You know I like to do research and am fascinated by the history and customs of England’s Regency Era. However, you may not know that my husband loves history even more than I do.
He has stacks of nonfiction books beside his bed and around the house and he can’t part with a single one of them. (That How to Make Money in Real Estate book from the 1980s will, however, be making a secret trip out to the recycle bin.) He reads about economics, politics, theology, and health, but I’d say the majority of what he reads is history. He is interested in many eras and topics like the World Wars, explorers and shipwrecks, the fur trade, and many more. And most car trips find us listening to historical audio books like Boys in the Boat, or In Harm’s Way. On our last drive we listened to a Great Courses lecture series called the Rise and Fall of the British Empire, which I actually found very interesting as well.
While I enjoy Jane Austen-themed events and Regency balls, he enjoys historic sites like the Rendezvous at Grand Portage National Monument, with its period buildings and re-enactors bringing to life the fur trade of the late 18th century. He has attended four times. And, for all of our married life, he has been drawn to stop at those roadside historical markers as well as at more obscure sites, like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.
Recently, we drove 8 hours south to central Illinois for a family reunion in Petersburg, where my aunt and uncle live. Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, and having grown up there, I have always had a special place in my heart for Honest Abe. School field trips often included Lincoln’s New Salem (Reconstructed village where Abraham Lincoln lived as a young man) or Lincoln’s home and tomb in Springfield. But on this trip my husband put my feeble interest to shame by making an unexpected detour on the way home.
Outside of Petersburg (town nearest New Salem), he turned down a narrow country lane, and finally parked in a rutted turn-around. Armed with maps he’d printed out in preparation, he slogged down a weedy path between farm fields to “Old Concord” cemetery far off the beaten track. Why? To see the original burial place of Ann Rutledge, Abraham Lincoln’s first love.
Abraham Lincoln lived in New Salem for six years, working and studying to be a lawyer. There he met Ann (sometimes spelled Anne or Anna) whose father was a co-founder of New Salem and ran an inn. A man who often boarded there described Ann as “very handsome and attractive, as well as industrious and sweet-spirited. I seldom saw her when she was not engaged in some occupation – knitting, sewing, waiting on table, etc.” Lincoln was boarding at the inn as well and while some doubt the story, most believe he fell deeply in love with Ann and hoped to marry her. But sadly, Ann Rutledge died of typhoid at the age of 22.
She was originally buried in this remote cemetery, and heartbroken Abe Lincoln frequently walked several miles from New Salem to sit by her grave and read from his pocket New Testament.
Later, Lincoln reportedly said to his friend, Isaac Cogdal, “I loved the woman dearly & sacredly: she was a handsome girl–would have made a good loving wife– was natural and quite intellectual, though not highly educated.”
Lincoln was deeply grieved by Ann’s death. “The deepest gloom and melancholy settled over his mind. He would often say to his friends: ‘My heart is buried in the grave with that dear girl.’” (Harvey Lee Ross, The Early Pioneers and Pioneer Events of the State of Illinois)
Years later, Ann’s coffin was moved to a larger cemetery in town. But even if her mortal remains are no longer there, this is the very place where Abraham Lincoln mourned his first love. And that made it worth visiting to my history-loving husband.
For years I have driven through Petersburg, and saw signs that point to Ann Rutledge’s (newer) grave but never made a point of visiting it—the official one or the one out in the country. Even my relatives who live there had never seen her original grave site. Most people (even me and my sons on that hot day) would be content to look at the official marker in a nicely mowed, easy-to-reach cemetery, but not my husband. He walked through tall, wet grass in the blistering sun and humid Illinois weather to find this out-of-the-way historical landmark. He came back with soaked shoes, sunburned neck, bug bites, these few photos, and the sweet victory of tracking down history.
What about you—are you history buff? Would you take the track less traveled to see an historic site?