Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lincoln’s last visit to Wisconsin

                         (Originally Published in the July, 2013 edition of the Surratt Courier)

Before Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in 1860, he like the Presidential candidates of today, traveled to different states campaigning. In October 1859 Lincoln traveled to Janesville, Wisconsin to give a speech against his presidential rival, Stephen A. Douglas. It was in Wisconsin that Lincoln would meet a young man by the name of Lucien S. Hanks and Hanks would have a night he would remember for the rest of his life.

In 1859 Lucien Hanks (1838-1925) was a college student in New York City, but just happened to be in Janesville at the time of Lincoln’s speech. Hanks was also the nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Tallman and he would spend time with his aunt and uncle when time permitted. It just so happened that on his visit in October 1859 he would not only get to see his relatives, but also the future President of the United States. This would be an event that Hanks would never forget; not because of who Lincoln would turn out to be, but from the events that took place that one night Lincoln was at the Tallman’s residence.

Sleeping arrangements that night were tight, and Lincoln and Hanks ended up sharing the same bed which was common among 19th-century travelers. In 1918 Hanks would tell his story about the night he shared a bed with the future president to a reporter from the Madison Democrat.[1] In this article Hanks recalls his difficulty getting to sleep as Lincoln “threw elbows and snored through the night.”

After Abraham Lincoln finished his political speech against Stephen Douglas, he returned to the Tallman house. Hanks at this time also had just returned home and was speaking to his aunt when Lincoln arrived. As Lincoln entered the house, he overheard Mrs. Tallman say to young Lucien that he would have to sleep down stairs in “the lounge” because there was not “a spare bed, but Mr. Lincoln’s.”[2] Lincoln who felt sorry for Hanks offered to share his bed with him. Lincoln remarked with a laugh, “He’s not a very big fellow and won’t take up much room. Let him sleep with me. I think we will get along famously; don’t you?”

Hanks, who recalled being confused on what to think, stood there for several moments not saying anything. As young Lucien looked up he observed his uncle in the other room, Lincoln at this time was not able to see Mr. Tallman, nodding his head “yes” so as not to insult Mr. Lincoln. When Hanks agreed, Lincoln excused himself and went upstairs to his room. Shortly after Lincoln’s departure to bed, Hanks soon followed.

When Lucien Hanks arrived upstairs in the bedroom, Lincoln was already in bed and Hanks wasted no time in crawling in beside Lincoln. Hanks recalled that it wasn’t long before it was obvious that Lincoln was asleep given the “vocal evidence” that came from Lincoln. Not only was Lincoln loud with his snoring, but he also shook violently and tossed and turned constantly. Hanks stated Lincoln would raise his “arms one instant” then “shift his leg” the next. Poor Hanks just was not going to get any sleep that night.[3] Finally after sometime of not sleeping and knowing sleep was not going to come that night, he finally decided to slowly and quietly go downstairs where he was originally going to sleep.

The next morning while everyone else was up, Lincoln was the only one missing. Mrs. Tallman, who started to get concerned about Lincoln, sent Lucien up to check on their guest. Lucien knocked on Lincoln’s bedroom door and instantly the door flew open. There standing in the room, right in front of the young Hanks was Lincoln, in his old “blue stockings with white toes.” Recalling the event, Hanks remembered Lincoln saying, “I haven’t any boots.” Lincoln went on to say, as Mrs. Tallman arrived upstairs that he didn’t want to “cast any aspersions, but when I went to bed last night, I certainly had boots.” Lincoln then stated he would let the issue go if his boots were returned, but he would be unable to leave without boots.

As in his normal humorous way, Lincoln asked “what would the people down home say” if he was to show up without boots? At this time Mrs. Tallman returned downstairs, then shortly returned back upstairs “with the missing articles.”[4]

It was at this time that Lincoln remembered he had set his boots outside his room so they could be cleaned. However, after the boot cleaning, Mrs. Tallman forgot to return them back outside Lincoln’s bedroom door. It was a simple and small mistake, but one that Hanks would recall nearly sixty years later. Abraham Lincoln would leave Janesville, Wisconsin that same day and would never return to Wisconsin again.
 Lucien S. Hanks after graduating college would live in Madison, Wisconsin where he eventually become president of the Wisconsin State Bank. His home where Lucien and his wife lived remained standing until it was torn down in 1966. Lucien Hanks, who had a very memorable and unusual meeting with the future President remained in Wisconsin until he died in 1925.

[1] The Madison Democrat was a newspaper based out of Madison, Wisconsin
[2] The Madison Democrat. August 25th 1918.
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid

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