Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen

Throughout the United States, most Americans are not too far away from something named after Abraham Lincoln.  The 16th President’s leadership through the Civil War and his sudden assassination just days after Appomattox resulted in tributes big and small which have not dissipated with time.  There are schools and streets, cities and counties, parks, hospitals, colleges, and pretty much anything imaginable that have been named in honor of Lincoln since his death in 1865.

One town, however, must have seen the promise in Abraham Lincoln before the nation as a whole came to love, honor, and iconize him.  While building a railroad through Logan County, Illinois, planners laid out a town to be used as a passenger depot and watering point for the steam trains of the day.  As the new town rose from the Illinois prairie, a gangly lawyer from Springfield who had served one two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives five years earlier was asked to help with legal questions that might come up as the town was built.

As the new town — which would also become the county seat — prepared to sell residential lots, the Sheriff of Logan County named it Lincoln, Illinois, after the friendly lawyer who had helped get the place built.  While things named after Abraham Lincoln became commonplace following his Presidency, the small town in Illinois was christened with his name on August 27, 1853 — five years before the Lincoln/Douglas Debates, seven years before his Presidential election, and nearly a dozen years before his assassination.  Four years earlier, he had returned to Illinois after a brief, two-year stint in the U.S. House of Representatives and a further political career was no sure thing for Lincoln, so having a town named after him at that point in his life was an odd tribute by the town’s planners that just so happened to pay off in the future.

By the way, Lincoln himself christened the town with his name on that day in August 1853, along with his 10-year-old son, Robert Todd Lincoln.  The christening ceremony was an odd one:  Lincoln purchased two watermelons from a local merchant, squeezed some watermelon juice into a tin cup, and then poured the juice on the ground in some sort of baptismal gesture.  Then Lincoln, his son, and a handful of the town planners in attendance (some say there were just three men there besides the Lincolns) shared a snack of watermelon.  Today, a statue of a watermelon marks the spot in Lincoln, Illinois where the man who would one day save the Union christened a town prematurely named after him with watermelon juice.