Re­al­ity bites on a trip to find Lin­coln’s hum­ble log cabin

Manteca Bulletin - - On The Road -

HODGENVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Years ago, I’d heard that peo­ple mak­ing the pil­grim­age to the tiny log cabin on the farm where Abra­ham Lin­coln was born some­times burst into tears when they glimpsed it.

That alone made it seem worth a trip to Sink­ing Spring Farm in the re­mote town of Hodgenville, Ken­tucky. And so my wife, Lucy, and I set out for a visit. As it turned out, the re­al­ity was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from what we ex­pected.

His­to­ri­ans have said Lin­coln’s hard­scrab­ble early years con­tributed much to his char­ac­ter. “I was born, and have ever re­mained, in the most hum­ble walks of life,” Lin­coln once wrote. His par­ents paid $200 for the farm with stony clay soil that be­came a sym­bol of pioneer self-suf­fi­ciency on the Ken­tucky fron­tier.

Vis­i­tors to­day pass through coun­try­side that re­mains pas­toral be­fore ar­riv­ing at the sweep­ing en­trance to the Abra­ham Lin­coln Birth­place Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Park. It leads to a vis­i­tor cen­ter with dis­plays of fam­ily ar­ti­facts, a film about the fu­ture pres­i­dent’s ear­li­est years and, of course, a gift shop where you can get a stovepipe hat.

The cen­ter­piece of the site is the Memo­rial Build­ing nearby, reached by a walk­way through woods or by as­cend­ing 56 wide stone steps, one for each year of Lin­coln’s life. At the top looms a mar­ble-and-gran­ite neo­clas­si­cal struc­ture with tall col­umns and a carv­ing in the ped­i­ment say­ing: “Here over the log cabin where Abra­ham Lin­coln was born . a grate­ful peo­ple have ded­i­cated this memo­rial.”

When we en­tered this tem­ple we found a park ranger silently man­ning a cor­ner desk. In the mid­dle of the floor there was a one-room cabin with a sin­gle win­dow and door.

But this was not, as in­ter­pre­tive ma­te­ri­als made clear, the cabin where Lin­coln was born in 1809. It was a “sym­bolic cabin” from the 1840s.

Hav­ing come here in hopes of sens­ing the pres­ence of the mar­tyred leader who had pre­served the Union, we left the Memo­rial Build­ing still search­ing.

A cou­ple of other en­coun­ters at the park helped. A gi­ant cross sec­tion of a felled tree, la­beled the Bound­ary Oak, which had likely shaded young Abra­ham, and the spring for which the farm is named, where he cer­tainly drank, pro­vided au­then­tic­ity and some feel­ing of con­nec­tion. And vis­its to other Lin­coln sites nearby — in­clud­ing the farm 10 miles away on Knob Creek, where the Lin­colns moved from Sink­ing Spring, and Hodgenville it­self, with its Lin­coln mu­seum — made our jour­ney worth­while.

But let’s sup­pose this would not be enough to jus­tify a trip for you — or sup­pose that you’re trav­el­ing with kids who aren’t that in­ter­ested in musty his­toric sites. For­tu­nately, there are many other draws en route to or from Hodgenville.

About two hours to the north, in Lex­ing­ton, is a unique show­case of Ken­tucky’s per­haps best-known in­dus­try (not count­ing bour­bon dis­till­ing): the Ken­tucky Horse Park.

Sit­u­ated in a place where horses have been raised for two cen­turies, this re­mark­able at­trac­tion houses thor­ough­breds, draft horses and other types and in­vites visi- tors to get close to them, spon­sor­ing horse shows and com­pe­ti­tions and of­fer­ing horse-drawn trol­ley tours and pony rides. In the hand­some barns, see cham­pi­ons be­ing groomed while out­side others graze the rolling pas­tures el­e­gantly fenced in typ­i­cal Blue­grass style. Full-scale stat­ues of Sec­re­tar­iat, the Triple Crown-win­ning race­horse, and other equine lu­mi­nar­ies dot the grounds, and one shaded cor­ner houses a horse ceme­tery. “A wise and gen­tle stal­lion,” reads one touch­ing epi­taph.

The sprawl­ing In­ter­na­tional Mu­seum of the Horse, a Smith­so­nian af­fil­i­ate, traces the re­la­tion­ship be­tween these crea­tures and hu­mans go­ing back to an­cient times. Set aside at least an hour for this.

Our other stop, brack­et­ing the Lin­coln sites, is near Bowl­ing Green, about an hour and a half south­west of Hodgenville. It’s the Na­tional Corvette Mu­seum.

The sym­bolic cabin that’s a close replica of the cabin where Abra­ham Lin­coln was born that’s on land where the fu­ture pres­i­dent spent his first sev­eral years.

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