Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park Memorial Building, August 1970. I am the baby in the stroller that you cannot see to the left.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park Memorial Building, as taken during my visit in June 2014. Attempted to match the angle as best as I could with the original, using the “ramps” and benches along the stairs as reference.
Composite of the two shots taken in 1970 and 2014 of the Lincoln Birthplace Memorial. The building lines up nicely; the stairs and benches are a little off (probably due to the differences in the heights of the photographers). Note the architecture and the landscaping is pretty much EXACTLY THE SAME in the 43-year span.
The left side of the Lincoln Birthplace Memorial Building, June 2014. The building looks the same. The trees have been cut back a little. The major difference is that the steps in 1970 have become a ramp in 2014, with handrails for the remaining steps.
Composite of the two shots taken in 1970 and 2014 of the left side of the Lincoln Birthplace Memorial. I used the columns on the right to line up the angle of the building and the steps. I blame the angle of the hill for the slight tilt in the perspective.
Composite of the shots of myself in 1970 and 2014 at the left side of the Lincoln Birthplace Memorial Building. I am in the right place, as evidence by the gutter on the building behind me, but the photo should have been taken several steps backwards as I am now seven feet tall in comparison to my parents and their friends. Oh, so close. I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO GO BACK IN ANOTHER 43 YEARS AND DO THIS AGAIN …
With the exception of the Colonel Harland Sanders Cafe in Corbin (the birthplace of KFC) and the Stateland Walking Tour in Richmond (the birthplace of CRC), I would say that the most popular historical “birthplace” site in the State of Kentucky is Abraham Lincoln’s. I believe that it is a rite of passage for every Kentuckian to visit this national park and commemorate the fact that, while Lincoln is better known for his time served in Illinois (to the point where they named the land after him), his upbringing and formative years were spent in the Bluegrass State.
I know that I have visited the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park on at least two occasions in the past, although my memories of the place were rather fuzzy, especially when you consider that the first time I visited was when I was 11 months old (pictured to the right). I recall visiting again when I was five years old because I remember the Lincoln Birthplace pennant that hung in my room during that time, and I have another memory of a visit when I was eight or nine. It is that last visit in which I have the strongest memory of walking into a barely-furnished house, which I presume to be Lincoln’s birthplace, pressing a button that was inset into the wall in a corner of the house, and hearing a scratchy recorded voice give an overview of the site. I also remember that it was dusk, and the park was about to close, and so our time there was very limited, which is also why the memory is very brief. For years, this has been my sole memory of the Lincoln Birthplace site. It turns out that, for almost 35 years, I have been completely wrong about where I was.
The main attraction of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park is this Memorial Building (the “first” Lincoln Memorial, with a similar architectural style as the similarly-named building in Washington, DC).
Yes, it is the same building in the photo. For decades, I had this photo in my collection and I had no recollection as to where it had been taken. It was only last year (2013) when I happened to glance at a brochure for the birthplace and there was a twinge of familiarity in the photo of the building.
Contained inside the Memorial Building is a “Symbolic Cabin,” meant to represent the general area where Abraham Lincoln was born. This cabin is not on the actual spot where Lincoln was born, nor is it the actual cabin (in fact, while the materials have been carbon-dated back to the 1800s, the cabin itself was built long after Lincoln was born).
The visit to the Memorial Building is a little anticlimactic — after walking around this grand, majestic building, what do we find inside but a very old log cabin. Completely empty. That you can’t even go inside. Or touch. Now, granted, I completely accept the fact that this is a symbolic cabin, and it is a very old and valuable museum piece, and the fact that it is sitting in the open air and NOT inside a glass case is quite amazing to me.
However, my biggest surprise was that the cabin was behind a chain, and visitors could not go inside of it. This completely contradicted my memory of a cabin that you could enter and the little button that activated the scratchy recording. For years, that particular cabin was my sole memory of the Lincoln Birthplace — not this relic! The park service employee whose job was to guard the cabin and answer questions did not have the slightest idea what I was talking about when I asked him, further fueling the speculation that maybe, just maybe, MY MEMORIES WERE INCORRECT?
The grounds surrounding the Memorial Building contain a few points of interest pertaining to a young Abraham Lincoln. While the exact GPS coordinates are not known, it is quite certain that Abraham Lincoln, as a toddler, ran through these hills and fields and woods (although the flagpole and stone fences obviously were not there at the time).
Off to the side from the Sinking Spring, in front of the woods, is an area marked off with a stone fence representing the former site of the Boundary Oak, an enormous oak tree. It was around when Lincoln was born but died in 1976 and was removed from the site in 1986. You would think that I would remember this tree since it was present during my previous visits, but I don’t.
And that brings our visit to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park to a close, and I leave with my questions regarding my memories of the cabin unanswered. I am extremely disappointed and this puts all of my warm, fuzzy memories into question as to their accuracy. We point ourselves towards the Bluegrass Parkway on our way to Lexington, via Highway 31E.
Nine miles up the road on the left … oh, hello, what’s this? The Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home? I had seen a mention of this place in the brochure for the Birthplace National Historical Park, but I didn’t think anything of it. And there is what appears to be a cabin … STOP THE CAR!
THIS. IS. IT. The cabin from my memories. Located outdoors, and not inside of a building. Open front door. You can go inside. THIS is the cabin that I remember visiting in my youth. And it is, technically, part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park system, so I can still say that my memory is technically correct (although it is not the actual birthplace as I had believed all these decades).
But the all-important question, remains: Inside, will there be a button in the corner of the cabin that will play a scratchy recording giving an overview of the site?
