Shadow of Her Death Darkened the Martyr's Life.
Secret of His Sorrow
Forsaken by Another, She Gave Her Troth to Abraham, but Pined for the Fickle One.
Feb 12, 1906, Wilkes-Barre Times [Pennsylvania]
The anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday is marked by a pilgrimage of hundreds of persons from all parts of Illinois, together with many from distant parts of the country, to the grave in Oakwood Cemetery, Menard County, of Ann Rutledge, the girl who was Lincoln's first love, and whose untimely death caused him lifelong sorrow. It has been said even by some of the old settlers who were boys with Lincoln that he was almost driven to distraction by the young woman's death and that is was from this shock that came the gravity of countenance which was one of his most characteristic features in after life.
The memories that cluster around the grave of Ann Rutledge recall as tragic a love story as was ever told. Miss Rutledge died in New Salem on August 25, 1838, and was first buried in the old Concord Cemetery, six miles north of the famous Rutledge tavern, the home of her family, where she first met Lincoln. There was nothing to mark her grave except the widely known fact that a brother, who died in 1843, was buried beside her. From this scant bit of information and from tradition the grave was definitely located, and in the spring of 1890 the body was transferred to Oakwood. Here a huge block of unhewn granite marks the grave. On one corner of the irregular shaft is chiseled the name "Ann Rutledge."
Lincoln went to board in the Rutledge tavern in 1832. Ann was the third daughter, and then was 13 years old. She was a beautiful, gentle girl of inborn refinement. She came of a good family, her Kentucky and South Carolina ancestors having been prominent in Colonial affairs. Lincoln quickly formed an attachment for the girl. She was engaged to a young merchant of Salem, and Lincoln for a time worshipped her from a distance, thinking that it was not befitting a manly man to interfere between the couple.
But the young merchant became dissatisfied with the quiet life of the rural community. He could not adapt himself to the simple ways of the country folk, and he returned East. His letters soon ceased, and Lincoln began to court the girl. It was in 1835 that he first seriously laid siege to her heart. At that time he was postmaster, and presently becoming deputy surveyor, he found himself in circumstances that permitted marriage. He proposed to Miss Rutledge and was accepted. The wedding was arranged to take place in 1836, Lincoln in the meantime to push his law studies.
After all, much as she might love Lincoln, she loved the other more. She fretted and pined until her health gave way. Lincoln nursed her tenderly, knowing well what was bringing her to the grave. He tried to brighten her spirits, to give her life by fixing her whole interest in himself, but it was all in vain. The girl could not forget the past, and after a lingering illness she died.
On the road from Petersburg to New Salem, still stands the log cabin in which Lincoln mourned the loss of his sweetheart. Here one night he received the news of her death, and until morning he sat up alone in his grief. The cabin then was the home of Bowling and Nancy Green, and it is still in the possession of the Green family.
Lincoln lived in the Green cabin until he gradually regained mastery of himself. In his wonderful career afterward it was said he never forgot Ann Rutledge. In 1840 Lincoln met Mary Todd of Springfield, Ill., and proposed marriage. She accepted, and the wedding was fixed for January 1, 1841. Bride and guests were present at the appointed time, but Lincoln was absent. He had been stricken with melancholy. Miss Todd knew his story and appreciating his condition of mind she refused to give him up. He told her frankly what had caused his absence, and she forgave him. Almost a year later, on November 5, 1841, they were married. In the years that followed they were happy, but Lincoln always maintained that the spirit of Ann Rutledge was constantly near him, and gave him inspiration and support in all the trials and crisis that beset him.
The granite boulder is hidden in wreaths and cut flowers spread by the pilgrims. Yearly since the body was transferred the pilgrimages have been growing larger.
[Note: The cemetery name that she is buried in is actually Oakland, not Oakwood]
Contributed by Kristin Vaughn