A small exhibit dedicated to the wrestling prowess of Abraham Lincoln opened this week and runs through January 17 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. The exhibit may be viewed free of charge on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Lincoln, the Wrestler” features items about the U.S. President who is among many top names in the sport featured in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibit coincides with the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s National Duals Championships being held January 7 and 8 at the nearby Prairie Capital Convention Center.
The exhibit includes the 1938 Chicago and Illinois Midland railroad calendar with a painting of Lincoln in his famous wrestling match with Jack Armstrong in New Salem. The painting, “Lincoln, the Wrestler” is by Fletcher Ransom and was part of a series commissioned annually for 25 years by the Chicago & Illinois Midland Railroad Company to be used on the company’s calendars.
Classics Illustrated comic books from 1958 titled Abraham Lincoln – a copy in English and a copy in Greek – are displayed. The covers show Lincoln wrestling with Armstrong.
The 1860 biography Life of Abraham Lincoln by W. D. Howells is open to pages that describe the wrestling match in New Salem between Lincoln and Armstrong. Lincoln reviewed the book after publication, making corrections in the margins. No corrections were made regarding the description of the wrestling match.
A photograph of a sign for Shick Shack Hill is also part of the exhibit. Shick Shack Hill is located in eastern Cass county, midway between Chandlerville and New Salem. In 1833 Lincoln and Ashley Hickey wrestled here. Lincoln defeated Hickey, and Hickey family folklore contends that Lincoln won by rubbing pieces of dog fennel plant in Hickey’s eyes.
Abraham Lincoln’s fame as a skilled wrestler is chronicled in Lincoln historian Douglas L. Wilson’s book Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln. Wilson notes that Lincoln was a “scientific wrestler,” meaning “someone who wrestled according to prescribed rules and succeeded as much by skill, agility, and mastery of the standard holds and techniques as by main strength.” The wrestling style Lincoln preferred was one in which the opponents kept hold of each other, and the first to break free of the hold, go down on one knee, or be thrown lost the match. Lincoln’s most famous wrestling matches as a young man in the 1830s included the widely known bout against Jack Armstrong at New Salem, which ended in a draw; and one against fellow Illinois militiaman Lorenzo Dow Thompson during the Black Hawk War, to determine which company of soldiers got a choice campsite near Beardstown. Lincoln lost the match against Thompson..
Wilson’s book also quotes a Lincoln relative, who recalled that “Lincoln was a great wrestler – he returned home about 1831 from … one of his trips, and his fame for this was wide Spread.” Usher Linder, an early Lincoln family acquaintance, also claimed that Abraham Lincoln’s mother was quite a wrestler herself: “His mother, whose maiden name was Nancy Hanks, was said to be a very strong-minded woman, and one of the most athletic women in Kentucky. In a fair wrestle, she could throw most of the men who ever put her powers to the test.”
For more information about the exhibit or the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, visit www.presidentlincoln.org.