“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
― C.S. Lewis
* A story about a little girl and her pony Dobbin, who travel into past history!
President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd
BJ was excited as she opened the mail from the office of President Lincoln. It read: President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln invite you to join them for dinner at the President's House at 6:00 with an evening at Ford Theatre for the comedy 'Our American Cousin.'
"Oh Dobbin, can you believe it? I'm invited to go with them to the theater?" she said to her pony as she tied him to the hitching post. It was time to go inside and get ready for the evening. "What shall I wear?" she thought, as she looked through her dresses. Since it would be a very elegant evening. She chose a black and white striped silk dress.
Dobbin was already saddled up and they were off to see the President and First Lady. As they entered the long drive the stable boy was there to take him to the stables. She told Dobbin she would return in a little while.
She then knocked on the front door and someone answered. "Hello. My name is BJ and this is my pony Dobbin. I've been invited to have dinner with the President and First Lady."
She was led into the dining room where Mary Todd was there to greet her.
"Please join us at the table BJ, we're glad you accepted our invitation for dinner and the theater tonight," said Mary Todd. Your mother had requested an invitation for you personally to see us."
"Oh thank-you, will anyone else be joining us tonight?" asked BJ, as she took her place at the table, confused that the President wasn't there.
"Yes BJ," answered President Lincoln, as he entered the room and shook hands with her. Nice that you could join us. We had invited Ulysses S. Grant and his wife tonight, but he declined because of other plans. We then decided to ask a younger couple to go in their place. Grant will be at my Cabinet meeting tomorrow, though."
"Hasn't it been a beautiful day? Did you enjoy your journey over on your pony?" asked Mary Todd Lincoln.
"Yes I certainly did. The dogwoods and the lilacs were in full bloom and gave off such a beautiful scent. The willow trees along the Potomac River also were beautiful with their branches full of green leaves. It's been a beautiful spring day."
BJ was very anxious to ask the President some questions, as they started their meal. “Mr. President, would you mind if I ask you about all the things you have on your schedule today, so I will have an idea what a President's duties are?"
"That's the only way you will learn, BJ. My day started at 8:00 when I had my breakfast of 1 egg and coffee. My wife and 2 sons, Robert 21 and Tad 12, joined me. At that time Mary told me that she had tickets to for the Grover's Theatre, but that she would rather see the comedy playing at the Ford Theatre, OUR AMERICAN COUSINS. She also wanted General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee to go with us, but they declined because they had other plans. So, Mary invited another couple in their place. After reading the newspaper at 9:00 I conducted my business as usual, meeting visitors. At 10:00 I met with the former New Hampshire Senator John P. Hale, who was recently appointed minister of Spain. His daughter Lucy is engaged to be married to John Wilkes Booth, an actor at the Ford Theatre where we will be attending tonight."
"Oh, will he be in the show tonight?" asked BJ.
"No, he is not in the show tonight. I then sent a messenger to reserve the State Box for the evening performance."
"The management was elated when they heard the news of a special guest tonight," said Mary Todd.
"The President continued about his schedule. "At 11:00 I met with my Cabinet, where lots of ideas were proposed to begin the process of reconciliation the North and South. We also discussed Confederacy. I told them that enough lives had been sacrificed. Our meeting continued until 2:00. I finished by asking Grant to describe the details of General Lee's surrender, which I can't discuss with you BJ. We were still not finished but whenVice-President Andrew Johnson arrived he decided to take a walk until we were finished with our business. Then after meeting with him, I went for a carriage ride with Mary. BJ that pretty much sums up my day," said the President.
"It sounds like a President's job is full of meetings. They sure have a hard job. Now, what can you tell me about your life Mr. President?"
"Well young lady, I was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both from Virginia and very poor. My mother died when I was 10 years old. Her maiden name was Hanks. At 8 my father moved us from Kentucky to Indiana, where the region was wild with bears and other wild animals."
"Did you go to school?" asked BJ.
"My pappy only let me go 1 year, because I was needed on the farm; splitting rails for fences and other chores. But, I read all the books I could get my hands on to get my education."
"Tell me about all your political interests?"
