Planning Abe's Birthday with Jerry Jeffries

Jerry Jeffries is the Events Manager at President Lincoln’s Cottage.  He constantly works to create meaningful, festive events for his clients.  In anticipation of Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, we asked him to envision a birthday party for Abraham Lincoln and what he would do if he were planning the event.

The first and best tip for any birthday celebration is to make it special and personal to the one that it is for.  If I was planning Lincoln’s birthday, I would take into account Lincoln’s favorite memories from his childhood and make them ever present in the celebration while also paying tribute to his impressive achievements. I’m sure Mary, ever the gracious hostess, would do something similarly thoughtful.

As a child, Lincoln grew up sitting underneath trees reading, all the while delighting on a pocketful of Corn Dodgers made entirely of corn meal. While Mary grew up with cornbread with flour, Lincoln devoured the little slices of heaven and throughout his life enjoyed cornbread hot out of the oven. At the Soldier’s Home, there would be a variation that was later called Soldier’s Bread. I think the original Corn Dodgers would be a wonderful food to serve to evoke memories of a simpler life.

Also for a birthday treat for Lincoln, a favorite memory from childhood was the rare occasion of delighting over a few Gingerbread Men made from sorghum and fresh ginger. These were very rare occasions and when he would smell them in the air, he was the first one to rush through the door to get a taste. I would believe that in later years, when they were made, he and Tad would play a game of “soldiers” before devouring these treats.  I would incorporate these as an after-dinner treat for the guests and a nod to Lincoln as a family man.

While the Lincoln’s did not partake in alcohol, on very special occasions Mary did allow for a champagne punch to be served. Knowing that political officials would be attending, I would arrange for this to be served sparingly to appropriate guests. Non-alcoholic beverages would be in plenty and gifts of wine and alcohol would be stored, boxed and later given to the military hospitals in the DC area for medicinal purposes… perhaps even by Mary herself, who was a frequent visitor to these hospitals during her stay in Washington.

The guest list would include political officials, local towns people – friends and of course, family… family meant the most to Lincoln. I would ensure that there would be a bounty of food both modest and fine. There would be a live band, as Lincoln loved music.  Lincoln and his guests would no doubt indulge game of who could tell the best tale… and of course no one could beat Lincoln himself!

All in all, a celebration should be about the person, their spirit and those around them celebrating life. I would have worked with Mary to ensure that the décor was not too shabby but also not over-indulgent, that the guest list had the right balance and that everyone felt welcomed. That is the greatest tip for any celebration then and now!


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