Happy President’s Day!

Feb. 18th 2013


You know I just couldn’t let this day pass without a little history! So I have pulled together ten little known facts about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.


George Washington

1.            Most of us know that George Washington had false teeth. But, contrary to legend, his dentures were not made of wood—they  were made out of a combination of carved animal bone and human teeth that he bought out of the mouths of his enslaved workers. (The records of these purchases still exist.) The fact is appalling to us today, but remember that, as a slave owner, Washington would not be required—or necessarily expected—to pay a slave for a tooth at all!


2.            Washington’s favorite breakfast was hoecakes—simple pancakes made with cornmeal—served with butter and honey. Usually fried in butter in a stove-top pan, hoecakes can also be cooked over a fire on the flat back of a hoe, hence their unusual name.


3.            His friends called him “General”—even his wife, Martha (at least in public). We don’t know what she called him privately, though, because she burned their letters after her beloved husband died.

4.            Washington was one of the most successful liquor distributors in the new nation. He built a state-of-the-art distillery at Mt. Vernon, where he made rye whiskey, apple brandy and peach brandy. The distillery has been restored in recent years, and is now open to visitors.

5.            The story of how George Washington, cut down a cherry tree with his new axe, is well known. The incident never happened. It was a story concocted by Washington’s biographer, Parson Mason Weems, years after his death.


6.            As a young man, Washington was confronted by death many times. He suffered and survived dreadful diseases like malaria, smallpox, pleurisy and dysentery. He nearly drowned when he accidentally fell of the raft into the icy river while returning from an expedition to the French Fort le Boeuf. In 1775, bullets grazed his coat, but he was unhurt.

7.            During the election campaign, there was a bitter war of words. A man called Payne felt that Washington had crossed the line by insulting him. He decided to settle the matter with the help of a hickory stick. The following day, Washington set up an interview with Payne. Payne expected that Washington would seek revenge. However, Washington apologized for insulting him and shook his hand.

8.            As the general of the Continental army, Washington was willing to forfeit his salary. He only wanted to be compensated for his expenses. Not only did this win more admirers, but also made sound economic sense. His salary was a meager $500 a month while his total war expenses for eight years added to $447,220!

9.            Washington did not attend college, the only American President not to do so.

10.          His inaugural speech is the shortest in American History. It was only133 words long.



Abraham Lincoln

1.            Lincoln under-utilized his pockets. Lincoln’s stovepipe top hat served as more than fashionable headwear. He used it to store and carry notes, letters, even bills. Why do they call it a stovepipe hat? Well, the rise is so tall and straight up and down with no flair that it resembles a length of pipe. They’re hard to come by nowadays, the traditional top hat being much more current, but still pretty “retro”. Best you go to a custom haberdashery to get one made just for you.


2.          Lincoln was really tall. That stovepipe hat just made a tall guy a whole lot taller. Lincoln was 6’4”, making him our country’s tallest president. That of course begs the question, who was our shortest president? 4th president James Madison stood a stately 5’4”, making him an entire foot shorter than Honest Abe – even without his hat!


3.           Lincoln has no living heirs. Despite the fact that the marriage between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln yielded 4 sons, there are no living heirs. Three of the four sons died before their 20th birthdays: Edward died at 4 years of age, Willie at 12 years, at Tad at 18. Robert was the only child who lived into adulthood and his last descendent, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in the 1985 in Saluda, Virginia. (One note – Saluda is just one hour from Belle Grove Plantation!)

Robert Lincoln

Robert Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

4.           Lincoln’s son Robert was a death-magnet. Speaking of Robert, he was sort of a magnet for tragedy. More specifically, presidential assassination tragedy. While he was not present when his dad was killed, he was an eyewitness to Garfield’s assassination, and at the same World’s Fair where McKinley was assassinated. Another interesting fact about Robert, he was saved from a train accident by Edwin Booth, the brother of his father’s killer, John Wilkes Booth.

Edwin Booth

Edwin Booth

5.           Lincoln Liked to Tinker. Lincoln really liked machines and gadgets. He liked to take them apart to see how they worked and try to put them together again. He even tried his hand at inventing, and in 1849 had a patent issued for “A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals”. The machine never made it, but the patent was a new thing for a president, and no president has held a patent since.



