I read an excerpt of James L. Swanson’s Manhunt in Smithsonian magazine, and then bought the book and read in less than two days. I had a delightful case of couldn’t-put-it-down. I recalled coming across a Lincoln bio that we couldn’t sell at a garage sale. It may have been a graduation present; I don’t recall how it came into my possession. I dug up what turned out to be Stephen Oats, With Malice Toward None. I was hooked on Mr. A. Lincoln. Here lived a most magnificent and mysterious man.
In my first read-through of With Malice Toward None, I was touched by the farewell between Lincoln and his Stepmother, Mrs. Sarah Bush Lincoln, as he left to become President. The National Park System pointed me in her direction with two of the three focused on Abe Lincoln’s youth. It was then that I realized the person responsible for giving the world Abraham Lincoln, was largely unknown. A woman of such significance, Lincoln’s self-described, “best friend,” with great humor, energy, and wherewithal, and yet curiously difficult to find in the mountain of books pertaining to our 16th President.
I got the bug to tell the story. It’s been with me for eight years. The joys and sorrows of real life sometimes limited my access to the story; other times access saw me through. It took me some time to figure out the setting. Somewhere along the line, while binging on Lincoln books, I acquired Lincoln’s Herndon, from David Herbert Donald. I went there looking for more detail of Herndon’s afternoon with his friend’s aged stepmother, which of course was well provided by the author. With the insight and tenderness of a mother’s vantage point, Herndon’s notes were the voice of Sarah Bush Lincoln retelling the life of Lincoln. Two other references took me most of the rest of the way. In Herndon’s Informants, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis behemoth compilation of Herndon’s letters, interviews and statements, and Eleanor Atkinson’s, The Boyhood of Lincoln, provided the colorful testimony of Dennis Hanks, who I borrowed where I could for Sarah’s voice. I believe it within reasonable license to do so, as she was considered equally as colorful, they came from the same part of Kentucky, and knew each other as Mother and Son-in-Law for nearly 50 years.
William H. Herndon’s own words make up most of the opening and closing letters. His prolific letter-writing, well documented in Emanuel Hertz’s, The Hidden Lincoln, provided me with plenty of material to pick up Herndon’s voice, as well as copy for authentic, first-person inclusion. It was all there waiting for me to find it. Felt so. I saw the clarity and beauty of Sarah Bush Lincoln’s motherly vantage point, and I found the venue that was rooted in documented history. To help me tie it all together, enter the lovely and talented Ms. Charlene Keel, who provided me with guidance and material to bring the stories to life with present company and setting.
The result is what I had in mind: Story-driven, first-person history meets graphic novel, with subversive motives to reveal the hard-won story of us – real, relevant, and hopefully a little interesting to even a few previously bored by the topic. It has been my pleasure to take my turn at the task of portraying the enigmatic genius who went to great lengths, thoughtfully and instinctually, to cover his tracks.
Lincoln did not count on his father returning with a bride when the widow Tom Lincoln went back to Kentucky in 1819 to find a woman to be his wife, and a second mother for his grieving children. Abe Lincoln figured his father was too poor, and already saddled with children, that no woman would want him. He did not count on Sarah Bush Lincoln. Perhaps he did not count on her telling his story either. I cannot claim to have done that here. It is my assumption, had there been a tripod camera present to record the real Sarah Bush Lincoln, as she was joyfully described be those who knew her, she would be infinitely more interesting and entertaining. Here I’ve done my personal best to reconstruct the afternoon with use of the resources I could find.
I will always feel grateful to live when I do, where I do. It wasn’t too many generations removed when the parameters of life were very different for many of us. Our lives are this way because Lincoln succeeded. Had he failed, then what? What becomes of those in bondage, and once in bondage? What becomes of the Disunited States? What becomes of government of the people? Lincoln and The Civil War are the seeds of these modern, multi-cultural and United States. If I can make the story of Lincoln, and the story of The Civil War more inviting, for those who enjoy history and those who are bored by it, then I feel like I’ve done something good.