From Abe to Mary …
A few years back, my friend Sue drove with me down to Chattanooga. I was speaking at a conference there and we decided to take an extra day and meander. We knew we had to be in Chattanooga around supper time and we had a few hundred miles of highway in front of us. We decided our stop-on-the-way destination would be Berea.
So we woke early and headed south. Sue was my navigator and she was looking at the map and reading the names of the towns we passed, etc. As we headed into Lexington she said, “Mary Todd Lincoln House.”
“What?” I asked.
“The Mary Todd Lincoln House is in Lexington.”
Usually, I am alert to anything presidential within a 100 mile radius of wherever I am, but because our focus was on other parts of the trip, I simply didn’t realize we would be going right by the house.
“Oh, Sue, I have to go there,” I told her. “Roger has told me over and over that I need to visit this place.”
Sue also likes historical houses so we headed into downtown Lexington. When we arrived at the house, we discovered we had to wait a half hour for the place to open, but there were several regular cars in the parking lot and several police cars, too. Almost as if they were preparing a security route for Mary Lincoln herself. I pulled in and stopped. Immediately, one of the laides came out of the group of people and walked over to the car. She told us someone had broken into the ground floor restroom the night before thinking they could get upstairs into the house which they couldn’t. (Very well secured, the lady assured us.) Still they trashed the restroom.
We wandered around awhile. Lexington has many architecturally beautiful older homes. You can see that at one time the city was elegant (still is in many places) and you can imagine what life was like. Actually, Lexington was called the Athens of America because of Transylvania College (still there) and because so many educated people came from the area.
One of the places we walked by was the First Baptist Church – now an inner city mission – which was built in 1786. The church was across the street from the Todd home and so, obviously would’ve been there during the time of the Todds.
WHAT IT IS: The Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington is where the Todd family lived from 1832 to 1849. Mary came back to visit the house with her husband and boys after she was married.
SHOULD-I-GO-THERE-IF-I’M-IN-THE-AREA FACTOR: If you like historical houses and if you especially like anything-presidential historical houses – you would enjoy this.
1. Mary’s father was a businessman involved in banking and politics and was considered one of the VIPs of Lexington.
2. The house has 14 rooms.
3. This was the first site restored to honor a first lady.
4. A unique piece of furniture is the “barrel desk.” When you close the desk, you have a barrel sitting in the corner of the room – open it and you have a beautiful desk.
5. Sugar was so expensive that it was kept under lock and key.
6. Children slept sideways on the bed so more could fit – and had a potty chair in their room.
7. Mary had a difficult life. She was raised a southern belle – daughter of a distinguished businessman, then married a “northerner.” You would’ve thought she’d be a natural White House hostess – but when she got to the White House, she was ostracized by both the north and the south. The northerners saw her as a southern spy. The southerners saw her as a traitor. She stood 100 percent behind her husband, but her beloved brothers were fighting for the south.
8. Three of her four sons died before they were 18 – and she lost her husband.
9. The Lincoln china has an eagle in the center. Although Mary was known for her love of flowery decorations – this was a statement that she sided with the north.
10. The people in charge of Mary’s house loaned a chocolate pot to Springfield – and didn’t even get a thank you. (So we heard when we said we were from Illinois – as if we had the clout to get the chocolate pot back for them. I mean, I truly hope Illinois gives the chocolate pot back to Kentucky, but I really don’t take the blame for that personally.)
KID FACTOR: Kids aren’t all that excited about houses – but there are a lot of great kids books out about the Lincolns. I would get children’s books out of the library, read them to your kids and then go for it. Some of the stories the tour guide told were fairly entertaining and kids would enjoy them.
COOL FACTOR: Tour was well done – and then the guide told us we had to go up the road to the cemetery and I immediately KNEW that was our next stop. As much as I’m into presidential houses – Sue is into walking around cemeteries.
And so we went