6.           Lincoln & Kennedy. You didn’t think we’d leave it out, did you? There are some pretty bizarre coincidences between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Here are a couple:


  • Both were shot in the head with one bullet on a Friday.
  • Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, Kennedy in 1946.
  • Lincoln’s successor (named Johnson) was born in 1808. Kennedy’s successor (also named
  • Johnson) was born in 1908.
  • Lincoln’s assassin (who went by three names: John Wilkes Booth) was born in 1839.
  • Kenney’s assassin (who also went by three names: Lee Harvey Oswald) was born in 1939.

7.           Lincoln was kind of psychic. In the weeks before his death, Lincoln was extremely melancholy. He had seen portents of his own death, and had been dreaming of death as well. On one occasion looked in the mirror and saw a double reflection, one image much paler and blurrier than the other. He told his wife that he thought it meant that he had survived his first term, but wouldn’t survive his second. The week prior to his death, Lincoln had a dream of hearing crying in a distant room of the White House. He sought out the room and found that it had a coffin in it. He asked the weeping person who had died and the person responded that it was the President. In his dream, Lincoln looked into the coffin and saw himself.


8.           Lincoln dabbled in the occult. Not only did he get premonitions, he also believed in the occult. Well, if he didn’t believe then he was at least willing to go along with it. Because he and Mary had lost little Edward and Willie at such young ages, they actually held séances in the White House trying to contact their dearly departed. Mrs. Lincoln also attended séances at the homes of famous mediums of the day. Whether or not they made contact is unknown.

9.           Lincoln was spiritual, not religious. Despite the last two facts, Lincoln said he was still a Christian. He didn’t, however, feel it necessary to subscribe to a particular brand of Christianity. Though many different sects try to claim him, Lincoln was 100% non-denominational. He never joined a church, didn’t say grace before meals, and spoke on a more spiritual level, rather than religious. He did read the Bible quite often, and did have highly developed spiritual governance. When asked if he thought the Lord was on the side of the North in the Civil War, Lincoln responded, “I am not at all concerned about that…But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

10.          Lincoln had a way with words. Not only was Lincoln spiritual and intelligent, he was also a heck of a speech writer. He wrote his own speeches, and it is said that his famous Gettysburg Address wasn’t even the best one! Rumor has it that the speech Lincoln made to the Illinois Republican Convention on May 29, 1856 was his best, but it was either so enthralling that nobody remembered to take notes, or it was so controversial that nobody was allowed to print them. Either way, no record of it exists.

Lincoln Gettysburg

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | 55 Comments »

Sushi and Lincoln

Dec. 4th 2012


With Brett being gone for the week, I have been left to my own devices. Generally when he has to go for a business trip, I run for my favorite comfort food, sushi. I know that doesn’t sound like the typical comfort food, but for me it is. Brett doesn’t really like sushi so I don’t eat it a lot with him. So I guess you can say it’s my chance to have it.


My favorite sushi restaurant is a little place here in Chesapeake called “Kyoto’s Japanese Steak House”. My daughter and I have been eating there for years. She was the first to be so adventurous as to try sushi and in turn got me hooked on it. However, I have to say I am really picky when it comes to which one. I tend to stick to one roll and that is all. It’s called a green spiral roll. The center is made of crab, Japanese mayonnaise, tempura flakes, fish eggs and another sauce for spice. The center is kind of like a crab salad. It is wrapped in a thin layer of raw tuna and cut into individual pieces.

On Saturday, my daughter, who is generally my sushi partner wasn’t available so I invited my father. My parents divorced when I was young, so during the past month, I kind of felt like I was ignoring him during my mother’s illness and death. He understood. He is also my backup partner for sushi. The only difference is he will only do the grill (hibachi). But that is good with me too. When we arrived we were first to be seated at the table. Shortly after, we were joined by another party with three ladies and four gentlemen.

This is one of the things I love about the hibachi grill, the chance to meet new people. If you haven’t figured this out about me, I am not really shy. I love talking to people and this gives me a chance to do so. As soon as the parties had ordered their drinks, I started listening to their conversation. It didn’t take long to hear something that caught my ear. One of them was a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps, just as I had been. When I asked where he was stationed, he told me that he was from Camp Lejune, North Carolina, but was here visiting with another of the gentlemen who is from the area. He also told me that he had just returned from Afghanistan. I also have a nephew who just returned from Afghanistan and is also at Camp Lejune. He is a Naval Corpsman, just like my husband was. When I told the Lance Corporal that my nephew was also home, I asked if he might know him. What a surprise, he did! They didn’t know each other very well, but he had met him after a rollover accident and had remembered him. What small world!

