I imagine Abraham Lincoln entered the romantic lamp-lit ballroom and exclaimed, “How clean these women look,” as he weaved through dresses of silk and crinoline. I imagine he was out of his element at that fateful dance.
From the age of 8, Lincoln lived in Little Pigeon Creek at the time when millions of passenger pigeons were known to form dark clouds that eclipsed the sun, causing a wind to gust simply by the force of their wings flapping.
“The air was filled with the dreamy buzzing of their wings,” Audubon wrote.
It was beneath that sky, deep in the hardwood forest of southern Indiana where Lincoln lost his mother to milk sickness, darkening his boyhood days.
“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. I remember her prayers, and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life,” Lincoln was quoted to have said.
Abe had an outstanding ability to tell stories, make rhymes and speak in public. From a very early age he showed great confidence. He was an avid reader, often borrowing books from his neighbors. By the age of 15 he had less than a year of formal education. At the age of 20, Lincoln left Pigeon Creek.
Almost a decade passed. The backwoods boy was a struggling lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, when in the autumn of 1839 he came upon 21-year-old Mary Todd — who was said “could make a bishop forget his prayers” — at a dance. Lincoln was 30.
“I want to dance with you in the worst way,” he said to Mary.
They danced, they dated, they broke up, they reunited and finally after a three-year period they decided to marry. They picked out their wedding rings in the autumn of 1842, but didn’t set a date.
“Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented,” Lincoln said to a former girlfriend.
On the morning of Nov. 3, 1842, Abraham Lincoln made up his mind to marry Mary. Unannounced, Abe dropped by the home of the Rev. Dresser. He and his family were still eating breakfast when Abraham Lincoln announced, “I want to get hitched tonight.”
I imagine this declaration was met with the reverend’s children spitting out their cereal and his wife dabbing her pursed lips with a napkin.
“That will be just fine,” I imagine the reverend told Abe.
“It’s about time,” I imagine the reverend’s wife thinking.
Abraham left the Dresser home and bumped into Mary’s guardian, Mr. Ninian Edwards, who was married to Mary Todd’s sister. Lincoln told him about his big evening plans to marry Mary that evening.
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Edwards told Lincoln. “I would like you and Mary to get married in my home. I am her guardian, after all.”
Mary had resided with her sister, Elizabeth, and Ninian for years. Abe and Edwards went back to his home to speak with Mary and Elizabeth.
“Abe wants to get hitched tonight. The Rev. Dresser has agreed to perform the ceremony,” Mr. Edwards informed Mary and Elizabeth.
“Tonight? Here?” one of them likely said. “I don’t think so. Thursday night is the Ladies Episcopal Sewing Group meets here. The food has already been ordered. We told you all about this last night.”
Abraham and Mary got married the following Friday evening. Mary wore a white muslin dress. No flowers. No veil. Thirty friends showed up after up having received a last-minute invitation. A supper and wedding cake was served on a nice linen tablecloth embroidered with turtledoves. The inscription on Mary Todd Lincoln’s gold wedding band: Love is eternal.
In the late autumn evening, rain was falling as the newlyweds proceeded into the dark night to the Globe Tavern and Boarding House, where Mary and Abe rented the second floor 8-by- 14-foot room for $4 a week. They lived there for almost a year. Mary must have gone nuts.
A week after the wedding Abraham wrote to a friend. The closing sentence was: “Nothing new here, except my marrying, which to me, is a matter of profound wonder.”
These words from the same man who energized a nation writing “with malice towards none” in pursuit of a more perfect union.
Abraham Lincoln and Mary were not Valentine’s material. They had campaigns to run, addresses to perfect, a country to unite.
“I want in all cases to do right, and most particularly so in all cases with women,” Lincoln once said.
Romance is fleeting like the gust of a bird’s wing beneath a darkening sky, a Valentine simply a token of affection. But love, love is eternal.