Friday, June 24, 2016

Homeschool Field Trip: Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Bright and early on Father's Day morning, the children and I woke Matt up (some of us by jumping on him as he slept, deeply and unsuspecting of the familiar agony of pouncing little knees and elbows that he was about to endure), gave him presents and cards, and then bundled him up and out the door to parts unknown.

We didn't tell him where we were taking him as we drove him two hours deep into the Indiana wilderness. In fact, we told him that we were taking him to tour a rainbow toilet factory, where we were going to let him pick out the nicest, sparkliest rainbow toilet for his very own--the phenomenon of the rainbow toilet is a family joke of murky provenance. It's best not to inquire too deeply into our collective family psyche.

Finally, just as we were so clearly ensconced into the smack-middle of nowhere that Matt was perhaps starting to believe my jokes that we were maybe planning to dump him by the side of the road and drive away really fast, we reached a place where surely every father in the world super wants to go on his special day:

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

Oh, wait--that's ME who wanted to go there!

My husband is a very patient, very amiable man.

Back story: as part of our prep for our American Revolution road trip, the kids and I had a lesson on the Lincoln Memorial, because we're driving right through DC so we'll surely stop there and surely see it, so of course we have to study it.

Stay with me here.

As part of that lesson, I learned that the artist who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial had made molds of Lincoln, including a life mask. "Hey!" I thought to myself, "I know where a life mask of Lincoln is!" I used to work at the special collections library on our local university's campus, and I've held that life mask in hands gloved with white cotton more times that I can count. As a matter of fact, that special collections library has quite a large collection of Lincoln artifacts.

Obviously I set up a field trip for our homeschool group to go there and see them.

And also the Oscar:



...and the puzzle collection:

She solved it!
As part of preparing for that field trip, we obviously had to have a lesson just on Lincoln's life, and in preparing for that lesson, I kind of became a little bit obsessed with Lincoln. I blame that on this super good, SUPER dishy biography: Abraham Lincoln: A Life. I dare you to get through the first chapter without needing to read the entire thing.

Seriously, Abraham Lincoln, especially the young Lincoln, is astoundingly fascinating. As a young man, he was apparently known for his dirty jokes and stories. He was even quoted as basically saying, "What's the point of a clean story? BOR-ING!" After his beloved sister died in childbirth, he blamed her husband's entire freaking family for her death, even though they were all like, "Jesus, Lincoln, we took care of her! Shit like this happens all the time!", and he hated that family so much that he actually wrote a homophobic song about one of their cousins.

I'm going to tell you that again.

Lincoln hated some guy so much that he wrote a SONG, a song of SEVERAL VERSES, calling the guy gay. I can only assume that he also sang the song.

How does the song go, you ask? GO. GET. THIS BOOK. There's all kinds of crazy stuff in there.

And that's why I wanted to take myself Matt to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial for Father's Day. None of them will read the book, so I was dying to march them all around and regale them with the stories that I got from it.

Oh, and I wanted Matt to have a lovely Father's Day with his children, of course!

Pretend that one of them isn't frowning. I took a dozen photos here, and this is the best. She's not even actively snarling in this one. Trust me--she was for sure snarling in the next one!
 The kids and I had already seen some examples of Lincoln's handwriting during our homeschool field trip to the special collections library, but I can always fangirl over one more:

When you read Lincoln's handwriting, a fun game is to look for misspellings, because he wasn't a reliable speller.
 This, however, is the first example that we'd seen of the handiwork of Abraham's father, Thomas Lincoln:

I thought it looked pretty sweet, but in The Book Thomas Lincoln is reviled as a lazy-ass deadbeat who was a terrible father, and who neglected and abused his children. Also, the book said that he wasn't a great carpenter--sure, he could make your basic stuff, like this giant chest, apparently, but none of the neighbors would use him for anything that they wanted to be especially nice.

He was also a lazy farmer; he'd stake a big claim like all the neighbors, but whereas everyone else farmed above their needs so that they could turn a profit and, you know, BETTER THEIR LIVES, Thomas Lincoln apparently farmed at almost a subsistence level. That's one of the reasons why the family moved around so much--a bad couple of years can really wipe you out when you have no savings.

Also, ALSO?!? When we were watching the memorial's introductory film, and Leonard Nimoy, the film's narrator, stated that both Abraham Lincoln's father and mother encouraged his educational pursuits, I gasped aloud in outrage. Thomas Lincoln most certainly did NOT encourage Abraham's educational pursuits! Why, whenever he'd catch him sitting and reading, he'd chew him out, hit him, and basically try to make him feel like a lazy piece of shit for studying instead of chopping wood. Abraham's step-mother actually had to sneak him books! And that thing about Abraham "leaving school" at a young age?!? That's because Thomas MADE him leave school! He made him drop out and began to rent him out as a day laborer for all kinds of work--chopping wood, farmwork, slaughtering pigs--and he took ALL of Abraham's earnings. Abraham even approached a family friend once and asked for help in running away, because he wasn't legally allowed to leave his family until he was 21. The friend told him it would be better to just stick it out. You might have seen a quote that Lincoln said later in his life--when someone was asking him about slavery, he said something like, "Yeah, I was a slave for a while." That time in his life is what he was talking about, and his words were pretty accurate.

Don't worry, though--I shared this information with the rest of the family in a furious hiss as they were trying to watch the movie.

They are very patient with me, even if some of them are much more interested in giant fireplaces:


It's a short hike from the memorial and museum to the grave of Abraham's biological mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln:

I don't know why I am always forcing my family to pose with graves, but I am:


The kids were completely fascinated with the story of Nancy Lincoln's death from white snakeroot poisoning, and we had an interesting discussion about pasteurization, dairy farming, and the time that I sent Matt to buy us some raw milk at the farmer's market and he came back, looked at the bottle, and then said, "Hey! I just wasted my money! This says that it's pet food!"

And then we discussed what a legislative loophole is!

One of the reasons why I was so excited to go to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is that it has a living history farm on site, complete with animals, crops, and rangers in period dress:


On the walk there, you pass by the bronzed footprint of the original Lincoln cabin:


After Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston (leaving Abe and his older sister, Sarah, in the company of a slightly older cousin for several months. By the time he returned, the children had assumed he'd died, and they had nearly starved and had hardly any clothes), there were eight people living within this footprint:



 Husband and wife and two daughters slept on the ground floor, and all the boys slept up in the attic:




There was apparently room underneath for the chickens:
Will loved these chickens so much that when I suggested that she go ask the ranger what breed they were, she happily complied. They are Wyandottes, and I want some!
 We spent most of the day hiking around and looking at stuff--






--and then the children joined a certain elite group that they dearly love--


--and we drove back home through the wilderness.

During our ten minutes of daily memory work in the car, I've slowly been working with the kids on memorizing the Gettysburg Address (Will had it memorized a few years ago, but lost it. This doesn't bother me, because I know that it'll be easier to re-memorize this time thanks to that). We're only three sentences in, but in this gift shop, I noticed bookmarks with the Gettysburg Address printed on them for sale. I bought one for each of the kids, then surprised them with them in the car and told them that when each kid had memorized the entire speech, she'd earn herself ten dollars.

They happily repeated the Gettysburg Address over and over to themselves the whole way home.

Here are some of the Abraham Lincoln resources that we (mostly me!) enjoyed during this study of his life and times:

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