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Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers

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Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers

circa 1978

Douglas Warner Gorsline
American (Rochester, NY, 1913 - 1985, Dijon, France)

Object Type: Drawing
Medium and Support: Brush and black and gray ink wash on paper
Credit Line: Tribute Fund
Accession Number: 1995.41
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view
Suite Name: Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers

A suite of illustrations for the book "Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers."

In the 1970s, artist Douglas Gorsline was commissioned to illustrate a book by Burke Davis called Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers. It was inspired by the true story of a correspondence between Abraham Lincoln and an eleven-year-old girl from Westfield, New York, near Chautauqua Lake.

On view here are some of the original drawings that Gorsline did for the book. Over the course of the year, all of the drawings will be exhibited.

In October, 1860, not long after Leonard Volk did life casts of the hands and face of Abraham Lincoln (see the bronze sculptures in the case nearby), a little girl named Grace Bedell wrote Lincoln a letter:
My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture… I am a little girl only eleven years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President.

Lincoln wrote back a few days later:

I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons -- one seventeen, one nine, and one seven, years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family.
As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?

Lincoln took Grace’s advice. Within a month, he began to grow a beard – AND he won the election! On his trip from Illinois to Washington, D.C. for the presidential inauguration in February, 1861, the President’s train stopped at Westfield, New York, where he met his young correspondent. An article from the Philadelphia Enquirer described the scene:

At Westfield, Mr. Lincoln greeted a large crowd of ladies, and several thousand of the sterner sex. Addressing the ladies, he said, "I am glad to see you; I suppose you are to see me; but I certainly think I have the best of the bargain. (Applause.) Some three months ago, I received a letter from a young lady here; it was a very pretty letter, and she advised me to let my whiskers grow, as it would improve my personal appearance; acting partly upon her suggestion, I have done so; and now, if she is here, I would like to see her." A small boy, mounted on a post, with his mouth and eyes both wide open, cried out, "there she is, Mr. Lincoln," pointing to a beautiful girl, with black eyes, who was blushing all over her fair face. The President left the car, and the crowd making way for him, he reached her, and gave her several hearty kisses, and amid the yells of delight from the excited crowd, he bade her good-bye.

[Gallery label text, 2004]

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