A Common Man’s Tribute:
Allegorical Imagery in Lincoln Centennial Postcards
great church bells began tolling in Washington about 7:30 in the morning
on April 15, 1865 and did not stop all day.
Everywhere in that city, and in cities and towns across the United
States, shops closed, women fastened black cloth around their doorways and
windows, and groups of people gathered to talk in low, sad voices.
the bullet that had maliciously deprived this country of a leader and a
president also immediately created a martyr.
Lincoln historian Jim Bishop, in The Day Lincoln Was Shot ,
wrote “Millions of people who had not cared much one way or the other
now discovered that they loved this man.”
by George F. Nagle
originally published in The Bugle, Jan.-Mar. 2002
An unidentified figure, perhaps the Greek goddess Athena, goddess of
war, and later of wisdom, crowns the image of Lincoln with a laurel wreath,
symbolic of triumph and victory, and in Victorian mourning practice, memory.
four years after the end of the Civil War and after the death of the man who
led the country through that crisis, the nation celebrated the one-hundredth
anniversary of his birth. With a
grand ceremony on February 12 at Springfield, Illinois, Americans launched
into a yearlong Lincoln Centennial celebration, which featured an outpouring
of tributes in the fine arts—poetry, sculpture, paintings and music.
Springfield newspapers reported the premier event in glowing terms.
"Before an audience which taxed the capacity of the mammoth Sunday
tabernacle, and which is conservatively estimated at nine-thousand, two of the
greatest orators of the United States and the ambassadors of France and
England paid glowing tributes to the name of the immortal Lincoln. Never in
the history of this city has such a demonstration been seen of similar
nature.” William Jennings Bryan
provided the opening address and letters were read from Booker T. Washington.
The guest of honor was the president’s son Robert Lincoln.
Across town, at the A.M.E. Church, Springfield’s Black citizens held
their own memorial celebration, the main event being restricted to whites
soaring oratory and weighty bronze memorials generated in the centennial
spirit were inspiring, but often inaccessible to the common man, who probably
did not have the ability to take off work to attend events, or money to spend
to travel to a monument unveiling. Like
the Black celebrants at the Springfield A.M.E., most Americans honored the
memory of the 16th president in their own way and within their own
among the Lincoln tributes, and still the most prolific, but now overlooked,
is the humble penny. Making its appearance in 1909, this most democratic
of coins bore the likeness of the martyred president and was seen and used by
everyone from the poorest laborer to bank presidents. With 1909 buying
power, a “Lincoln penny” could buy a multitude of goods and services,
including a one-cent stamp, which would carry a post card all the way across