We’ll celebrate the birthdays of two great American presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, on Monday.
Feb. 20, though, is not the real birthday of either of them, and the holiday is commonly referred to as President’s Day. But what many people don’t know is that the legal name of the holiday is Washington’s Birthday, put in place in 1968 as one of the “Monday holidays.”
In addition to remembering presidents, it has become a day famous as well for white sales and a treasured end to a three-day weekend.
Washington, our first president. was born in Virginia on Feb. 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. When Britain and all its colonies changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Washington’s birthday landed on Feb. 22.
Lincoln, our 16th president was born on Feb. 12, 1809. He spent much of his youth and young adulthood in Southern Indiana, having moved with his parents from his birthplace in Kentucky to Spencer County, Ind., in December 1816.
As Hoosiers, our curiosity might naturally be stronger about Lincoln, who lived among our own ancestors, than Washington. Charlie Finecy, executive director of Lincoln Pioneer Village at Rockport, Ind., shared information about how the Lincolns lived during their first years in Indiana.
“Typically February is the coldest month of the year for this area,” said Finecy, “When the Lincolns first moved to Indiana they lived in what they called a half-faced camp. It was a very crude structure that was completely open on one side, with a large fire to keep the chill out and protect the family from bears, bobcats and panthers.”
Yes, Finecy said bears, bobcats, and panthers, a virtual National Football League of animals, were waiting for some human prey in the form of Lincoln’s family.
If young Abe and his family celebrated his birthday while living in Southern Indiana, we have no records of it. Generally, at that time, only the very old and elite had major birthday celebrations.
The only record of a birthday celebration for “Honest Abe” is in 1861, Finecy explained, when the Lincolns rode the train from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C. before his inauguration, supporters in Indianapolis threw him a birthday celebration. That’s what we call “Hoosier Hospitality.”
When you get that extra hour of sleep in your warm bed on the federal holiday, think about young Abe in his half-faced camp, oblivious to the beasts just beyond the raging fire.
Happy Birthday, Abe and George!
Note: Rockport Lincoln Pioneer Village opens on May 1, and this year the Museum has undergone a renovation with a new wooden floor. Along with the city of Rockport, the Village will be hosting the Annual Abraham Lincoln Freedom Festival in June.
For more information visit www.lincolnpioneervillage.com
Published February 2012 in the “Good Morning” column of the Evansville Courier and Press.