Friendships That Stand the Test of Time

Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce

You never know where friendship will grow, or who will influence each other throughout their lifetimes. On this day, 150 years ago, a heart-broken President Franklin Pierce wrote to his sister, Mrs. Mary M. Aikens, to recount finding his dear friend, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, dead.

The two were inseparable friends, having met at Bowdoin College when Pierce was a sophomore and Hawthorne a freshman. When Pierce was nominated for President, he had Hawthorne write his campaign biography. The biography, The Life of Franklin Pierce (1852) helped Pierce to get elected to the Presidency. He returned the favor to Hawthorne by electing him to the American foreign service as the Consul at Liverpool.

Hawthorne, though sick and weak, had recommended to Pierce that they take a trip together, and it was here that Hawthorne died. As Pierce wrote to his sister in a letter that is part of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation “Between the Lines” program,

What I said would perhaps prepare you to some extent for the intelligence which may reach you by telegraph before you receive this. We came here yesterday afternoon. At about 9 o’clock Hawthorne retired, & soon fell into a quiet slumber. He changed his position in about half an hour, but continued to sleep. I retired before 11 thinking that he would have a quiet night, I awoke between 1 & 2 o[‘]clock and went to his bed side. (There was a light in my room & a door between it and that of H, which was left open[,] our beds were near each other) He had again changed his position but was lying naturally upon his side with his face toward me and I supposed was in quiet repose. I returned to my bed, but waking between 3 & 4 o’clock I was surprised to observe that his position was unchanged[,] and placing my hand upon his temple found that life was extinct.

He continued, as evidenced by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s letter to say, “Mr. Hillard[,] who knows dear Hawthorne[,] had gone to Boston this morning. Poor Mrs. Hawthorne & the children. I am full of sorrow of course, but my heart literally aches for them.”

The letter, written on May 19th, 1864, is four pages in length and shows the love that Pierce had for Hawthorne and the loss that he would face over it.

This Day in History: The Typewritten Presidential Letter

It was 125 years ago today that one of the first type written letters left the White House. In February of 1880, the White House received a Fairbanks and Company Improved Number Two Typewriter. While Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Cleveland all ignored this machine, President Benjamin Harrison gave it a room. The typewriter shared two small rooms with a telephone and a telegraph and they had their own operator, Miss Alice Sanger.

The letter that President Harrison wrote on April 4th, 1889, and that is in the Shapell Manuscript Foundation collection, is the earliest known example of a presidential typewritten letter. The President sent the letter to a book bindery owner in Philadelphia to thank him for the gift of an olive wood box which he has made for the new President. Interestingly, while the typewriter was a great invention, it was a difficult one for historians who want to capture the penmanship of the presidents. As the typewriter became used more and more, the presidential autograph’s letter became virtually obsolete.

The letter showcased by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation says,

“Charles F. Heller, Esq.,
Philadelphia, Penna.

My Dear Sir: –

I take pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your favor of the 2nd inst. and also of the box made of olive wood. I beg to express my appreciation of this finely executed specimen of your workmanship, and of the friendly spirit which prompted you to make and send it to me.

Very truly yours,


Hundreds of Thousands to Commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg This Week

gfdbgpJuly 1st, 1863, marked the beginning of the three-day war that came close to ending the United States. Now, 150 years later, more than 100,000 people will gather in Pennsylvania to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg.

One such person is Civil War re-enactor Jeff Speight, a Con Edison worker following the footsteps of his Union Army veteran great-grandfather.

“For me, it’s like coming full circle,” he said. “One hundred and fifty really is a blink of an eye,” he added. His great-grandfather, Henry Washington Speight, served on a color guard while Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state in Baltimore. He was invited to the 75th anniversary of the battle by President Franklin Roosevelt.

“It’s not something that happened so long ago. It’s something that has a freshness to it. People are still fascinated by it,” Jeff Speight said.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation, closely associated with The Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation, has a collection of rare letters from the Battle of Gettysburg, including one from a young soldier to his mother. The letter offers some insight into the days following the battle:

The Battle of Gettysburg is fought and thank God The Army of the Potomac has been victorious. I took part in the battle with my Regt on the 2nd inst and it has been my good fortune to escape unharmed. I am well and so are the rest of the boys in the Co. I cannot tell yet what the loss of our Regt is. We have many missing who may be either killed, wounded or taken prisoners…. The Loss in the Regt is (as far as I know) Killed 10 Wounded 53 Missing 68…

Our Corps (the 3rd) has not started yet but we are expecting to go every minute. The Boys are all confident that we will whip Lee’s Army so that he will not be fit to do anything more for some time to come.”

traducción español


Remembering Abe Lincoln and his Son on Father’s Day

Today, the third Sunday of June, is Father’s Day. Established in honor of fathers and fatherhood, the day compliments Mother’s Day which is celebrated in May.

