When Abraham Lincoln Played Prankster-in-Chief

Old is new again, as Smithsonian’s Sidedoor podcast revisits a radio drama from 1938

The years when the teenage Lincoln was an accomplished prankster are retold in an old Smithsonian radio broadcast. Sidedoor

In the 1930s, Sidedoor’s predecessor was born when the Smithsonian collaborated with NBC to make its first venture into the world of broadcast with an educational radio program called “The World is Yours.” Funded by the Works Progress Administration, the program employed out-of-work actors and musicians to perform scripts written by Smithsonian staff for 30-minute episodes that aired weekly. The Smithsonian’s Sidedoor podcast goes nostalgic today, reviving an early Smithsonian radio drama by focusing on a chapter of Lincoln’s life that is often overlooked.

Popular depictions of the 16th president, such as in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film Lincoln, portray the him as a well-intentioned, stately and often melancholic leader. His teen years, however, were far different.

Growing up, Lincoln’s awkward appearance made him the butt of jokes. His folksy and uninhibited mannerisms had yet to mature and his reputation as a cunning politician and lyrical speaker had not yet evolved. These were the years when the teenage Lincoln was an accomplished prankster.

In 1938, “The World is Yours” told a highly dramatized story about Lincoln’s teen years. The account is neither authoritative, nor does it stand the test of time (women are silent or emotional, and Lincoln’s appearance is mercilessly bullied). But the episode provides a glimpse into how Americans viewed Lincoln only 73 years after his death and the end of the Civil War.

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