sort of tribute.

Lincoln was invited back. He declined. He was quoted in a New York newspaper as saying he would like to visit "the place of my nativity" but was afraid Kentuckians would lynch him.

Like every politician before and since caught in an embarrassing utterance, Lincoln said he was misquoted. But there was corroboration. So then Lincoln said he was quoted out of context. He said, yes, he had replied to an invitation to come to Kentucky by asking, "Would you not lynch me?" -- but "playfully." It was a joke. Just kidding!

Anyway, about 30 years later a group of entrepreneurs purchased the Lincoln cabin and moved it back to its original site on the old Lincoln farm. They hoped to make a few bucks out of tourism. But things didn't work out as planned, so they took the cabin on the road, first to Nashville, Tenn., then elsewhere, finally to New York City.

There it ended up stored in a basement. In the early 1900s, the Lincoln Farm Association bought the cabin and took it back to the original Kentucky farm site. The leaders of the association launched a nationwide campaign to raise money for a marble and granite memorial to Lincoln on his birth site.

This was built, and the Lincoln log cabin was placed inside it. The whole thing was then turned over to the federal government in 1916. Every year on Abe's birthday, there is a ceremony and a wreath is laid at the cabin door.

Should you want to see the most famous log cabin in history, take a drive to Hodgenville, Ky., which is about 40 miles south of Louisville.

Now, what you see will not be the exact actual log cabin Lincoln was born in. Historians aren't sure the logs in this one are the same logs as in the original.

Each time in the past the cabin was moved it was dismantled and then reassembled. (Mobile home technology was rudimentary in the old days.) When the cabin was turned over to the National Park Service (by the War Department) in 1933, historians tried but failed to authenticate it.

The Park Service is sure the cabin is on the exact birth site, and they know it is like the Lincoln cabin, but they can't prove it is the real McCoy. They have no evidence that it is not. But mindful that even if you can fool all the people all the time it's not nice to do so, the Park Service tells inquisitive visitors the truth.

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