A recent estimate by the Abraham Lincoln Association puts the number of distinct titles about Lincoln at 17,000. Add another hundred or so generated by the 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial, and Lincoln may indeed be in the realm of Napoleon and Jesus Christ as the most written about figures in all of human history.
Which begs the question: Do we really need another Lincoln book?
Author and retired English professor Dan Guillory is sure we do. So sure he left his job at Millikin University in Decatur in 2003 to research and write, eventually producing People and Places in the Land of Lincoln, a 320-page chronicle of some 300 places in central Illinois that make up the Abraham Lincoln National Historic Area.
More than a guidebook, Guillory’s book is filled with vintage and modern photos and insights and personal observations. On tourism, on Lincoln of course, and even on what constituted Sunday dinner in 1830. It’s a fun, fact-filled read even if central Illinois is not your idea of a dream destination.
Besides guiding the reader about what to do and where to go along and beyond the old Eighth Judicial Circuit where Lincoln spent a couple decades honing his lawyerly skills, Guillory zeros in on who was who in Lincoln’s life in an alphabetical list of compact biographies that runs the gamut from “Duff” Armstrong to Henry C. Whitney.
Guillory gets right to the point in the brief Armstrong piece, relating how Lincoln took over Duff’s legal defense in an 1857 murder trial and famously got him acquitted by using the Farmer’s Almanac and a powerfully emotional summary. Not long afterwards, Lincoln saved Duff’s brother by releasing him from the Union Army when he was too sick to fight.
The Whitney story is less dramatic, but populated with images like the Lincoln-Herndon Law office, which Whitney described as the “dingiest of any in the whole country.” He recounts how Lincoln slept in a homemade yellow nightshirt and sometimes shared a bed with other men while on the road. Whitney penned Life on the Circuit With Lincoln in 1892, and raised a few eyebrows in 1896 when he published what he claimed was a version of the famous “Lost Speech” given by Lincoln at the Illinois Republican Convention in Bloomington in 1856.
Like a lot of residents of the Land of Lincoln, I own a fair number of books about the hometown guy who saved the Union. Dan Guillory’s is a valuable addition for anyone interested in the courthouses, historic homes, markers, plaques, wayside exhibits, statues, libraries and museums, and, of course, in the stories that comprise the terrain of Lincoln’s life in the heart of Illinois.
Julie Cellini is a freelance writer specializing in history, the arts and culture.
The author’s picks of people and places
But poking around inside the 1848 Greek Revival style Mt. Pulaski courthouse, about 25 miles northeast of Springfield, he was asked by a guide, “Do you realize you’re standing where Abraham Lincoln stood?” It was an “aha!” moment for the author.
“That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book,” he says. “I stood there and felt the power of the place. My book is for people who really want to experience Lincoln’s world during his Illinois years, and that graceful little courthouse is one of the places to do it.”
Here are a few more of his top picks.
For sheer artistry, he sends readers to gaze at the gallery atop Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. Dominated by four enormous bronze soldiers representing the four service branches, the effect, says Guillory, is heightened by the way each piece relates to the others, giving the grouping a larger meaning than the sum of its parts. “It’s like a crown on top of the monument. Especially at sunset on a cool autumn evening. I’ve gone back many times just to experience it. It took a while to realize the total effect of the sculptures. Now, I get it.”
From his long list of people who impacted Lincoln and his career, Guillory favors the corpulent David Davis, Lincoln’s confidant, campaign manager and eventual Supreme Court Justice. “Davis was just such a big guy — some 300 pounds, and so big that no one could share a buggy seat with him. Traveling the judicial circuit with Lincoln, Davis was said to have broken a bed to pieces because of the sheer mass of his weight. Yet he was the one who influenced Lincoln, changing his thinking and moving him forward. In Taylorville, Lincoln supposedly asked Judge Davis to issue a Writ of Quietus in order to silence the noisy pigs who were rooting and narling under the floor of the Christian County Courthouse.”
After a long period of research and a year spent writing the book, Guillory finally settled on his favorite Lincoln quote: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” “Like so many things attributed to Lincoln, the quote may not be accurate,” Guillory says. “Whether he said it or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s been credited to him so many times, it’s like the Internet. It becomes real because it keeps getting repeated.”