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We all know the famous face of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, a man known to this very day for his integrity, for his rise from poverty to becoming a learned scholar. Who doesn’t respect the rags to riches phenomenon that brings admiration to those who choose to educate themselves and who put honor and country before wealth? Such was the character of this humble man from Springfield, Illinois.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to move into another veterinary position when the one I had been working at vanished. It entailed driving to another part of the state, to find a place to live as well as obtain some furniture and a new wardrobe of sorts. The practice at which I arrived had just lost indefinitely the owner who had a near-fatal heart attack. I was a single man at the time and so uprooting a family and all that goes with it was not an issue with me. It was a wonderful opportunity to see another part of the state and, being single, a chance to explore, in my spare time, the many little villages that comprise over 50 per cent of the state’s rural population. Southern New York state, usually referred to as the southern tier, harbors many such little villages, each with unique personality, be it a women’s museum, a baseball hall of fame, and even several villages that pride themselves on the unusual antiques they proudly display to sell to a public willing to part with their funds.
Now, Mr. Abraham Lincoln was not a particularly handsome man. He was tall but not muscular, and according to some records he had reached the height of six feet four inches at the age of 21. I had read that as an adult he is believed to have a disease known as Marfan’s Syndrome, although never verified. He and his family twice suffered the ravages of malaria. He was running for election for the presidency of the United States when something that is not particularly well known evidently greatly improved his chances of election.
A young lady in western New York State came upon Mr. Lincoln’s picture one day. Her name: Gracie Bedell, age 11 years. Miss Bedell was one of 11 children, one having died prior to her birth and two after. Her father, Norman, had just returned home with a picture of Mr. Lincoln. The entire family was very politically active and Mr. Bedell was a strong abolitionist. Heated discussions often pervaded the entire family as well as their local church. When, upon seeing Mr. Lincoln’s picture, this child had very definitive thoughts about the man. So, on October 15, 1860 she sent a letter to Mr. Lincoln letting him know exactly how she felt. Her entire family would vote for him she said, but she wanted the whole country to vote for him. She wanted him to be our next president and in the letter she told him that he looked very sad and if he had a beard he would greatly improve his chances for election. She said that she and especially the ladies loved to see men with beards and thought them to be distinguished. Mr. Lincoln wrote back to Gracie, wondered if he would look rather silly with whiskers but thanked her for the letter. He started to grow whiskers shortly after.
Now, as we all know, Abraham Lincoln became our next President and all the while that he was campaigning he sported a beard. After his winning the election on his inaugural trip to the White House Mr. Lincoln’s train made the circuitous route from Springfield, Illinois eastward and stopped in Westfield, New York. When the crowd gathered he asked for a little girl by name of Gracie Bedell. A little boy pointed her out. She went up to the new President whereas he picked her up, kissed her, thanked her and told her he was growing the beard just for her. He was the only President in all history at that time to have a beard. And he died with his beard intact; proof one more time that the course of history can be altered at times by seemingly inconsequential acts. Thank you, Gracie Bedell!