"In 1858, I ran against Stephen Douglas for Senator. I lost that election, but BJ in those debates I gained a National reputation that won me the nomination for the President in 1860."
"And what have you accomplished since?" as President?" asked BJ.
"Well, I built my party into a strong national organization. On January 1, 1863 I issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy."
"He also dedicated the military cemetery at Gettysburg. In that dedication he made the statement, 'this nation under God shall never have a new birth of freedom....... and the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth," said Mary Todd, " and in 1864 he won re-election for President of the United States."
The President continued, “and I have been flexible and generous in the planning for peace. I have given the Southerners encouragement in laying down their arms and join speedily in reunion."
Mary Todd continued, "In his second Inaugural Address he said in his speech, 'With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nations wounds,' " she said quoting the President's speech.
"And now tell me a little about your life here in the White House, Miss Mary?" asked BJ.
"Well I can tell you it has not been easy as First Lady. I came from a respected Kentucky family. It's been an uphill battle for me here. I have had to prove to Washington that I do have taste and the style of a First Lady. But, I have tried to carry on the official functions of the President's House. Some say I have spent too much money on renovation here. Then there are others who say because of the civil war going on that I shouldn't have any functions and now in this second term there are those that have seen what I do and support me."
"One of your duties is to be a hostess for the President's Cabinet and others. What are some of the foods you want prepared during those times?" asked BJ.
“The President is really not into food and very indifferent about it, so he leaves it up to me what to prepare. He prefers the simple food of the prairie he was raised on. He very seldom requests anything, except for breakfast if he remembers to eat. He then requests an egg with coffee and sometimes Nob Creek Kentucky corn cakes. His step-mother has always said that whatever is put in front of him he will eat. Once a waiter put a cup of something in front of him and after tasting it said, 'If this is coffee, then I'll have tea, but if this is tea then please bring me some coffee.' It was his polite way of saying that he didn't like it, but he never complains. He was used to prairie foods, but when he was a young man and boarded at the Rutledge Inn in New Salem, some of his friends had said he could never get enough honey."
"That is true. I want to tell you about a funny incident that happened when I was a boy. Once when we only had potatoes on the table to eat, my pappy spoke a blessing to the Lord for potatoes. After he was through, I spoke up and said, 'These are mighty poor blessings.' My pappy never let me forget that. My step-mother made them many ways and as tasty as she could get them, by steaming them in a baker."
"Do you do any of your own marketing, Mr. President?"
"I have something in common with President William Henry Harrison, who by the way only served 1 month in office, because he caught pneumonia and died. I love to do my own marketing because I sometimes like to pick out a great big beefsteak, which usually cost about 10 cents. I
save money by bringing it home myself, instead of having it delivered."
As they finished their meal May Todd said, this has been a nice conversation, but we must now start getting ready for our carriage ride to the theater,
"What are you wearing Mary Todd?" asked BJ.
"I am wearing the same colors as you are BJ. I am wearing a black and white striped silk dress with a matching bonnet."
"Oh that will be fun to be dressed alike. But, I wished I had a bonnet to wear."
"BJ, I have many bonnets. Let's go find one."
"Tell me what the President is wearing?" asked BJ.
"Brooks Brothers made a black wool overcoat for him. He will wear a black suit and white kid gloves.
After they came downstairs the President asked them to get in the carriage, because the guests were already there waiting.
"I have a note I'm leaving for the morning business and I will be right there, because it is already 8:05 and we are running late." said the President.
As the President approached the carriage, BJ told him she had to get back earlier than they did and would ride Dobbin behind the carriage. In the carriage beside the guests were the coachman and the valet. It was now foggy and misty and she hoped she wouldn't get wet.
It was now 8:30 and they had just arrived at the theater. The main doorkeeper greeted them and John Parker led them to the State Box. The play had already started but they stopped suddenly and the orchestra played, HAIL TO THE CHIEF. All 1000 people stood and clapped... [to be cont.]
*Note: This is a portion of the chapter about Abraham Lincoln, which will be in my next children's history book: BJ and Dobbin Meet the Presidents and First Ladies. My first children's history book is The Imaginary Journeys of BJ and Dobbin, available at Amazon.