BTCS J.D. Gardner from Illinois, LCpl Cory Sackett from Virginia and LCpl Fabrizis Fasano from Florida

BTCS J.D. Gardner from Illinois, LCpl Cory Sackett from Virginia and LCpl Fabrizis Fasano from Florida

One of the other gentlemen seated next to me was also in the military. He is a Senior Chief in the Navy. I had informed the group that I too had been in the military as well as my husband. As we compared duty stations, I found that the Senior Chief and I shared a common experience during the first bombing of Libya. During 1986, I was a radio operator in the Marine Corps. During this operation, I worked the radio shot from the General’s conference room. That morning I had sent a message to a ship stationed in the Atlantic. That ship related the message to England. Of course, I had no idea what the message said as all messages are encrypted. But I knew it had to be something big. When I arrived home later that day, a news alert came on television that we had bombed Libya. I looked at my then fiancé and said, “That is what I did today!”

The Senior Chief then surprised my father and me. He paid for our meals! We tried to explain that it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted. I just couldn’t say no. He outranked me! But the meal was wonderful and we had a great time sharing our military experiences. It really started my evening with a bang!

After the meal, my father and I head to the movies in Virginia Beach. I have wanted to see Lincoln since I saw the first trailer. If you follow our blog, you know what a huge history buff I am. We arrived early so we decided to get some dessert at Ruby Tuesday’s Restaurant there by the theater. Dad has this love of red velvet cake, so he ordered a red velvet cupcake. I had to have one of the pumpkin cheesecakes. They were so good!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake

We headed into the movie early so I could get my favorite spot, top section, front row, and center. It has a railing there that I like to place my feet up on so I can give my legs a rest during long movies.  After what seemed like hours getting through the previews, the movie finally came on. I had joked with my father that I knew the movie was about three hours, but what I didn’t know was that the first two and half were previews!

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

We settled back to enjoy the film. I found it just fascinating. To see Daniel Day-Lewis bring life to this iconic figure of Abraham Lincoln was just mind blowing. I have heard criticism of his Southern accent and I do have to say I heard a bit of English accent every now and then, but it didn’t take away from what I would say was a very good midwestern accent. I loved that they showed that Lincoln had a good sense of humor too. But it was his apparent love of his youngest child Tad and oldest Robert that showed him as a real person. As a parent with a son who wants to join the military, I can understand Mary and Abraham’s plea to keep Robert save.

Lincoln with his son Tad from the movie Lincoln

Lincoln with his son Tad from the movie Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Lincoln

Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln

Sally Fields as Mary Todd Lincoln

Sally Fields was just a wonderful as she is always. And they could not have picked a better likeness for Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War under Lincoln. Bill McGill was a dead ringer for his likeness! Tommy Lee Jones was also wonderful as Thaddeus Stevens.

Bill McGill as Edwin Stanton

Bill McGill as Edwin Stanton

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

Do I think this movie has Oscar written all over it? I am sure that many nominations will come from this movie. But I am not so sure that we will see a clean sweep. Daniel Day-Lewis I think is a shoe in. But the others will be a little harder to get.

Do I love the movie? From a history buff, yes I loved the movie. But I think it will be lost to most that are not. Going into the movie, I expected more of the Civil War and other events of his last months. I felt they were glossed over. This movie was more about the political side of Lincoln and his fight to get the 13th amendment passed. Don’t get me wrong, I think that was a really important part of his time as president. But you missed that he was not only trying to get the amendment passed while so much more was going on in his life.

A couple more points I was also disappointed at were that fact that they brought into the early part of the film that he had prophetic dreams. But at the end, they left out the most important dream he had that was documented. He had reoccurring nightmares of his own death days before he died. The extraordinary details are recorded in “Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1885″ (Ward Hill Lamon, 1911):

“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break?

I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered.

There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers ‘The President’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin!’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream.”

Another point was that they glossed over the assassination. It was as if it were an afterthought. It seemed like they came to a point where they were over time and just dropped it in there. If you didn’t know much about the assassination, you would have missed it all together until it was on you.

While I did love seeing Abraham Lincoln come to life, I didn’t leave the movie with as much excitement as I had when I came in. I plan to take Brett to see it once he comes home so maybe it will have a better result in a second viewing.

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 54 Comments »