There are many Presidents who have left their fair stamp on our great city. You can pay respects to Ulysses S. Grant at his magnificent mausoleum – Grant’s Tomb, the largest in the Western Hemisphere – in Riverside Park. You can visit the Old Police Headquarters on Grand street in Chinatown and see where Teddy Roosevelt got his penchant for purging the city of vice before he became President. Then take the B train to the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side, where a likeness of TR stands before the Museum his father helped form.
Our favorite Prez who spent time in New York City owes a tremendous debt to the bustle and bluster of NY, yet doesn’t have any major memorials to his likeness. Even the tremendous performing arts complex and neighborhood of Lincoln Center doesn’t have anything to do with the 16th President of the US. But when Abe came to visit, the city paid attention.
The weekend of February 27th, 1860 was a cold, blustery one. Lincoln, a relatively unknown politician for the national stage, had been invited by the New York Republican party to give a speech in Cooper Institute’s Great Hall (now the ground-floor library of Cooper Union.) In the days leading up to his impassioned, hour-long speech, Lincoln made his way throughout New York. He went for a stroll along Broadway, stopped by Matthew Brady’s photograph studio on the corner of Bleecker and B’way, even took a ferry to Brooklyn Heights to listen to the fiery abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher rail against slavery. (Later on, Lincoln would call Beecher “the most famous man in America.”)
Following the speech, rumor states that Lincoln had a drink at McSorely’s, NY’s oldest saloon, open continually since 1854. Although we don’t know if this tidbit is true, its nice to consider Honest Abe, unable to decide between the light or the dark lager (the only two beers McSorely’s offers,) choosing one of each, in the spirit of his nation and the right of men of all colors to live equal lives!
The speech made Abraham Lincoln a star. He might’ve been funny looking, even ugly as some of the 1,500 attendees of the speech whispered in the gallery. But his intellectual approach towards the Founding Fathers’ framing of the Constitution, and his Right Makes Might speech at Cooper Institute, brought this brilliant American to the forefront of politics and changing the course of our history and future. Abe himself said “Brady and the Cooper Institute made me President.”
Happy Birthday Abe!
By Matt Levy
Jonah/Lincoln Photographs by Walker Esner