Tuesday, June 29, 2010

President Lincoln's Dog

Last week, my pal Maria and I took a break from Chicagoland and headed downstate. We spent an afternoon in sunny Springfield, ground zero in the Land of Lincoln. The town doesn't have much personality, but it had a mysterious disorienting power over us. Despite the fact that downtown is probably smaller than Dog Park and uses a grid system, we could not, for either love or money, get our bearings. We headed off in the wrong direction every single time we consulted the map. It must have been the aura of greatness interfering with our navigational processes. Eventually, though, we did find our way to the Lincoln House, where Lincoln lived in for seventeen years, until he was elected President. 

Lincoln paid $1,500 for the house in 1842. That seems a lot of dough for a place with no running water. (Note: The privy was a three-holer.) Mary Lincoln decorated the place according to the Victorian principle of "harmony through contrast," which means that the carpets and upholstery were some crazy, mixed-up colors and patterns. Think plaids and houndstooth—chosen by someone with colorblindness, and you get the idea. On the bedroom walls, hung photographs of eminent politicians of the day. The tour guide explained that back in the mid-19th century, modesty was a valued virtue. It would have been prideful to show photographs of one's family on the walls. Instead, one hung images of people one admired. So no Elvis on velvet. 

As fascinating as real estate values and interior decor are, of course, what was of most interest to me was Mr. Lincoln's dog, Fido, "a yellow mixed breed." Whatever his mixings, he was obviously enormously patient. As you know, photographs weren't created with the snaps of a button back then. He would have had to sit very still for several minutes. Unless someone was dangling cheese in front of him, I don't know how he managed. Muzzy would never have lasted so long. Even when asleep, she flings herself around.

Fido's fate is unknown. He parted ways with the Lincolns after Abraham won the presidency in 1860. According to the National Park Service, Fido, despite his name—Latin for "I trust"—was given to a neighbor when Lincoln and his wife and sons left for Washington. Poor Fido. And they say in Washington, D.C. that if you want a friend, you should get a dog. I don't know what they say in Springfield, other than "D'oh!" or "Doughnuts: Is there anything they can't do?"
The credit for the photo of the Lincoln House goes to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. The Fido inset at top and the bottom photo are from the Illinois State Historical Library. The middle one I filched from Amazon.com. Sorry.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder why Fido used to be such a popular/ubiquitous dog name?

    Very interesting about the 3-holer. Group poop?


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