By Katie Needham
New documents, written by Abraham Lincoln, were discovered at President Lincoln’s Cottage last week following plaster repair work on the tenth floor of the Cottage. The partial removal of a wall led Preservation Manager Jeffrey Larry to the discovery. “At first, all I found was an old but intact squirrel’s nest,” Larry recalls. “I was excited just because these antique nests are very valuable to collectors. But what made the nest especially interesting were all these little pieces of paper tucked into the twigs.”
Larry alerted the Cottage staff to the presence of the nest and its mysterious paper content. Erin Mast, Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage, was next on the scene. “In truth, I have a very intense fear of squirrels,” Mast confesses. “But when I saw what was in the nest, I got very excited. There was faded handwriting on the shredded paper.”
Many questions were immediately raised regarding the paper. How old were the scraps? How many documents did the pieces represent? Do squirrels use a filing system? But no question was more pressing than whether the handwriting was that of President Lincoln.
That question was posed to famed presidential manuscript expert, Addie Needham (in the interest of full disclosure, the editor notes that Addie is part of the author’s household). The definitive evidence came from one paper, on which someone had hastily scrawled the words “Hammy Abe.”
Explains Needham, “It’s a little known fact that Lincoln would sometimes tease friends and family by signing letters with various nicknames. Similar signatures have been found on letters to his wife and sons. My personal favorites include Lucretius Link, Aged Abers, and Long-Faced Lou. ”
With Lincoln’s handwriting verified, the staff at President Lincoln’s Cottage is now moving ahead with plans to unveil the new document fragments to the world. Mast is working closely with conservators to piece the fragmented papers back together in order to reveal all that Lincoln wrote. Larry is in the beginning stages of comprehensively examining and disassembling all of the Cottage walls to ensure that any additional “hidden” documents are found.
When asked about the surprise chain of events, Mast can only shake her head in disbelief. “Squirrels,” she laughs. “I guess they truly are nature’s little historians.”