My idea of a good time on a Friday night: hanging out at the Alton Museum of History and Art
What could be more fun than talking with other history buffs about the historical connections in my book Time and Again.
The Alton Museum of History & Art is housed in Loomis Hall, part of the former Shurtleff College, founded by John M. Peck in 1827, and known as the oldest college “in the west.” When Brian Combs graciously invited to come speak at their monthly evening at the museum event there was no way I could refuse.
In my presentation I explained that the ideas for the story came from my longstanding love of history in general and Lincoln lore in particular. As a girl I had been fascinated by the history of the village where I lived. Abraham Lincoln was reputed to have visited Woodburn several times via the stage coach that passed through our town from Springfield on its way to Alton.
Much like Elvis sightings in later years, stories of Lincoln’s numerous visits may have been exaggerated, because to hear the residents tell it, Lincoln slept in every house in Woodburn at one time or another. I knew he slept in my house. Until my history teacher pointed out Lincoln would have had to be reincarnated and made a trip back to Woodburn for old time’s sake to sleep in my house. My house, having built been built in 1974, although very old, wasn’t quite old enough. Dang it.
I found documentation for one known visit. On July 4th, 1840, Lincoln and other Whig party members held a political rally for his campaign for the House of Representatives in “downtown” Woodburn. The quiet, one-store village I knew had been a bustling place at the time. The citizens were optimistic. There was talk that Woodburn might even be the new state capital one day. A few miles away in Bunker Hill, the democratic party held a rally for their candidate on the same day. Later, ironically, Bunker Hill got a nice bronze statue of Lincoln and Woodburn only got Hopper’s Store (Not a bad thing. I loved their bologna and Orange Crush Soda.)
Anyway, Lincoln won the seat in the Legislature, although it is unknown how much the Woodburn rally contributed to his success.
During the early 1840s Lincoln also made several trips to Alton to try cases and to visit his friend Lyman Trumbull. In 1854, Lincoln ran for the Senate and found himself in a three-way race with Trumbull and Illinois State Auditor James Shields. Lincoln disliked Shields. He had dueled with him in 1842 (on a small Mississippi River island across from Alton) over his criticism of Shield’s auditing practices. Because of that and his pro-slavery stance, Lincoln was determined that Shields wouldn’t get the Senate seat. Lincoln bowed out of the race and gave his votes to Trumbull, allowing his friend to win.
Lincoln ran for the Senate again in 1858, this time against the incumbent Stephen Douglas, anotherpro-slavery, states’ rights candidate. In Alton, on October 16th, in the last of seven debates held around the state, Lincoln and Douglas“dueled” before a crowd of over 6,000 people. Lincoln lost that senate race too, but two years later went on to a greater office, the presidency.
When I was researching the lost town of Miles Station, the setting of Time and Again, I found out much to my delight, that Lincoln had visited there too. He came to confer with Jonathan Miles about his suit against the Alton and Chicago Rail Road. Miles had provided timber for the Rail Road but they had neglected to pay him. Lincoln won that and several other cases for settlers in the area.
So there I was at the Alton Museum of History last Friday night, explaining that when I sat down in 1994 to write a short story for my creative writing class at SIUE, all this history and more began to come out of my head to form what would (18 years later) become my first historical novel Time and Again.
There was a nice sense of a circle being completed as finished my talk. After all, I had picked up key pieces of information for my novel from the museum many years ago when they were still down on Broadway. But the really ironic moment came when the museum’s director Cathy Bagby told me that Lincoln had once visited Shurtleff College for a case he was trying and that I was standing right about where he would have once stood. It made me shiver. Oh, joy! Another bit of Lincoln lore. Can you ever have too much?
Be sure to visit the museum. They have a lot of cool exhibits, which Cathy and the others would love to tell you about. Get more information here.
It would be so nice of you to share!