Archive for Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Abe Lincoln slept here?

Historians debate whether the 16th president of the United States stayed at a home near Basehor and Tonganoxie

February 5, 2003

Before he became synonymous with words like abolition, Union, Civil War and president, Abraham Lincoln was an Illinois lawyer with a penchant for public speaking.

During a December 1859 speaking engagement in Leavenworth, Lincoln laid the groundwork for his political future and even his Emancipation Proclamation years later.

During the address, he would denounce slavery in front of pro-slavery audience members, while not coddling to violent revolutionaries of the time like John Brown.

"We have a means provided for the expression of our belief in regard to slavery -- it is through the ballot box -- the peaceful method provided by the Constitution," said Lincoln, according to excerpts taken from the address to the Fort Leavenworth Historical Society.

It's also in Leavenworth where Lincoln made some of his first public announcements on running for the presidency, historians say.

Accounts of the trip are documented and undisputed.

However, perhaps not so common knowledge is that the man who would become the country's 16th president stayed at a house near the Basehor and Tonganoxie area during his Leavenworth visit.

The house, located at 21497 203rd St., is five miles southeast of Tonganoxie and just a few miles northwest of Basehor down Leavenworth Road.

In front of the two-story, 10-room house, sits a plaque that reads "Lincoln Slept Here." The Leavenworth County Historical Society dedicated the plaque in 1989.

The house, which was built in the 1850s, is commonly referred to as the Lincoln Rest.

But if and when Lincoln stayed at the home is somewhat of a mystery.

"This has been argued for years and years," said Fred Leimkuhler, owner of the Quakerview Farm at 20180 193rd St. "Whether or not it's actually true, I don't think anybody knows. Most of the people that debated it are long gone now."

Even Bill and Jean McGraw, the Tonganoxie couple that owned the house for 27 years, said they couldn't be sure Lincoln slept in the home.

"It's one of those stories you just hear and hear," Bill said.

"It's something that's come up through the years, but (Lincoln's) relatives did own it at the time," Gene said.

In 1859, the home belonged to Mark Delahay, a Leavenworth newspaperman, and his wife, Louisiana Hanks Delahay, Lincoln's second cousin.

The couple also owned a luxurious Leavenworth home, according to records.

During his four-day trip through Leavenworth, Lincoln and the Delahay's supposedly stayed a night at the rural home.

But not so fast, said Leimkuhler, who is as familiar as anyone with the history of Kansas in general and the area in particular.

The retired farmer, gardener has lived at the Quakerview farm since his father purchased the ground in 1927. Studying local history is one of his hobbies.

"I guess I'm a gardener by trade and a historian by nature," he said.

He's studied documents, researched materials and consulted historians in hope of finding an answer to the great sleepover mystery.

"Well, I've been here a long time," Leimkuhler said. "I guess I've just been around here longer than anybody else."

What's his best guess?

"They were staying at a beautiful home in Leavenworth then," Leimkuhler said. "But I can't see him coming miles out here in that cold weather in a buggy.

"And I really don't know when he would have had time," said Leimkuhler, who's viewed Lincoln's schedule during his Leavenworth visit and couldn't find any entry of him making the trip a few miles south.

The more likely explanation, and the one supported by local lore, Leimkuhler said, is that Lincoln stayed at the home later that year in August 1859.

And that local lore stems from a story passed down from years ago about a chance meeting between Lincoln and Frederick Wellhouse, a Kansas senator and nearby resident at the time in Aug. 1859.

According to Leimkuhler, Wellhouse and Lincoln were familiar with each other and met when the two men were crossing a bridge.

Lincoln was coming from the home when he met Wellhouse, according to the story.

But the story, preserved and passed down over the years, is not documented and can't be taken as fact, Leimkuhler said.

"It's just a theory," he concedes.

The Basehor Historical Society is considering notifying the Public Broadcasting Station about the Leavenworth County Lincoln tales.

PBS is scheduled to air 10 one-hour episodes this summer titled "American Attic," which will investigate and make discoveries about historical homes.

"That would definitely be something to send them," historical society member Carla Crawford said. "They might be able to get an answer for Fred."

But no matter if PBS is involved, there's one man that can be counted on to keep trying to unravel the Lincoln mystery.

"As far as I'm concerned, today it's recognized as Lincoln's Rest and that's the way it's going to be," Leimkuhler said. "But Uncle Fred's still working on it."

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