Unfortunately, no button, no recording (the bed frame in the above photo is where I remember the button was). The friendly park guide standing outside the cabin had no recollection of that feature in the past, BUT she did mention that the cabin was completely refurbished in 2002, so I can only assume that they got rid of that feature at the time.
Images used in this post came from this set on Flickr.
This pleasant-looking fellow is Chad. I graduated from high school in Richmond, KY with his older brother, who I never got to know very well as he joined our class in our senior year. It would seem unlikely that I would even be acquainted with Chad, as he came to my high school the year after I graduated. But he was a member of the high school band, and since I couldn’t keep myself from hanging out with my younger friends who were members of the high school band during my visits back home from college, I eventually got to know Chad. We weren’t the closest of friends, but we had a similar sense of humor and a certain weirdness that brought us together. I guess.
We actually bonded the very last time that I saw him, on October 11, 1990. It was five months after he had graduated from high school and we were both attending the fall concert of our high school band. We actually spent the whole time standing in the back of the auditorium and talking, much to the annoyance of the people sitting directly in front of us. Afterwards, we wandered through the reception in the school library, armed with my video camera, and Chad spontaneously fell into the role of host/investigative reporter:
That was the last time I saw Chad. We didn’t really stay in touch, he stopped attending band concerts, and we just drifted apart. It wasn’t until 2007 and the magic of Facebook that we were able to reconnect. We had both drifted a little bit from Kentucky; I was in Louisiana and he was in Nashville, Tennessee. We communicated occasionally via the internet but we could never find the time for a face-to-face reunion; I would pass through Nashville on the way to Kentucky during my annual trips back to the Bluegrass State, but there was no time to stop for a reunion during the course of that 15-hour journey.
But then, I started breaking down the trip to Kentucky into two days, because I was getting too old for that sort of thing. After a couple of years experimenting with routes and times, I found that I could travel from Louisiana to Nashville in 12 hours (including rest stops), spend the night, and then travel at a leisurely pace from Nashville to Kentucky in four hours. No more departure times of 5 in the morning and occasionally violating the posted speed limit in order to hit Lexington at 11pm. With this travel plan in mind, the opportunity to reunite with Chad presented itself, and we would see each other in person for the first time in 24 YEARS.
Google Maps estimated our travel time to be 9 hours and 37 minutes. Factoring in food stops, bathroom breaks and fueling stations, I put the total travel time of 11 hours. I added an additional hour because I had heard from a friend, who had recently traveled the same route, that there were major slowdowns around Forrest City, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee due to road work. I calculated that if we departed Louisiana at 6am, we should get to our hotel in Nashville by 6pm. For Chad, that worked out great, because it turned out that our hotel was a block away from his place of employment that week. It appeared that this upcoming meeting was fitting in nicely with the overall scheme of the universe.
It probably didn’t help that we left Louisiana at 6:30am … only 30 minutes late, plenty of time to catch up. The friendly lady at the Arkansas Welcome Center advised us about the construction zone around Forrest City, informing us of the detours. However, we decided to stay on the intended path, because those alternate routes looked a little too out-of-the-way, the construction zone was ONLY eight miles long, and we would be hitting the area around 1:00pm, when activity was allegedly “low” … so we didn’t anticipate any considerable delays, other than what I had already factored into my timetable.
The FIRST ominous sign came a few miles outside of the Forrest City workzone, when I snapped this photo of the advisory sign in mid-transition … when it was in the process of saying “Road Work Ahead” … and so the sign appears to say “Road Work Chad” …
The eight mile-long work zone around Forrest City wasn’t THAT bad … there was only one point where the traffic came to an absolute stop, at the beginning of the zone, and traffic moved at a steady pace throughout (bumper to bumper the entire way). We made it from one end to the other in about 30 minutes, thereby shaving 30 minutes off of the hour I had added to my timetable. Back on track!
We came to a dead stop at mile marker 61, three miles from the crash site, at about 4:20pm. We could see the flames on the horizon. No vehicles could be seen traveling in the other lane, which meant that they had shut down the interstate in both directions. Maps on the iPhone showed that there were no exits between us and the crash site, and there was no way to safely cross the median to get to the other side and go back (which didn’t stop several from doing so). We were trapped for the foreseeable future.
It turns out that there were TWO tractor trailers that collided and exploded. It was quite the horrific scene. One vehicle was in the median while the other one was still blocking the westbound lane of I-40; the eastbound lane was completely clear.
As a result, westbound traffic was backed up, at the time, for the next five miles, from mile marker 64 to 69. The police were diverting westbound travelers at exit 66, but it was a very slow process. There was nothing that could be done for those poor motorists stuck in that two-mile span between the exit and the accident site, and it would be hours until the westbound lane would be re-opened.
Meanwhile, the universe had spoken. Our arrival time in Nashville was now closer to 8:30pm, much later than anticipated, and definitely much later than Chad’s schedule would allow (considering that he had to be at work tomorrow morning at 3:00am). Our reunion, after 24 years, would have to be delayed …
… by another day. Did I mention that his workplace was a block away from our hotel? Even though the reunion was only 15 minutes long and took up one of his break periods, we did manage to make it over to the Willis Building after checking out from the hotel. And so, we made it after all, in spite of all the obstacle that the universe threw at us.
Alternate titles for this entry were “The Quest for Chad” and “No Chad Left Hanging” … I think the one with the “Scott Pilgrim” reference worked out the best …
Originally, this mortar-and-pestle shaped building housed Bondurant’s Pharmacy from 1974 to 2011. It is quite a relief that the new tenants opted to retain the original shape of the building; I especially like how the pestle has become a swizzle stick.
For more information, here is the entry on Bondurant’s Pharmacy from Jeffrey Scott Holland’s Weird Kentucky: