In 1986, while a student at Ball State University, I began writing a choral project on President Lincoln. Having been a fan of the 16th president since first grade this was a project I thoroughly enjoyed. For some reason, I had not read much on his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. The precious little information I had obtained led me to follow the belief that she was a hysterical shrew, and hell-cat as described by some of her less flattering contemporaries.
One movement in this proposed choral piece was entitled, “Love Is Eternal,” based on the inscription on Mrs. Lincoln’s Etruscan gold wedding band given to her on the day she married Mr. Lincoln, November 4, 1842. This movement was more a sarcastic treatment rather than one about true love. I began this portion thinking, “Oh, poor Mr. Lincoln, married to Mary Todd… how sad.”
My MTL Research Journey journey began with Ruth Painter Randall’s 1953 biography, Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage. I was soon scratching my head, and wondering why so many from her generation thought of her with such acidity. I began believing, “Oh, poor Mary Todd, married to Mr. Lincoln!”
A friend introduced me to Irving Stone’s, Love Is Eternal: Mary Todd Lincoln. Although I had some minor issues with Mr. Stone’s research, I enjoyed a year of correspondence between the famed historical fiction author, and his lovely wife, Jean. Mr. Stone’s sympathetic portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln was, to me, quite enchanting, and terribly romantic.
Weighed with the enormous works of Ms. Randall and Mr. Stone, I soon began scouring Springfield, Illinois, and Lexington, Kentucky where Mrs. Lincoln was born, and lived the first score of her life.
In Springfield, I became friends with a darling lady, Charlotte Oglesby, the grand-daughter of former Governor Richard Oglesby, a friend of President Lincoln, and one of the two gentlemen to see him into the carriage as he and Mrs. Lincoln drove away to Ford’s Theatre, April 14, 1865.
I was also fortunate to meet Lou Holden, the director of The Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington, Kentucky – the first home preserved to honor a first lady. I was delighted to get to know Ms. Holden, and the other staff members of the MTLH, and to further my research.
I also became acquainted with Carol Massey of Lexington – but this story shall wait for another time! It is quite interesting, and very…. well, we shall leave it at “interesting.”
I also became a frequent telephone pal with Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr., author of the 1987 non-fictional, The Trials Of Mrs. Lincoln, a thorough account of the insanity trial, and the former first lady’s clever plot to legally restore her sanity.
Throughout those four years, I became obsessed with MTL’s story, and even worked with a BSU professor who was experienced in Victorian prose, and a local OBGyn who assisted me with the Nineteenth Century’s knowledge of gynecology, uncovering some of the claims made against Mrs. Lincoln.
Around 1988, I met, and fell in love with the phenomenal actress/vocalist, Kathleen “Katie” Pfister-Musick (photo at right). I knew immediately Katie was the right one to portray Mrs. Lincoln on stage, and after 24 years, I still believe she is perfect for the role.
When I moved to Dayton, Ohio the summer of 1990, I put aside my script and score on Love Is Eternal, and absorbed myself in teaching, directing, conducting, traveling back and forth between Dayton and New York with various projects, and by 2000, adopting sons.
Now that life has slowed down a tad (no pun intended, of course), I began looking over the Lincoln musical, again.
Ironically, via Google Alerts, and Facebook, I became E-cquainted with a Mary Lincoln scholar, and actress, Donna D. McCreary, from Indiana. I was quick to learn she is also friends with a dear college friend, and exceptionally talented actor, J.R. Stuart.
The past few days, my new Mary Todd Lincoln E-friend and I have shared several interesting, amusing letters, and my laid-aside interest in Mrs. Lincoln is resurfacing.
1986-1990 took me on a fascinating journey with Mrs. Lincoln, and this coming Sunday I shall re-enter the ring as I present to the Dayton Lincoln Historical Society, a presentation on Robert Todd Lincoln, and his relationship with his mother.