Abe Lincoln has his mark in Western Pennsylvania
You need not travel far to catch a glimpse of Abraham Lincoln.
There are at least 60 streets, boulevards, roads and avenues bearing his name. Children attend Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Bethel Park, Lincoln Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon and Pittsburgh Lincoln K-5 in East Liberty. And then, there are all those give-a-penny, take-a-penny trays.
With today’s opening of Steven Spielberg’s newest movie, “Lincoln,” we’ve gathered a collection of reminders of our 16th president.
Field trip, anyone?
Stained-glass artist Charles J. Connick included Lincoln in one of the 23 windows he created for the University of Pittsburgh’s Heinz Chapel in Oakland. Lincoln can be found holding his Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves as part of the tolerance and courage windows in the chapel’s north transept.
The strong, ongoing interest in all things Abe doesn’t surprise Cranberry’s Rick Miller, a member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters.
“He defined what America is all about. Democracy was still very much an experiment in 1861,” he says. “It’s amazing how popular Lincoln is in other countries, too, and how many different political and special-interest groups claim him.”
Miller, 63, has been portraying the iconic leader professionally since 1996, when a teacher remarked on how much he resembled Lincoln. From nursing homes, churches and schools, to the floor of the Pennsylvania state senate to Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” Miller has been fulfilling his goal to “get folks to learn about Lincoln and have fun in the company of the 16th president.”
When little kids ask him, “Aren’t you dead?” he assures them, in a reference to John Wilkes Booth’s aim, “No, but I do get these nasty headaches behind my left ear.”
He is eagerly awaiting Daniel Day-Lewis’ characterization of Lincoln. Miller plans to see “Lincoln” Saturday as Lincoln, hopefully removing his hat as a courtesy to those sitting behind him.
A bed Abraham Lincoln slept in during his only visit to Pittsburgh is part of the Special Collections Gallery on the fourth floor of the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
The bed Lincoln used the night of Feb. 14, 1861, first went to a small museum in South Park, when the Monongahela House hotel, Downtown, closed in 1935. Lincoln stayed in Pittsburgh that night on the way to his first inauguration and the bed was kept as a bit of history. But when that museum closed during World War II, the bed was stored away in the work shed, until a carpenter discovered it about eight years ago. It was covered with the discarded skins of snakes who had gone to that area to prey on rodents. The bed was recognized because of photos from its original display. Rescued, it made its way from county ownership to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland to the history center.
IN A GALLERY
The Carnegie Museum of Art’s renovated Scaife Galleries has four Lincoln pieces on display, each showing a different side of Abe.
A contemporary of Lincoln, David Gilmour Blythe’s two paintings show Lincoln as he was known at the time. In “Abraham Lincoln, Rail Splitter,” an oil-on-canvas from 1860, he’s seen with political images throughout his campaign for presidency. In “Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation,” 1863, oil-on-canvas, Lincoln is dressed casually in his office, hard at work in socks and slippers, surrounded by drafts and a storm of cluttered papers. A note of interest: Blythe died the same year as Lincoln.
Black artist Horace Pippin’s “Abe Lincoln’s First Book,” 1944, oil-on-canvas, shows a young Abe, reading a book by candlelight.
A bronze sculpture, “Abraham Lincoln: The Man,” 1884–1887, is a small-scale version of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1887 monument in Chicago.
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg has a few Lincoln-related items in its permanent collection, but the only one currently on public display is Alanson Fisher’s 1860 “Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.” The oil painting shows a beardless and less haggard Lincoln before he became president.
Everyone knows Lincoln is on the penny, but our region also boasts several Abraham Lincoln sculptures. Probably the best known is the copper statue of the 16th president that stands at Penn Avenue and Ardmore Boulevard, which is part of the original “Lincoln Highway” in Wilkinsburg. The statue is one of several replicas that were copied from a sculpture by Alfonso Pelzer that stands in Middlesex, N.J. The statue was erected in 1916 at a cost of $800. It was financed through pennies collected by Wilkinsburg schoolchildren. In 1981, thieves stole the statue by breaking it off at the ankles. It was discovered the following year buried in Westmoreland County. The statue was returned to its original site, but the repairs on the ankles didn’t hold and it fell off its pedestal in 1992. It was stored in the Wilkinsburg Municipal Building, until it was restored and returned to its original site in 2000.
ON THE FLOOR
Artisan: Tattoo, Coffee, Gallery in Garfield has a lot of Lincolns. 250,000 of them, exactly. That’s $2,500 worth of pennies covering the floor of the new tattoo shop, gallery and coffee shop. Yes, it was lot of work. Mel Angst, who owns the shop with her husband Jason, has been putting in 10-hour days for about three weeks, placing pennies on the floor. The shop is about 800 square feet. Friends who donated 30 hours of time to help are getting free penny tattoos, as a rewards. “We’ll also get Abe Lincoln tattoos when this is all over,” Angst says.
Visitors to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial can view a display case with a bust and a life mask of Lincoln. The bust of Lincoln that was created before he was elected president in 1860 and before he grew his famous beard. The life mask was created within weeks of his assassination in 1865. The juxtaposition of the two likenesses show how Lincoln aged between his first presidential inauguration and the end of the Civil War.
The museum also has the Gettysburg Address on a canvas mounted on the back wall of the auditorium. It is believed to be the largest depiction in the country.
ON A WALL
When Lincoln made that singular visit to Pittsburgh, he descended from a train at the Fort Wayne Railroad station on what is now the North Side, but was then the independent city of Allegheny.
On June 14, 1917, the Women’s Historical Society of Pennsylvania created a bronze plaque commemorating the event, near the original site. The plaque can still be seen on the wall of the post office that sits near the site of the former train station at the intersection of Federal Street and South Commons.
IN THE BEGINNING
The Lincoln Highway — Route 30 through most of Pennsylvania — was the first transcontinental highway, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, when it was built in the early 1900s. It was the nation’s first memorial to Abraham Lincoln, predating the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, which highlights historic areas along the highway from the western edge of Westmoreland County to Gettysburg and the eastern edge of Adams County, has a welcome center in the historic Johnston House on Route 30 east of Latrobe.