Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

James Waller Somers: “He knew Lincoln…”

Friday, September 15th, 2017

It’s surprising how many Hollywood Forever Cemetery residents have a unique connection to Abraham Lincoln. There is Senator Cornelius Cole, a close friend who visited Lincoln on the day of his assassination. And Joseph Hazelton, who as a boy, was present at Ford’s Theatre on that night. Now we profile James Waller Somers, who knew Lincoln in his boyhood in Urbana, Illinois, and continued that friendship into adulthood.

James Waller Somers, the son of Dr. Winston and Mary (Haines) Somers, was born at Mt. Airy, North Carolina, on January 18, 1833. His father was a physician, and in 1843, moved his family to Urbana, Illinois. Somers became friends with Abraham Lincoln while in Urbana, one of the towns of the Eighth Judicial Circuit where Lincoln once practiced law.

“My recollections of Lincoln,” Somers said, “date back to 1843 or 1844, when as a boy ten years old, I arrived in Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois, with my father’s family from North Carolina. Urbana was then a mere village, containing a population of perhaps 150 persons. The Courthouse was a double, one-story frame structure, unpainted, and of primitive architecture. It was in the center of the village, surrounded by about an acre of ground enclosed. It was in this court yard I remember first seeing Mr. Lincoln. He was tall and ungainly but of very striking appearance.

“It was court week, and he was striding across the yard toward the Courthouse, in that peculiar manner characteristic of him, a sort of meditative shambling gait, head drooped forward and his hands behind him. He was lank and angular, with a massive head, covered with a short, stubby, dark-brown hair, brushed up in front, without any pretense of parting in the middle or anywhere else. He had a high forehead, thick lips, cheek bones of an Indian-like prominence, and a wart on the side of his face near his large nose, which was eliminated from his later photographs by the retoucher’s brush. His face was smooth shaven. His ears, hands and feet were abnormally large and his arms unusually long.”

At the age of 21, Somers studied law in the office of his uncle, William D. Somers, with whom he became a law partner after being admitted to the bar in 1856.

“When I was studying law with my uncle, Judge Somers, Mr. Lincoln frequently came into our little one-story office, near the hotel, to swap stories with ‘Uncle William,’ who was himself a good story-teller, though Lincoln far surpassed him as he did everyone one else. He used to sit on a rush bottomed chair with his feet on the rung, telling stories, hour after hour. He frequently laughed more heartily than anyone else, but the laughter was neither boisterous nor vulgar. His whole body swayed with merriment, wholesome and infectious, and his eyes would sparkle with amusement, while he ran his fingers through his close cropped hair, always standing on end.”

Originally a Whig, Somers helped to organize the state Republican Party and actively campaigned for Lincoln in 1858 and 1860. Henry Clay Whitney called Somers “the promising orator of our Circuit of the young men.”

By 1860, Somers had developed serious hearing problems which made the practice of law difficult. He wrote to Lincoln seeking advice on his future career. Lincoln responded on March 17, 1860, recommending that he resettle in Chicago where Whitney had offered him a partnership. Lincoln closed saying that his advice was given, “with the deepest interest for your welfare.” A week later Lincoln wrote a recommendation:

“My young friend James W. Somers I have known from boyhood and I can truly say that in my opinion he’s entirely faithful and fully competent to the performance of any business he will undertake.”

In 1861, President Lincoln appointed Somers to a position in the Department of the Interior, which led to a distinguished career of 25 years of public service in Washington.

During the Civil War, Somers received news that two of his nephews, both minors, had been forced to join the Confederate Army in North Carolina and were captured as prisoners of war in Elmira, New York. Somers asked Lincoln to have them released and sent to Urbana, with the assurance that they would not take an active part in the war.

“I was cordially received at the White House,” Somers said, “in his old familiar way. After talking a few moments on home affairs I stated my errand and he at once wrote an order to Adjt.-Gen. Fry of the War Department, directing the release of the young men and upon their taking the oath of allegiance to send them to their uncle in Urbana. In a few days my cousins were on their way West and did not again take up arms against the North.”

When Somers retired from the Department of the Interior in 1895, he moved to San Diego where his brother resided. In 1903, he moved to Hollywood to live with his niece, Mrs. H. G. (May) Condee at her home on what is now Cherokee Avenue. The library was adorned with some of Somers valuable collection, which included various portraits, busts and autographed letters from Lincoln.

On June 6, 1904, at 7:25 pm, Somers was returning from the post office and was crossing Hollywood Boulevard at Whitley Avenue when he was struck and killed by an electric cable car. At that intersection there was a strong arc light, and it was supposed that Somers confused it with the headlight of the electric car and, not being able to hear the warning bell, crossed the track just as the car came upon him.

J. W. Somers funeral was held at the home of his niece and interment was at Hollywood Cemetery.

The grave of James Waller Somers at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It is located in Chandler Gardens (Section 12), just a short distance behind the J. Ross Clark family mausoleum.

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Cornelius Cole’s memories of Lincoln

Saturday, May 8th, 2010


 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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Lost silent film about Lincoln found

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010


 When Lincoln Paid: Previously lost 1913 movie about Abraham Lincoln to be screened





Actor Francis Ford (pictured above), brother of director John Ford, portrayed the Civil War-era president in “When Lincoln Paid” (1913), a two-reel film long-lost until it was discovered in a New Hampshire barn and restored. It will have its re-premiere at Keene State College on April 20, 2010.


To learn more about the find, preservation and screening, check out the article by Andre Soares at the Alt Film Guide. CLICK HERE



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Celebrity Recipes – Abraham Lincoln

Monday, February 16th, 2009


Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln


A celebrity? Perhaps, but it’s President’s Day and who better than everyone’s favorite, Honest Abe himself. Mrs. Lincoln told intimates that although the President never really thought about food, and his eating habits were spartan, he did have a sweet tooth.




Abraham Lincoln’s




1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

1 ½ cups broken pecan meats

1 cup dark corn syrup

¾ cup sugar

½ cup butter, softened

3 large eggs, stirred

1 tsp. vanilla


Cream the butter and sugar. Stir in the dark corn syrup and the lightly beaten eggs. Add the pecans and the vanilla. Blend together well and pour into pie shell. (May put foil in shell and fill with dried beans, baking 5 to 7 minutes at 400 degrees if desired, before adding filling) Bake at 400 degrees 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted in filling comes out clean.    


— Abraham Lincoln




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