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2001-05-06/10

Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882)
B. 12.13 Lexington, Kentucky / D. 7.16 Springfield, Illinois
Stroke

To begin at the middle, list a few things about Mary Todd Lincoln’s behavior as First Lady that would come back to haunt her in later years. Mary Todd Lincoln used opiates. She cried all the time after Willie died. She held spiritualist seances in the White House. She ran up $70,000 in clothing and jewelry bills which she was unable to pay. She liked to declare that her husband was the only honest man in the country, and that his cabinet and party were filled with men who used their positions to profit off government war contracts, both personally and on behalf of other Union profiteers.
She had an analysis. And she did not attend the funeral.

She was the first to be called the First Lady, you know. Her opinion of her predecessors was loudly low—she claimed she had to overspend her White House furnishings allowance because they’d pocketed theirs and left the place a wreck. She was personal.
How tall was Mary Todd Lincoln? Five foot two.
Like you. And you!
Attempt to enumerate her losses. Her mother at 6, to childbirth. Her home at 7, when she was sent away to boarding school.
Skip her heart, to Abraham Lincoln, at 21—for she dallied with the other candidate, you know. Her father at 30, to cholera. At 32, her second son, Eddie age 3. At 42, her third son, Willie age 11. Her mental heath at 45 after being thrown from a carriage and hitting her head on a rock. One Confederate half-brother that same year, at Shiloh.
She claimed indifference to this event. The other Confederate half-brother, later that year, after Vicksburg. Her husband on April 14, 1865, at the theater; she was 46. Her home again. Her widow’s pension, for three years, while Congress counted how much silverware she’d taken from the White House. At 53, her fourth son, Tad age 18. Her freedom for three months in her 56th year when her first son, Robert age 32, instigated a hearing at which she was declared insane.
After that she moved to France. But then she came back for more. Her sight at 62—she was diabetic. A year of sitting in a darkened room; a cry; a fall.

What is the single quotation attributed to Mary Todd Lincoln included on CyberNation International Inc.’s Ultimate Success Quotations web site, last updated 1999? My evil genius Procrastination has whispered me to tarry 'til a more convenient season.
How does www.americancivilwar.com sleep at night after plagiarizing its text on Mary Todd Lincoln from the official White House web site? How will I sleep tonight after having read this on www.plgrm.com: “Searching the Web can make us feel small, but we're not alone. I'm not the only Tori Amos fan. Olympia isn't the only patient facing interstitial cystitis. Tamyka isn't the only student readying an essay on Marian Anderson.”
What is wrong with girls today? Last night while having dinner at Lucky Strike in Soho I spotted two young blondes, not together, who bore exact resemblances to the actresses who played two of the other four sisters in The Virgin Suicides, and one of them was with a guy who looked exactly like a young Julian Schnabel.
Noelle’s friend J.D. had happened on an old friend once in Union Square Park, hadn’t seen him for a long time, turned out the guy was sleeping there. Crack. Said he hadn’t wanted to burden his friends.

Union Square. A bench. After the war. Mary Todd Lincoln has journeyed from Chicago to New York under an assumed name for the purpose of selling her dresses and effects. As a “Mrs. Clarke,” she is staying at a small, bad hotel in an extremely small, bad fifth floor room adjoining that of her White House dressmaker and enduring confidante, Elizabeth Keckley, born a slave, who at Mrs. Lincoln’s urgent request has left a thriving business in Washington to join her here, on a park bench, among pigeons, on this milk-skied Manhattan morning. The breakfast they’ve just passed at a local restaurant was Mrs. Keckley’s first meal in over twenty-four hours—she was forced to go dinner-less upon her prior evening's arrival when the key to the hotel’s “servants” dining room couldn’t be located. Mrs. Keckley fears they are defenseless in their anonymity against such slights and even more dangerous suspicions. Mrs. Lincoln, heavily veiled, is agitated—the day before, in a shop where she was trying as “Mrs. Clarke” to sell her jewelry, an inscription, initials, dates, engraved in a ring she hadn’t meant to show were spotted, she’s sure, by a keen-eyed man who will, in fact, come calling later that day with a proposition. But he will fail to raise an income for Mrs. Lincoln out of pamphlets and subscriptions; he will fail to sell her dresses to private benefactors and collectors; he will wind up putting them on public view—along with a price list—in a storefront on Broadway and his plans for a Providence tour will not be curtailed before the press has unleashed howls of “disgrace to the nation.” Union Square Park is sooty and littered with oyster shells. By the time the keen-eyed man is through with Mary Todd Lincoln, she’ll owe him $820, an amount she will pay upon the return of her remaining much-soiled dresses and effects to her rooms in Chicago. The check will be conveyed to him by the hands of Mrs. Keckley, by then twelve months stranded in New York and at the end of her memoirs still counting the sad, perplexing days.

Consolation site: In her own words

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