At a recent presentation at the Philadelphia Union League, author and scholar Dr. Gene Griessman provided a rare window into Abraham Lincoln, the man.
Portraying the 16th President, complete in period-correct wardrobe, Griessman told a lot of funny stories. He explained how Lincoln used humor to deflect his somewhat severe appearance. And it became one of his sharpest tactics to disarm adversaries and put his audiences at ease.
Griessman opened his talk with a promise. “I’ll tell you a story or two. And if you laugh, I’ll probably tell two or three more.”
A few examples:
On the subject of age:
You know, I’m over 200 years old. The best thing about that? No peer pressure.
On the subject of appearance:
I sat for a portrait in Mr. Brady’s photographic studio. The assistant charged with making the photograph said, “Just look natural, Mr. Lincoln.” To which I replied, “That is precisely what I am trying to avoid.”
A woman walked up to me and said, “Lincoln, you’re about the ugliest man I’ve ever seen.” I said, “I can’t help it.” She said, “You could stay home.”
On my birthday, folks said the prettiest baby in three counties had just been born. Unfortunately, my father traded that pretty baby for me. And three cows.
A small boy approached me the other day. He said, “Mr. Lincoln, you’ve inspired me to become President of the United States.” Well I was flattered and delighted. So I asked, “What exactly did I do to inspire you?” He said, “Nothing … it was something my daddy said. He said if Lincoln could be president, then anybody could.”
On conflict and language:
That reminds me of a little church in the mountains of southern Georgia. A huge rift had formed over the existence of hell. It had split the congregation into two camps, one firmly believing that hell exists and the other, unconvinced. No compromise, no settlement. It got so bad that the skeptics left that church and built their own, just down the road. The minute the last brick on the new church was laid, they erected a sign out front, which read: “There ain’t no hell.” So the other church erected their own sign in reply: “The hell there ain’t.”
Apparently General Grant is a bit tone-deaf. He told me, “Sir, I can recognize two songs. One of them is Yankee Doodle. The other is not.”
A man had lost his way and asked a local farmer for help. “Does it matter which road I take?” he asked. The farmer replied, “Not to me.” The man said, “Have you lived here all your life?” And the farmer said, “Not yet.” So the man said, “You don’t know much, do you?” To which the farmer replied, “Well, I ain’t the one who’s lost.” So the man asked, “Why did you take an instant dislike to me?” And the farmer said, “Saves time.”
A man walked into the psychiatrist’s office and shouted, “Bugs! I’ve got bugs crawling all over me!” And the psychiatrist said, “Well, get out of here, I don’t want them getting on me!”
I was walking through the churchyard the other day and saw an interesting gravestone inscription. It read:Behold and see as you pass by;For as you are, so once was I;As I am now, so will you be;Prepare unto death and follow me.What struck me was the hand-written reply, scratched underneath:To follow you I'm not content;Until I know which way you went!