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

 HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

 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.

 

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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

FILM HISTORY

 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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Joseph Hazelton at Hollywood Forever

Monday, July 6th, 2009

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Joseph Hazelton

 

Joseph Hazelton

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

On April 14, 1865, a schoolboy, with his school books strapped across his shoulder, romped down Tenth Street in Washington DC. As he approached Ford’s Theatre, there stood in front a tall man with raven black hair and a drooping mustache.

 

That man was John Wilkes Booth, who that night, swayed the destiny of a nation. The boy was Joseph Hazelton, a program boy and usher that fateful night. Shortly before his death in 1936, Hazelton believed he was the only man still living at the time who witnessed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

 

Hazelton, who was born at Wilmington, New York around 1853, later served as a page in the U.S. Senate and worked as a railroad clerk. He then became a character actor on the stage and in films for over sixty-eight years, appearing in such silent films as Unrest (1914), Please Get Married (1919) and in the role of Mr. Grimwig in Oliver Twist (1922) with Lon Chaney.

 

Hazelton would spend his entire life recalling memories of Lincoln’s assassination, appearing on radio and lecturing at numerous venues across the country. The following account by Hazelton is an excerpt taken from an article published in the February 1927 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. The multi-page article, written by Campbell MacCulloch, was entitled: “This Man Saw Lincoln Shot.”

 

“On the 14th day of April, a little school boy, with his school books in a strap thrown carelessly across his shoulder, romped down Tenth Street in Washington, D.C., and as he approached old Ford’s Theatre there stood in front a tall, stately man, swarthy of complexion, raven black curly hair, a drooping moustache, and a wondrous kind eye. That man was John Wilkes Booth…The little school boy was myself…He beckoned me over to him, lifted my cap from my head, ran his fingers through my hair and said: ‘Well, little man, are you going to be an actor some day?’ I replied: ‘I don’t know, Mr. Booth, perhaps.’

  

“Little did I dream at the time that I would spend fifty years of my life in the theatrical profession. Booth took from his pocket a little folder, which contained the coin of the day commonly known as ‘shin plasters’ of the denominations of five, ten, twenty-five and fifty cents. Handing me a ten cent plaster, he pulled my hat playfully over my eyes, patted me on the shoulders and bade me run buy myself something…

  

“Well, I went around the Theatre that night, as was my custom…It was a gala night, the play was ‘Our American Cousin’ and Laura Keene was the star. Almost everyone knew that the President would be there… The house was packed, the gold lace of the Army and Navy predominating. The President and his party came late, the second act was on, and as Mr. Lincoln entered the audience rose en masse and cheered, Mr. Lincoln came down to the front of the box…bowed his acknowledgments and took his seat and the play went on. The third act was on and I was standing directly opposite the President’s box, looking up at him…to see how he was enjoying the play.

  

“I happened to turn my head toward the main entrance and saw Wilkes-Booth enter. He stopped a moment to say a word to Mr. Buckingham, the door-keeper, then started upstairs to the Dress Circle. As he passed along the side aisle toward the President’s box, I noticed the change in his dress. When he spoke to me in the afternoon he was dressed in the height of fashion…now he was wearing heavy riding boots, spurs, a blue flannel shirt and an army slouch hat. I wondered…what he was doing there on such a gala night dressed in such a garb.

  

“I did not have long to wait, there was a flash, a report and President Lincoln has been assassinated. There are not words in the English language to describe the awful hush which fell over the house…no one seemed to take the initiative, until Laura Keene, rushing down to the footlights, cried, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the President has been shot!’ then all was pandemonium.

  

“When Booth fired the shot he dropped the weapon, a single barrelled (sic) affair, called a derringer, and drawing a Bowie knife ran to the edge of the box. Major Rathbone tried to stop him, and received an ugly wound on his arm. Booth leaped over the rail of the box to the stage, but his spur caught in the American flag which draped the box and he fell to the stage…to my dying day I shall never forget the look of anguish and despair on that man’s face, as he half dragged himself to the center.

  

“Then brandishing the knife above his head and with a maniac stare, cried out, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’. He managed to get to the stage door where his horse was being held, mounted and rode rapidly away… They carefully lifted the President and carried him across the street to the home of Mr. Peterson, one of our merchants. The building is now being used as the Olroyd Lincoln Museum….”

— Joseph H. Hazelton

 

At the end of the manuscript, Hazelton describes being under the window of the home and hearing first-hand that the President had died. On the day that Hazelton told his story to MacCullough, Robert Todd Lincoln, the last surviving son of the martyred President, was being laid to rest in a quiet New England community.

 

Hazelton was working at Warner Bros. Studio when he became ill and was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he died on October 8, 1936. Hazelton had no survivors and his grave was never marked.

 

hazelton-grave

The unmarked grave of Joseph Hazelton located in the Garden of Beginnings (section 2), grave 441.

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Celebrity Recipes – Abraham Lincoln

Monday, February 16th, 2009

CELEBRITY RECIPES

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.

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Abraham Lincoln’s

PECAN PIE

 

 

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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