This morning I skipped over to the State Museum to attend a press conference with the promise of a brand new Abraham Lincoln artifact. While I was gone, my coworkers declared me "weird for the beard." Joke's on them, because I got to lay my eyes upon the coolest Lincoln artifact ever connected to the great state of Indiana: Abe's mallet.
The Rail Splitter's railsplitter.
The Rail Splitter's railsplitter.Engraved with his initials.
Governor Pence, Tom King (State Museum President/CEO), Dale Ogden (ISMHS Chief Curator of History and Culture and the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection) and Lincoln furniture expert Steve Haaff spoke at today's event before the unveiling.
Haaff, an expert on the furniture made by Lincoln's father while they were in Indiana says of the mallet, "This artifact was originally a splitting maul used by Lincoln to drive iron wedges into logs creating split-rails for fencing. The maul head, made from a tree root-ball, eventually split in half. Rather than discard the tool, Lincoln repurposed it into a bench mallet he used to drive pegs into furniture and other fixtures. Lincoln discarded the original long handle and relocated a shorter grip into the remaining portion of the maul to create a mallet." (Here's a good explanation on why people called Lincoln the Rail Splitter, or the Rail Candidate.)
I could honestly talk about this all day, but I'll contain myself to the seven best things about today's unveiling.
1. It's awesome to have this direct connection from Lincoln's time in Indiana. Abe was a Hoosier resident from 1816 to 1830, but there's not a ton of artifacts that directly connect him to our state. That's because, as Haaff said today at the Museum, "The Lincolns were a frontier family. They didn't generate a lot of objects, and what they did generate, they used up." Sure, Illinois may be the Land of Lincoln, but as Pence said, "Lincoln made Illinois, but Indiana made Lincoln." He also said, "Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but he moved to Indiana just as soon as he heard about it." The Gov was full of bon mots today.
2. I love that the mallet is basically the Mjolnir of Democracy. Seriously, doesn't it look like Thor's hammer? Can't you imagine Honest Abe smashing rails and making coffin pegs while contemplating Great Things Ahead? I also like to imagine other people in the Lincoln household unable to pick it up. Haaff noted that Lincoln's father was a talented furniture maker — several cabinets made by him still survive — and Abraham was his only known apprentice. Lincoln's frontier past, railsplitting and all, was part of what made him such a compelling man-of-the-people candidate.
3. I dug Pence's dramatic unveiling of the mallet, and general giddy demeanor throughout. Now I know we don't usually agree on a lot, Mike. But from one history major to another, I appreciate your level of stokedness throughout this whole event. At one point while speaking, he raised his hands over his head and said, "See, I'm totally into this stuff!" Me too, Mike. Me too.
4. State Auditor (and Lincoln buff) Suzanne Crouch apparently "brokered" the State Museum's acquisition of the mallet from the Carter Family of Spencer, Indiana. The mallet was passed to Barnabas Carter's great-great-great-great grandchildren Keith Carter (Evansville) and his sister Andrea Solis (Saline, Michigan), who hang on to it quietly as a "treasured heirloom." Haaff called it the "best kept secret in Spencer County." The Carter family still owns the mallet, but they want it to be on display. Isn't it great when your State Auditors get involved in historical preservation?
5. The unveiling was cloaked in secrecy. Pence even said that the State Museum refused to tell him what the artifact was for a while — then he reminded them, "I'm the governor, guys." But lo and behold, the very sneaky State Museum hid the object to be revealed in plain sight: on our media badges. I can just imagine a on-staff designer cackling as they put together the name tags. SNEAKY DEVILS.
6. The mallet will go on display on Lincoln's birthday on Friday. Happy b-day, Abe!
7. Now we have a reason to head to Triton and drink pints upon pints of Railsplitter, right?