The Legend of Lincoln's Fence Rail

Even Honest Abe needed a symbol to sum up his humble origins

A rail fragment, believed to have been hewn by Abraham Lincoln is an early example of "political theater." (Chicago Historical Society)
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“If you disassociate this piece of rail from its history,” says Rubenstein, “it’s just a block of wood. But the note by Hanks ties it to the frontier, and to the legend of Lincoln the rail splitter. Actually, he wasn’t much of a rail splitter, but certain artifacts take you back into another time. This one takes you to the days when political theater was just beginning.”

Owen Edwards in a freelance writer and author of the book Elegant Solutions.

Editor's Note, February 8, 2011: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Lincoln family farm was in New Salem, Ill. It is in Decatur, Ill.

About Owen Edwards
Owen Edwards

Owen Edwards is a freelance writer who previously wrote the "Object at Hand" column in Smithsonian magazine.

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