Cornelius Cole’s memories of Lincoln


 Senator Cornelius Cole tells of his friend, Abraham Lincoln




Hollywood history is more than celluloid and movie stars. The town also has connections to some of our country’s history. One of the early residents of Hollywood was Senator Cornelius Cole, who named several Hollywood streets for family members and memories of his youth. Cole knew, and was friends with Abraham Lincoln. He sat on the platform listening as Lincoln gave the famous Gettysburg Address, and was one of the last people to visit him at the White House on the day he was assassinated. What follows is Cole’s personal memories of our 16th president.




By Cornelius Cole


The first time I ever met Abraham Lincoln was in 1863, toward the close of the Civil War. It was in Washington, whither I had hurried from California to see if I could be of any use to my country. My first meeting with Lincoln did not especially impress me with this wonderful American, but later I came to know him better and the more I saw of him the greater grew my admiration and respect for him as a man and friend, and as the possessor of rare genius as a statesman and leader of men.


At that time I had been a resident of California for nearly fifteen years as I had left my native home in New York and made my way across the plains in 1849 when gold was discovered in California. I was one of the fortunate ones in that rush for treasures and after working awhile at placer mining, which was hard labor, I went to San Francisco with all the gold I could carry.


There seems to be a lasting impression about the gold fields of California in ’49 that is absolutely erroneous. I have been asked about the “lawlessness that was rampant” there.


For my part, I never saw any. The men who got to the diggings first, when I was there, were honest, hard-working fellows, who minded their own business and respected the rights of others.


When the war of the Secession began we men living in California organized troops and I joined but never got into the regular service. As I said before, I went to Washington in 1863 to see if there was not something of service I could do. I got as far as the lines at Fredericksburg, but that was the extent of my experience in the war. I next came to Washington as a Congressman and I saw Lincoln again and soon fell under the charm of his extraordinary personality. Later still, as a member of the House, I was so fortunate as to become well acquainted with him and Mrs. Cole and I were on terms of great intimacywith the president and Mrs. Lincoln.


What a man he was! Courageous and patient, strong and tender, thoughtful yet merry — determined, yet forgiving, and quick to pardon.


Some have talked about Lincoln’s “ungainly” figure and his “ugliness” of features. Let me, who knew him intimately, tell you as emphatically as I can that Abraham Lincoln was not ugly.


He was no boor, nor uncouth. He was courteous in the extreme and always had the right word to say in the right place. In his gentle, respectful way he was quite gallant with some of the ladies who attended the White House functions and they all admired him greatly.


Mrs. Cole and I were among those invited one evening to a dinner at the White House, a very fashionable event, and where, as a matter of course, we all wore our best clothes and white gloves. As the evening drew to a close and Mrs. Cole and I were about to say goodnight to the President, she discovered she had lost one of her gloves and asked me to look around the room for it. As I started to do so President Lincoln detained me with his kindly hand and said with a smile:


“Never mind hunting for the glove, Mr. Cole. I’ll look for it myself after the others have gone and I’ll keep it as a souvenir.”


That didn’t sound like the awkward words of an uncouth clown, did it? No, sir; he was polished and elegant at all times.


I was in Gettysburg on that memorable day when he delivered the address in the battlefield dedicating part of the ground as a national cemetery. I sat on the little platform that had been erected, being quite near Lincoln, and heard those memorable words of his. He had a fine speaking voice, rather high pitched but very pleasant and expressive. When he stopped, the crowd sat motionless, absolutely still, and I suppose Mr. Lincoln thought that his speech was a failure. But it was a solemn occassion and the crowd was inclined to be quietly respectful.


I saw Lincoln on the afternoon before the tragic evening when he was assassinated in Ford’s Theater. I was leaving Washington at the time and called to say goodbye to the President. I read of his death the following day.



Monument on the family plot of Cornelius Cole at Hollywood Forever Cemetery



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4 Responses to “Cornelius Cole’s memories of Lincoln”

  1. Landman says:

    Oh Allan, just when I think you have posted the most interesting story, along comes one even better than the “best”. This was an amazing story. It contained so much information in those few paragraphs. Hats off to you Allan! Thanks for honoring these people with stories and location of their resting places. I just added another week in Hollywood on our next visit to view the graves of the people you bring back to “Life”. You may get sick of me saying this Allan, but, YOU HAVE THE BEST BLOG OF ALL!
    Thank you very much. I really do appreciate it.

  2. I thought I knew a lot about Senator Cole, but you have shared something I had never seen, this personal reminiscence of Lincoln. I knew they were friends, I knew he was a Civil War era Senator, but to read his personal account of their relationship was truly awe-inspiring. You rock, Allan.

  3. Thomas Canty says:

    I’ve read a little about Cole, but until now hadn’t come across anything that he had written, himself. Could I ask where you found this? Is this from a journal or a memoir?

    Ever since I started my Weekly Pioneer blog, he is one person I’ve had in mind to eventually feature, but I want to learn more about his life first so I can write up a proper bio.
    Hi Thomas, it’s from a Los Angeles Times article, July 5, 1992. Cole wrote his memoirs in 1908 I believe and there was a bio done on him a few years after his death. I havent seen either but I’m sure they’re available somewhere. Hope this helps. — Allan

  4. Neil Cole Brown II says:

    Good afternoon Mr. Canty;

    Great article. I’m a little late to the game here. I am the grandson of Cornelius Cole Brown, who is the grandson of Cornelius Cole. This is a very accurate summary of his account. I do have the original of his biography that gives many more detailed accounts of his life. He was an extraordinary American. I am proud to he his descendant.

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