Never know what you’ll find “Behind the Scenes” at the Dibner Library for the History of Science and Technology! Written by former slave and modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley, the book’s full title is “Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.” Keckley was played by actress Gloria Reuben in 2012’s Lincoln.
We haven’t digitized our copy, but UNC-Chapel Hill has, if you’d like to read it (do!)
this day in 1818, the future First Lady of the United States, Mary Todd
Lincoln, was born in Lexington, Kentucky. Born to a prominent and wealthy
family, Todd was fortunate enough to receive a good education. She
moved to Springfield, Illinois, where she met the young politician and
lawyer Abraham Lincoln. Her parents disapproved of Lincoln due to his
poor background, but the couple married in November 1842. They went on
to have four children - Robert, Edward, William, and Thomas. Mary
staunchly supported her husband’s political career, even while members
of her family supported the Confederacy during the Civil War that
Lincoln’s election prompted. The First Lady was widely unliked in the
White House and often accused of being mentally unstable, perhaps a
result of the death of their son Edward in 1850 and William in 1862. She
was sitting next to the President when he was shot dead by John Wilkes
Booth in Ford’s Theatre on April 14th 1865. Mary Todd sunk even further
into depression in 1871 when her youngest son Thomas died, which led her
sole surviving son Robert to bring her to court on charges of insanity
in 1875. The charges were successful and the former First Lady was
committed to an insane asylum for a few months, and rarely spoke to her
son after the incident. After living abroad for a few years, Mary Todd
returned to Illinois and died of a stroke in July 1882 aged 63.
She apparently sold Lincoln’s annual letter to Congress — which is what the State of the Union Address used to be — to a newspaper to raise money to buy stuff for the White House. And that of course was a huge transgression, and the House seriously thought of calling her up and investigating her. Lincoln stopped that.
The thing that I think people don’t understand about Mary, or don’t give her credit for, is that when they came to the White House, it was in an absolute shambles — as was the country. Obviously, it was falling apart in 1861. And I think because she came from a political family and had a very keen sense of political theater, she knew that the backdrop for the Lincoln administration had to be splendid and suggest power and coherence, since the U.S. at that moment was anything but coherent. It was disintegrating.
And she did it. When you look at the engravings from the time, people were clearly just blown away at how beautiful the place was. And she deserves an enormous amount of credit for doing that with almost no budget.
Mary Todd Lincoln cake is “courtin’ cake” — the very cake that the future first lady served in the mid-1800s to win over Abe Lincoln.
She served the cake to Lincoln as he came courting, and it was his favorite.
The story is told that Mary Todd’s aristocratic family was introduced to the cake when a French dignitary came to visit their Lexington, Ky., home and brought his own chef. The Todd family requested the recipe, and later Mary Todd took the recipe along when she moved to Springfield in 1839.
Some say the first lady continued to bake the cake when the Lincolns lived in the White House from 1861 to 1865, but White House chefs found it too plain for important guests. They made it into a layered cake with rich vanilla frosting instead of the traditional powdered sugar topping.
Mary Todd Lincoln Cake
1 ½ cups sugar. 1 cup butter. 1 teaspoon. vanilla 2 ¼. cups cake flour. 1 tablespoon baking powder. 1 1/3 cups milk. 1 cup almonds, finely chopped. 6 egg whites, stiffly beaten. White Frosting. 1 cup sugar. 1/3 cup water. ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar. 1 dash salt. 2 egg whites. 1 teaspoon vanilla. Directions: 1 Cake:. 2 Cream sugar, butter and vanilla. 3 Sift together cake flour and baking powder three times. 4 Add to creamed mixture alternatively with milk. 5 Stir in almonds. 6 Gently fold in the egg whites. 7 Pour into two greased and floured 9 x 1 ½ inch round baking pans. 8 Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. 9 Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan. 10 White Frosting:. 11 Bring to boiling, sugar, water, cream of tartar and salt. Boil until sugar dissolves.12 Put egg whites in mixing bowl. Start beater and while egg whites are beating, very slowly add hot syrup.13 Beat until stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes.14 Beat in vanilla for one more minute.
Mary Todd Lincoln’s black velvet evening cape. Mrs. Lincoln reportedly wore this cape to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night that John Wilkes Booth shot her husband. Museum purchase from the Estate of Charles F. Gunther.
Want a copy of this photograph? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and give them this number: ICHi-75505
Art is different things to different people, which is one of the awesome things about it. The Museum of Bad Art, located in Somerville, MA, is home to around 500 pieces of Ill-conceived, poor executed art that’s simply “too bad to be ignored.” Museum curators strive to build a collection of art that’s bad, but not intentionally bad. These aren’t kitsch pieces. Often found put out with the garbage or in thrift stores, they’re serious attempts to create serious artwork that seriously failed and thus the Museum of Bad Art exists to “to celebrate the labor of artists whose work would be displayed and appreciated in no other forum.”
The museum was established in 1994 by antique dealer Scott Wilson, who found Lucy in the Sky with Flowers (top image) in trash. He fished the painting out of the trash, and in doing so became the MBA’s first curator. Today it remains the museum’s signature piece where it is shown alongside other terrible paintings such as ;Sunday on the Pot With George, Peter the Kitty, Mary Todd Lincoln (decorated with gold painted Christmas poinsettias) and this “perfectly fine copy” of the Mona Lisa:
But wait, there’s more. The Archie McPhee Library is home to a book entitled Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks [Buy on Amazon], featuring images of 70 pieces from the collection as well as the stories behind the art.
Returning from New Orleans in 1828 by boat, Lincoln and a companion were attacked in their sleep by seven men, “with intent to kill and rob them.” As Lincoln emerged from a hatchway, an attacker “struck him a blow with a heavy stick … making a scar which he wore always”
Stephen Douglas called Lincoln “two-faced.” Lincoln responded: “I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”
Lincoln had a high-pitched voice that could be heard over great distances. When excited, the pitch went higher still, and sometimes became unpleasant. Still, his voice was an asset because it could be heard by all the crowds that gathered outdoors to hear him speak. (Microphones did not yet exist.) For example, at least 15,000 people heard him give the Gettysburg Address and “acres of people” heard his first inaugural address
A dentist broke off part of Lincoln’s jaw bone while pulling a tooth – without anesthesia. The extraction may have taken place in Louisville, KY in Sept. 1841
Within Eighteen Months of this Photo, all Four Men in the Front Row Would Die, Posed with Mary Todd Lincoln at the White House in 1863
Photograph of the Southern Plains delegation, taken in the White House Conservatory on March 27, 1863. The interpreter William Simpson Smith and the agent Samuel G. Colley are standing at the left of the group; the white woman standing at the far right is often identified as Mary Todd Lincoln. J.G. Nicolay, secretary to President Lincoln, standing center, back row.
The Indians in the front row are, left to right: War Bonnet, Standing in the Water, and Lean Bear of the Cheyennes, and Yellow Wolf of the Kiowas. Yellow Wolf is wearing the Thomas Jefferson peace medal that aroused such interest. The identities of the Indians of the second row are unknown. Yellow Wolf died of pneumonia a few days after the picture was taken; War Bonnet and Standing in the Water died in the Sand Creek Massacre; and Lean Bear was killed by toops from Colorado Territory who mistook him for a hostile. (Source: Diplomats in Buckskin, by Herman J. Viola, p. 101)