Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln!
An Abe Lincoln Story.
Senator Mills has a new story about Lincoln. It was told to him by a son of John L. Helm of Kentucky, who lives in Corsicana.
“Old John L. Helm,” said the senator, “was a famous character in Kentucky. He was, if I remember rightly, a governor of the state, but at any rate his position was a most prominent one. When the civil war came on, Helm was a rabid secessionist. He could not praise the south too highly, and could not heap enough abuse upon the north. He was too old to go into the war with is sons, and remained at home, doing all he could to help the confederate cause and harass the Yankees who invaded the state. Finally he became so obstreperous that the federal general who was in command near Helm’s home put him in prison. The old man’s age, the high position which he occupied in the state, his wide connection, and, especially his inability to do any actual harm, were all pleaded in his extenuation and he was released.
Instead of profiting by the warning, the old man became more persistent than ever in his course. Once more he was clapped into jail. This happened two or three times, and finally, while he was still locked up, the matter was brought to the attention of the federal authorities. Even President Lincoln was appealed to, and asked to commit the ardent southerner to an indefinite confinement in order that he might be curbed.
“Lincoln listened to the statement of the case with more than usual interest. Then he leaned back and began to speak with a smile upon his face. “You are talking about old man John Helm? Well, did you know that I used to live, when I was a boy, in Helm’s town. He was kind to me. He seemed to like me as a boy, and he never lost an opportunity to help me. He seemed to think,” said Lincoln, with another of his almost pathetic smiles, “that I would probably make something of a man. Why, when I went out to Illinois, poor and unknown, that man gave me the money to pay my way and keep me until I got a start. John Helm? O, yes, I know him And I know what I owe to him. I think I can fix his case.”
“And then,” said Senator Mills, “Lincoln went to a desk and wrote a few words. The bit of writing is treasured in the Helm household to this day. This is what the president wrote:
“I hereby pardon John L. Helm of Kentucky for all that he has ever done against the United States, and all that he ever will do.
The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) Dec 20, 1897
This man, whose homely face you look upon,
Was one of Nature’s masterful great men;
Born with strong arms, that unfought battles won;
Direct of speech and cunning with pen.
Chosen for large designs, he had the art
Of winning with his humor, and he went
Straight to his mark, which was the human heart.
Wise, too, for what he could not break he bent.
Upon his back a more than Atlas load,
The burden of the commonwealth was laid;
He stooped and rose up to it, though the road
Shot suddenly downward, not a whit dismayed.
Hold, warriors, counselors, kings! — All now give place
To this dear benefactor of the race.
The News (Frederick, Maryland) Apr 10, 1886
Image from the Haunted Hudson Valley website.
LINCOLN’S PHANTOM FUNERAL TRAIN.
A writer in the Albany [Evening Times] relates a conversation with a superstitious night watchman on the New York Central Railroad. Said the watchman: “I believe in spirits and ghosts. I know such things exist. If you will come up in April I will convince you.” He then told of the phantom train that every year comes up the road with the body of Abraham Lincoln. Regularly in the month of April, about midnight, the air on the track becomes very keen and cutting. On either side it is warm and still. Every watchman when he feels this air steps off the track and sits down to watch.
Soon after the pilot engine, with long black streamers, and a band with black instruments, playing dirges, grinning skeletons sitting all about, will pass up noiselessly, and the very air grows black. If it is moonlight, clouds always come over the moon, and the music seems to linger, as if frozen with horror. A few moments after and the phantom train glides by. Flags and streamers hang about. The track ahead seems covered with a black carpet, and the wheels are draped with the same. The coffin of the murdered Lincoln is seen lying on the center car, and all about it in the air and the train behind are vast numbers of blue-coated men, others leaning on them. It seems then, that all the vast armies of men who died during the war are escorting the phantom train of the President.
The wind, if blowing, dies away at once, and over all the solemn air a solemn hush, almost stifling prevails. It a train were passing, its noise would be drowned in the silence, and the phantom train would ride over it. Clocks and watches always stop, and when looked at are found to be from five to eight minutes behind. Everywhere on the road, about the 27th of April, the time of the watches and trains is found suddenly behind. This, said the leading watchman, was from the passage of the phantom train.
Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Dec 21, 1872