July 30, 2014

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When a historical fact isn’t

Everyone knows that Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin stove, and everyone is wrong.
This is just one example of the many things we accept as historical truths, but are in fact, erroneous.
Many a young student will tell you that Marco Polo was the first European to visit China. This mistaken notion springs from Polo’s popular book, “Description of the World” (now called “The Travels of Marco Polo”).

 
Illinois’ winter of the ‘Deep Snow’

As remote as it may seem, winter will return and this story serves as a blunt reminder of that inescapable fact. The autumn of 1830 offered ominous signs of things to come with snows accumulating in the second half of November. Settlers had never seen snow so early. On Christmas Eve, the state was hit by the first big snowfall of the season. The six or seven inches of snow deposited on Dec. 24 was but a precursor of the real havoc that awaited Illinois.

 
Jones captures the real Lincoln

Thanks to Grace Bedell’s suggestion, Abraham Lincoln began growing his whiskers in the fall of 1860. These were difficult days for Lincoln. South Carolina took the first step toward secession. Georgia quickly followed suit. While the president-elect pondered the growing crisis, people streamed into Springfield to ask Lincoln for federal jobs and contracts.

 
Abraham Lincoln grows the whiskers

Our story begins as the 1860 presidential election neared its climax.
Grace Bedell was an 11-year-old living in Westfield, N.Y., who not only took a keen interest in Abraham Lincoln, but also in his appearance. She decided to do something about it by writing a letter to the man who soon would become the 16th president. This is her letter of Oct. 15, 1860:

 
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