"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Abraham Lincoln

Played Ball

This cartoon by an unknown artist appeared in the 1903 edition of Alexander K. McClure's book Lincoln's Yarns and Stories. It illustrates an anecdote by Frank P. Blair of Chicago, describing Abraham Lincoln playing Town Ball at Silver Spring during the Civil War. (Hat Tip to Jerry McCoy)

Frank P. Blair, of Chicago, tells an incident, showing Mr. Lincoln's love for children and how thoroughly he entered into all of their sports: 

"During the war my grandfather, Francis P. Blair, Sr., lived at Silver Springs, north of Washington, seven miles from the White House. It was a magnificent place of four or five hundred acres, with an extensive lawn in the rear of the house. The grandchildren gathered there frequently. There were eight or ten of us, our ages ranging from eight to twelve years. Although I was but seven or eight years of age, Mr. Lincoln's visits were of such importance to us boys as to leave a clear impression on my memory. He drove out to the place quite frequently. We boys, for hours at a time, played town ball on the vast lawn, and Mr. Lincoln would join ardently in the sport. I remember vividly how he ran with the children ; how long were his strides, and how far his coat-tails stuck out behind, and how we tried to hit him with the ball, as he ran the bases. He entered into the spirit of the play as completely as any of us, and we invariably hailed his coming with delight." -- McClure, 1903.
Town Ball was a precursor to Baseball as we know it. Notice that in this version of the game runners can be put out by hitting them with the ball, which young Frank Blair, or one of his compatriots, is trying to do to the President.

The same quotation from Frank P. Blair appeared in the 1902 edition of Ida Tarbell's The Life of Abraham Lincoln, without the drawing.  The earliest publication of this anecdote is Lincoln Plays Ball with the Boys, in an article by Ida Tarbell entitled Lincoln's Method of Dealing with Men, in McClure's Magazine March 1899. Jerry McCoy followed this path starting with Abraham Lincoln in the National Capital by Allen C. Clark, 1925 which references Tarbell, 1902. (for a bit more detailed bibliography see Lincoln Played Ball.) 

Born in 1856, Francis Preston Blair III would have been 7 years old in 1863. He graduated from West Point in 1876 and became both a lawyer and a physician. He died in 1914. (See Find-a-Grave.)  

Lincoln is shown figuratively playing baseball in this pro-Lincoln political cartoon by Currier and Ives dated Sept. 15, 1860, just before Lincoln's election to the presidency.

The cartoon predicts that Lincoln will win the ball, skunking the other players (Bell, Douglas and Breckinridge). 

The National Game, Three "Outs" and One "Run"
Abraham Winning the Ball.
Gentlemen, If any of you should ever take a hand in another match at this game, remember that you must have “a good bat” and strike a “fair ball” to make a “clean score” and & a “home run”
I'd better leave the description of this pun-filled cartoon to the Library of Congress.

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