I was almost eight when my family went on a road trip that took us from Kentucky to Washington DC. It was a memorable vacation for me in many ways, but the most lasting result was the beginning of my love for Abie, or so I then called him. You may better know him as our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln.
On the 19th of this month, we celebrate him and our first American president, George Washington, with a federal holiday. I remember in kindergarten cutting out images of these two beloved presidents and hearing stories.
Still, it was not until the day I looked up at the huge Lincoln monument that I knew. To me he looked like a giant sitting in that huge granite chair, but as we walked up the endless steep stairs which exhausted my seven-year-old feet, he seemed lonely, and a bit sad.
I looked up at my mother and whispered, “Poor Abie.” For some reason back then I could not say Abraham. When we finally reached his chair, we all took a silent moment to take it all in. Then, really touched by Abie’s expression, I climbed up and kissed him. The one and only time I got to kiss a president.
It was 58 years later before I saw Abie again, although by then I did call him by his proper name. I was In DC representing Merced County to fight for water rights. My first night there I made a point to visit the Lincoln Memorial.
The walk up seemed much harder than I remembered. That was different. But my reaction to our 16th president sitting in his huge chair was not. This time I knew more about the burden that man carried on his shoulders. I said aloud, as no one was around to hear me, “Oh, I am so sorry life treated you so harshly when you did so many remarkable things.”
Just the facts? Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, and was shot and killed on April 15, 1865, but boy did he do a lot in those years in-between, including being our president from 1861 to 1865. You even see his face every time you look at a five-dollar bill.
This president had to carry the difficult burden of dealing with the tragic Civil War, with compatriots fighting country men, at times brother against brother. Lincoln was fighting to defend our nation as a constitutional union, while abolishing slavery, and expanding the power of the government and modernizing the U.S. economy.
This man, who was born in a log cabin in Illinois, came a long way. Self-educated, he became a lawyer, the first leader of the new Republican party, senator, president and wrote one of the most famous speeches in our country’s history.
The Gettysburg Address was delivered in 1863. Of his speech, Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
How many of us had to memorize, “Conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Radical thinking back then, perhaps even now.
His romantic life and fatherhood were struck with burdens that led to Lincoln’s problems with melancholy, now thought to be clinical depression. His first dear loss was of his mother who died of milk sickness in 1818.
When another outbreak seemed to be coming, he left Springfield and lived in New Salem for six years. Then Lincoln struck off with some of his friends on a flat board to New Orleans, which was his first time witnessing slavery. There, he met Ann Rutledge, and began a romance only to lose her in 1835 to typhoid. This led to another depressive episode. Then he had another romance with Mary Owens in 1836 which also ended sadly.
Lincoln wrote to Mary that he would not blame her if she were to call it off. She never responded and he went into another depressive episode. Then in 1839, in Springfield, he met and later married Mary Todd in 1844.
It is famously known that on their wedding day, Nov. 4, while anxiously getting ready for his nuptials, he was asked where he was going after the wedding. He said, “To hell I suppose.”
Lincoln was a proud father of his four sons. Robert, Edward, Willie and Tad. With all the happiness his children brought him, there also came great sadness when only one of his four children lived to maturity. Mary Lincoln also suffered from depression and melancholy and was committed to an asylum by her only surviving son in 1873.
It was a tragic death Lincoln suffered just five days after the confederate surrender at Appomattox, April 14, 1865, when he attended a performance of My Favorite Cousin at the famous Ford Theater, accompanied by his wife, Mary, when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth.
I visited the theater both times I was in DC. I felt such a dark cloud, as if the building felt ashamed of its part of the assassination.
John Wilkes Booth was then known as a popular actor and was also a confederate spy from Maryland. Booth had already been planning the assassination of Lincoln when he heard of the plans for the Lincoln’s to attend the play, and history was made.
Booth was shot and killed just two weeks later while in hiding.
I am sure that Lincoln would have wanted to be remembered not for the way he died but for the way he lived. His wise words carry on.
I would like to share some of my favorites with you such as, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroy it ourselves,” and “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
No wonder I love this man. Happy birthday Abie.

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.