Internet Pulls a Hatchet Job on Abie Baby

15 Jan 2007

Take a look at the list below. This is from no more than two Google results pages (!) while looking up a famous Lincoln quote:

"If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe."
"If you give me three hours to chop down a tree, I'll spend the first two sharpening my axe.
"If I had 6 hours to cut down a tree, I would spend 4 hours sharpening my axe!"
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening my axe."
"Abraham Lincoln once said that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he'd spend the first four hours grinding the axe."
"If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I d spend six sharpening my axe."
"If I had eight hours to chop down the big tree, I would spend 7 1/2 of those hours sharpening my axe. ... "
"If I had ten hours to chop down an oak tree, I'd spend the first eight sharpening my axe."

Funny how that sort of thing gets so jumbled over time, eh?If you've wondered about the actual language used by our country's beloved 16th POTUS, well ... I could tell you, but I quite prefer the chaos. Which I control, by the way.

You see, only a few months ago, I took a road trip to visit my sister-in-law and her family in the great town of Geneseo, Illinois. 'Twas a spectacular visit -- bacon-wrapped fillets and twice-baked potatoes all around (well, for me and my brother-in-law, anyway).

Though my sister-in-law graciously supplied my wife and me with not one, but TWO queen-sized air mattresses (stacked, that is -- not that I'm so obese as to require an entire inflatable of my own), I nonetheless found myself suffering from a bout of insomnia after the Victorian Walk (a textbook case of Norman Rockwell overload). So, I decided to go for a drive.

Round about two thirty a.m., I found myself in Springfield, Illinois, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (unsurprised, of course, that they were open at this hour, considering the fanaticism so many historians harbor for the man). Admission was $5.01, along with the (rather odd, but hey, I went along with it) requirement that it be paid with, precisely, one five-dollar bill and one penny (each of which bears a money shot, as it were, of the great rail-splitter).

When a nubile docent asked me how long I'd been on the road, I answered, "Normally, it's a four hour trip, but I spent the first hour planning my route and thus managed to get here in just three hours driving time." (Though, upon private reflection, I wasn't sure I was any better off, as the trip still took four hours, net.)

She nodded, and maybe even winked (?), then handed me a small key made of red brass. (It was warm; she must've had it on her already, almost as though she were expecting me. Quite the mystery.) "It's your Lincoln allusion key," she smiled, and directed me toward a two-mile long hallway of doors. "Just match the symbol," she instructed, glancing at the key and about-facing before clacking back to her post, revealing thigh-high fishnets, by the bye, that only volunteers can ever pull off successfully.

Confused, I entered the nearly empty corridor and began to mosey. The dark walnut doors, spaced precisely 16 feet apart on center, indeed bore unique, carved symbols. However, I was likely 500+ feet along when the ordering scheme dawned on me. (Hey, it was late.) An old, bearded man (resembling Ben Franklin, if you must imagine a luminary here) was exiting a room through a door decorated with a wooden relief of a four-poster bed. "Bed!" I moronically exclaimed at an echo-inducing volume (as one understandably does in these institutional moments of insight), "starts with B!"

Then, addressing the man, "So, you must've made an allusion to ... ." I thought for a moment.

"Lincoln's homosexuality," he responded discreetly, tucking some yellow legal pad papers into his lapel pocket. You could almost smell the fresh research."And your key?"

I showed him. "Must've passed it," I supposed, adding, "unless it's a hatchet, of course."

He looked both ways, as though checking to make sure the coast was clear. "Just be thankful it's not a Theater," he whispered.

A chill ran visibly over me. I think the old codger took it as a sign of my fascination as I followed up with, "Allusion to the assassination?" However, in reality, I was simply cold in that drafty hall.

"No," he began, "it's for visitors who mutter that [lowering his voice considerably] awful joke."

"Awful joke?"

"You know it," he insisted. "That hackneyed old-"

"Oh, you mean, [clearing my throat, assuming my best stand-up voice] 'Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how -"

"Shhhhhhh!" His eyes grew wide and shiny as a couple of proof 50-cent pieces. "For Christ's sake, man! Not here ... Not here!"

"Why? What's in that room?"

He shuddered -- not from the cold -- and hobbled away quickly, shaking his head in amazement.

So I backtracked, walked past the bayonet, the battle scene, the bathroom (was it really a bathroom?, I mused), the bassoon, the barn, the barbershop, the bank, the banjo, the banana ( don't ask, I thought), the ballet, the bagpipe, the baboon, and there it was ... the axe.

If this were some work of fiction or, you know, a dream, I'm sure the docent would return at this point, and we'd have to consult various Viennese psychologists to plumb the meaning. In fact, I wish it were more dramatic, more fantastic -- hell, even more sexual. If it were, I maybe wouldn't waste the story on a blog entry. I'd enter that American Idol Novel Contest pronto, embellishing the minutia with clever and meaningful details related to Lincoln's life. You'd get much more, for example, in the way of suspense and surprise at my entering that room.

Fast-forwarding, though ... I will let you in on a little secret. Inside that room, on a bare wooden 1860s table, was an original letter in Lincoln's own hand -- the original source of so much misinformation, passed along brainlessly by today's consultants, know-it-alls, and sales gurus. Just like that, you know? No security guards, no plate glass, no eye-in-the-sky.

So I swiped the motherfucker -- just like that. Tucked it into my jacket pocket with considerably less ceremony than Ben Franklin and his gay Lincoln papers. I walked out quickly. The docent made eye contact, smiled. She knew, I figured ... Didn't ask for the key, either.

By dawn, I'd arrived back in Geneseo, the whole family slumbering oblivious. The key and the manuscript? Perhaps another time, my friends. Perhaps another time.

Original Comments

Below, are the original comments on this post. Additional comments may be made via Facebook, below.

On January 16, 2007, Grant Miller wrote:

So is that why Mary Todd was nutty?

On November 14, 2008, scrampbell wrote:

My compliments, sir. In my search to find the actual language used by Mr. Lincoln I naturally followed the first link supplied by the Google. You list of variations on the theme leaves me no more informed (well, at least on the subject of interest). My suggestion, since you are the number one result, is to supply your favorite (yet incorrect) text as the actual -- thereby forever putting your stamp on American History as your own quote propagates throughout the world ...

On November 14, 2008, scrampbell wrote:

Nay! Throughout HISTORY!

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