Father figures and their relationships with their children are prominent throughout history. One little-known yet poignant story in American history is the bond between President Abraham Lincoln and his youngest son, Tad.

Surrounded by war, desolation and insanity, and mourning the loss of a son, Lincoln found comfort in his free-spirited 12-year old, whom he could hardly control. The boy was notoriously known for his tricks and stubborness, but his father defended his actions, saying “Let him run.”

“There’s time enough yet for him to learn his letters and get pokey,” he would say. “It is my pleasure that my children are free – happy and unrestrained by parental tyranny. Love is the chain whereby to lock a child to its parent.”

Lincoln was known to request small gifts for his son as well. The Shapell Manuscript Foundation has a handwritten note from the president asking Chief of Engineers General Delafield to present his son with a map or two, and several other exist that request a pistol, or a wagon, or various other items.

After Lincoln’s murder, Tad revealed a level of sentiment and depth when he asked a White House visitor if he thought his father had gone to heaven. When he received an affirmative answer he said:

“I’m glad he has gone there, for he was never happy after he came here. This was not a good place for him.” He also showed true self-awareness and understanding, adding, “I must learn to take care of myself now. Yes, Pa is dead, and I am only Tad Lincoln now, little Tad, like other little boys. I’m not a president’s son now. I won’t have many presents anymore.”


Remembering John F. Kennedy

John F. KennedyToday, May 29th, would have been President John F. Kennedy’s 96th birthday. Kennedy was elected as the United States’ 35th president in 1961 after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. He was assassinated in Texas two years later.

Though his role as president is widely discussed, the man himself is often overlooked. Born to a tight-knit family in Brookline, Massachusetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, nicknamed ‘Jack’, was the second son of nine siblings. His brothers and sisters were also extraordinary, and left lasting impressions on the U.S. in various ways.

JFK’s parents were unusual, taking little interest in the world of Boston socialites and focusing their attention instead on the well-being and education of their children. It was rare for a father to focus on his children during that time. In fact, a family friend once said “most fathers in those days simply weren’t that interested in what their children did. But Joe Kennedy knew what his kids were up to all the time.” He was fiercely competitive and had great expectations for his children. He taught them the importance of winning by entering them in competitions such as swimming and sailing.

Jack Kennedy adopted his father’s competitive approach, but remained mischievous and free-willed. He has been described as a man who “embodied youth and vigor,” as well as someone who lived “fearlessly, intensely, joyously” and who “wanted to do everything.” It is not so surprising, then, that the young president knew how to fly. This little-known fact is confirmed by his flight logbook, written in 1944, which is currently on display at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. History often focuses on the political accomplishments and the untimely demise of America’s 35th president, but on the anniversary of his birthday, it is important to appreciate the man himself as well.

George W. Bush Presidential Library Opens to Public Today

George W. Bush Presidential LibraryLast week, five presidents came together to honor George W. Bush as he opened the George W. Bush Presidential Library. On April 25th, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter stood together for an historic picture in front of the new library. Shapell Manuscript Foundation displays the image, as well as a discussion of this historic day.

The library officially opens to the public today, on May 1st. It is the 13th Presidential Library that is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The museum shows the critical events and issues that George W. Bush dealt with during his presidency and it has many of the domestic and foreign Presidential gifts that President Bush received.

For those who are interested in doing research, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be the perfect location. Anyone can use the Research Room as long as they are 14 years old and have viewed the orientation presentation. As it explains on the official site for the library,

The Museum at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum tells the story of the United States in an extraordinary time. Using artifacts, documents, photographs, and videos from the Library’s extensive collection, the 14,000 square foot Museum includes features, such as a full-sized Oval Office and a Texas Rose Garden. Interactive features in the permanent exhibition include a Decision Points Theater designed to take the visitor “inside” the decision-making process and policies developed during the Administration of President George W. Bush.”