|NYSNYS NEWS: On Lincoln 150 weekend, Saratoga History Museum brings out a gem in its collection -- the president's glasses. They were a memento gift to a prominent Saratoga resident from her cousin, Lincoln's widow.|
|ABE LINCOLN MEMENTO: These eyeglasses were given to a Saratoga Spring woman by her cousin, Mary Todd Lincoln, the widow of Abraham Lincoln -- NYSNYS News photo.|
NYSNYS NEWS: On Lincoln 150 weekend, Saratoga History Museum brings out a gem in its collection -- the president's glasses. They were a memento gift to a prominent Saratoga resident from her cousin, Lincoln's widow.
By Kyle Hughes
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (April 24) – One of the treasures in the collection of the History Museum here is a pair of Abraham Lincoln's eyeglasses, and director Jamie Parillo said Friday there is no doubt they are the real thing.
"The glasses were Abraham Lincoln's (and) Lincoln's wife Mary Todd was cousins with Sarah Hardin," Parillo said. "Sarah Hardin married Reuben Hyde Walworth," a prominent Saratoga lawyer and politician in the 19th century who was the last Chancellor of the state of New York. "Sarah retained a close relationship with her cousin Mary Todd, even so much as that during the Civil War, they wrote to her and asked her to come to Saratoga as a reprieve."
Mary Todd chose to stay in Washington. She was holding her husband's hand on April 14, 1865 when he was assassinated on Good Friday in Ford's Theater. The 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death and prolonged funeral – said to be the biggest in U.S. history – is being observed this month, with events this weekend in New York City, Albany and Buffalo. Those are places where Lincoln's "funeral train" stopped so his remains could be put out for a public viewing by tens of thousands of mourners in each city.
"In 1871, when Mrs. Walworth was visiting Mary Todd – this is after both of their husbands had passed away – Mary Todd gave the glasses to her a memento of her husband … So we really do have the documentation that they were his," Parillo said.
The delicate glasses were kept in a small case at the Walworth's mansion on Broadway in Saratoga until 1952, when the home was torn down to make way for a gas station. The contents of the house were bequeathed to the Saratoga Springs History Museum and are now displayed in the Walworth Memorial Museum on top floor of Canfield's Casino, a landmark building here that has housed the museum since 1911.
But Lincoln's glasses are not kept out in public. "Once in a while I will put them out in a special display," Parillo said. Though the thin wire frame glasses seem tiny by modern standards, they fit perfectly on a bust of Lincoln in the Museum's collection. The bust was made from Lincoln's death mask, a wax or plaster mold made of deceased person's face that was common in the centuries before photography was invented.
The glasses appear to be nothing out of the ordinary, though they belonged to a president considered by many historians and the general public as the greatest in U.S. history.
"(Lincoln) seemed to be a very down to earth guy," Parillo said. "I don't think he would have spent a lot of money on his glasses." The small worn case holding them is "also common to what you'd see in the time period."
The Saratoga Springs History Museum traces its founding to the 1883 charter of "The Historical Society of Saratoga, including the Upper Hudson, Lake George and Lake Champlain."
The Walworths were among the most prominent families of 19th century New York. Reuben Walworth was born in Connecticut, but grew up in Hoosick, NY and studied law in Troy. From 1828 until the post was abolished in 1847, he was chancellor, holding court in Saratoga Springs.
The chancellor was the state's chief judicial officer and a powerful figure in settling legal disputes, and the responsibilities of the office after 1847 were ceded to Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Reuben Walworth also served in Congress, ran for governor, and was nominated three times to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sarah Hardin married Walworth after her husband Col. John Hardin was killed at age 37 in the Mexican American War in 1847. Some historians believe Lincoln's rise in Illinois politics was a result of the death of Hardin, one of the most prominent politicians in the state. They credit Hardin with once stopping a duel between Lincoln and another politician.
Sarah Hardin's daughter was Ellen Hardin, one of the co-founders of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was involved in one of the most notorious murder cases of 19th century America when her brother Frank murdered her husband (and step brother) Mansfield Walworth, who had abused her.
The shocking tale of Gilded Age murder was the subject of the acclaimed 2010 nonfiction book "The Fall of the House of Walworth," by Geoffrey O'Brien, the editor in chief of the Library of America.