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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Lincoln's Little Kindness

Many Wisconsin residents initially opposed the Civil War. Some even sypathized openly with the South, so a group of loyal Republicans sent a delegation to Washington to inform President Abraham Lincoln about possible danger from the enemy within. They chose Professor Damon Kilgore, head of Evansville Seminary and a vocal abolitionist, to travel to Washington and convey their concern.

Professor Kilgore was by no means a country bumpkin, but he was also not well-acquainted with the manners of polite society back east. Invited to have lunch at the White House, Kilgore found himself seated right beside President Lincoln. Feeling painfully nervous, he made it through most of the meal without embarrassing himself.

But when the luncheon was nearly finished, a perplexing dish was placed before him. It was a small bowl filled with liquid and a lemon, which he took to be lemonade. Finger bowls, used for dipping and cleansing the fingers after a meal, had just come into fashion in East Coast cities and Kilgore had never seen one.

Before the professor could commit the faux pas of drinking from it, Lincoln leaned over and whispered discreetly, "Don't sip out of that bowl, watch me." The President then casually demonstrated its proper use and Kilgore was spared public humiliation.

Later, when the two men were alone together, Lincoln put the professor even more at ease by confessing that he himself "needed a servant to keep him informed about those little things."

The editor who printed the recollection admitted that, "We cannot vouch for the truth of the story, although it rests on better authority than most of the tales that are told about Lincoln. However authentic its details, it presents a trait of homely kindness the possession of which constitutes one of the most attractive aspects of Lincoln's personality."

As the old maxim goes, if it's not true, it ought to be.

:: Posted in Curiosities on April 25, 2011

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