Mack, the poor little devil, spent her entire life with Abraham Lincoln. She grew up on Lincoln Avenue in Abe’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, made very frequent visits to all of the Springfield Lincoln historic sites on school trips and with out-of-town relatives, and practiced with her high school golf team at Lincoln Greens, where Lincoln’s face is plastered on the golf carts. Springfield kids have a hard time escaping Lincoln, but Mack had it worse than most, because for most of her life I was an editor at the Lincoln Papers.
Mack always told me that I knew way too much about Lincoln, that I talked about him more than was normal, and that I really needed to get a life. Mack and her friend Justice called me a Lincoln stalker, and they had a lot of laughs at my expense. From a young age Mack had a healthy amount of skepticism about Lincoln; and like she did with most things that were a tad kooky, she viewed the whole Lincoln mania thing with a great deal of humor and dramatically raised eyebrows. She was always quick to point out the absurdity of seeing a Lincoln impersonator on the Old State Capitol Square in downtown Springfield, even though it was a very common occurrence. She cackled whenever she saw ludicrous advertising using Lincoln’s image to sell some modern product like a car or bag of potato chips. And she relentlessly teased me when I talked about Lincoln in the present tense. “He’s dead, Mom,” she always reminded me. “He. Is. Dead. You know that, right?”
Over the years, Mack, like hundreds of other school kids in Springfield, created artwork and essays for school projects each February in celebration of Lincoln’s birthday. I was always particularly enthusiastic about seeing those projects when they made it home. Mack’s adorable kindergarten drawing and essay occupied a prominent spot in my Springfield office at the Lincoln Papers for more than a decade and it now hangs in my home office in St. Louis. But a project for fifth grade was particularly exciting to me. One of Mack’s fifth-grade teachers at Dubois Elementary conducted an annual living history program in which the students studied various aspects of Illinois history throughout the fall and winter. In the spring, the kids chose one of those topics to research in depth and then they created skits, dramatic readings, or historic re-enactments to present their findings at an outdoor living history event, which was open to the public.
On the day the students selected their topics, Mack arrived home from school excited to tell me that she had chosen the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. “That’s so perfect,” I said, and then I asked: “so who are you going to be?” She looked at me like I was a gigantic idiot who had just uttered the most stupid question ever in the history of mom questions. “Well, DUH,” she answered, annoyed. “I’m Lincoln, Mom. Like anybody else could be Lincoln? I told them I had to be Lincoln.” And so, in May 2005, Mack played Abraham Lincoln to her friend Anna’s Stephen Douglas. I was so tickled to watch Mack Lincoln enacting the debate on that spring day in the historic Lincoln neighborhood, just a block down from the Lincoln Home. Hands down, she was the best and the absolute cutest Lincoln I had ever seen or will ever see again.
I have spent most of my professional life with Abraham Lincoln, and I was always happy to share him and my love of history with Mack. She indulged me…a little…feigning interest while I rattled on about a Lincoln document I was editing or a new book about Lincoln. And, frankly, I needed her sharp wit to yank me out of the nineteenth-century when I went a little bit too far. In middle school and high school, Mack habitually chose Lincoln for her essay or research paper topics. While I am sure she mostly did so because it was easy and because we had a lot of Lincoln books in the house (which saved her a trip to the library), I was always giddy about helping her. She even used Lincoln as a college essay topic; and her humorous take on Springfield Lincoln mania set the stage for a memorable interview with her admissions counselor at Truman State, who met with Mack just a few months after giving birth to her son, whom she had named Lincoln! Good old Abe even followed Mack to northern Missouri.
My most treasured Mack and Lincoln memory was made in the summer of 2012, when I had the honor and the privilege to call Mack a colleague. The Lincoln Papers had a little grant money to process digital images of Lincoln documents that we had received from the Library of Congress. Mack was one seven teenagers selected to do the work. Her quiet, sweet charm and her dry wit with my colleagues and our project’s group of volunteers made me proud, and I beamed at her success with the work as well. She learned quickly, multi-tasked brilliantly, and ended up processing more documents than anyone else that summer. It was a lucrative summer for Mack, but it was an expensive one for me. I had to buy two rounds at Starbucks every morning, but it was so worth it. I am not sure I ever told Mack how much it meant to me to have her in the office every day that summer as I prepared to give her up to college. But…oh…how very much it meant, indeed. Sometimes now when I am using our project’s database, I will come across a document that Mack processed, and there is her name. It forces a little air out of my lungs and frequently results in some tears; but mostly, it makes me smile. It is like having a little piece of her connected to my professional work; Mack, Lincoln, and me, together forever at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.
I am really happy that Mack knew something of what I do for a living, and I am so grateful for her playful indulgence of my historical interests, even though they were not her cup of tea. Always a trooper, Mack let the Lincoln thing fly; chiming in with her brilliant comedy, yes, but accepting Lincoln as an important part of her upbringing as well. In one of her college essays Mack wrote: “The weight of Lincoln’s legacy is a heavy burden to bear,” but I know that she was just exercising her deft hand with sarcasm and hyperbole. Deep down, Mack appreciated that Lincoln gave her hometown a little pizzaz, and I am confident that she believed it was kinda cool that her mom made a living studying the guy who made her hometown so special.
Mack with her summer colleagues at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln…
Psst…in case you can’t figure it out, Mack is the one behind and slightly to the left of Mr. Lincoln.