By Joe Mathewson
He was an estimable, indeed extraordinary, citizen. Co-founder of an eminent Chicago law firm that lasted for more than a century, hugely successful business executive, secretary of war, minister to Britain, a leader in Chicago cultural life. But he was also the sole surviving son of Abraham Lincoln. So, even in Chicago, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926) is not well remembered for the remarkable life he led.
He graduated from Harvard during the Civil War and served as a captain on the staff of General Grant. After his father’s assassination, young Robert set out to make his own way. He moved to Chicago, where he had never lived, worked in a law firm and studied law at the original University of Chicago in the Loop. He passed the bar examination at age 24, in 1867. Opening his own office, he soon became busy with legal matters for insurance companies. [Scammon & Lincoln; the partnership dissolved in 1871. See J. Young Scammon, History of Chicago by Alfred Theodore Andreas]
From the beginning Lincoln contributed importantly to the vibrant young city, as a charter member of The Chicago Club [President, 1889-90], an early and longtime member of the Chicago Literary Club, an organizer of the Chicago Bar Association [founded 1874], vice president of the Chicago Historical Society, and elder and trustee of the Second Presbyterian Church. Fortunately unscathed in the Chicago Fire of 1871, he teamed up in the following year with a somewhat older lawyer, a native of Vermont named Edward Swift Isham, to establish a partnership that later became Isham, Lincoln and Beale. [Note: Isham's daughter, Ann Elizabeth, would die on the Titanic in 1912.]
According to biographer John S. Goff, “Robert Lincoln was an able practitioner who always did his full share of the work. Isham was more often concerned with the actual presentation of the case, but Lincoln usually did the preparation. . . he put in long hours at his desk.” They represented important businesses like Commonwealth Edison and Marshall Field’s department store. The firm carried several business disputes to the U. S. Supreme Court, mostly on behalf of Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co., with mixed results. In perhaps their biggest Supreme Court case, decided in 1898, Isham and Lincoln, representing Pullman’s Palace Car Company, of Chicago, lost to a similar sleeping car company whose Pennsylvania plant Pullman had leased.
Lincoln served for four years as secretary of war under Presidents Garfield and Arthur and for four years as minister to Great Britain under President Harrison. Back in Chicago, he was special counsel to the Pullman company and then, at the death of founder George Pullman, became its president, leading the company to years of highly profitable operations. He discouraged public speculation that he might run for president or vice president, and refrained from capitalizing on his father’s reputation, refusing to be interviewed about him and declining to release a trunkful of his father’s letters and other personal materials.
The New York Times, reporting Lincoln’s death in 1926, paid him this compliment: “Although Mr. Lincoln played a great part in public life in his earlier years, he always was of a retiring disposition and shunned politics for a career in corporate law and business, where he could succeed on his own merits, and where, in fact, he built up a large fortune.”
Nevertheless, for all his achievements Lincoln could not eclipse his own heritage. The Times’s front-page headline read:
Lincoln’s Son Dies
In His Sleep at 82
And in Chicago, where he had been a leading citizen for decades,The Tribune (July 27, 1926) relegated the story to page six under this impersonal headline:
R. T. Lincoln Dies
And With Him
The Family Name
A lecturer at Northwestern's Medill School, Joe Mathewson is the author of The Supreme Court and the Press: The Indispensable Conflict, to be published January 30, 2011 by the Northwestern University Press.
Recommended reading:Robert Todd Lincoln (Wikipedia)
Robert Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln Research Site)
Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926)(Abraham Lincoln's White House)
Robert Todd Lincoln (Arlington National Cemetery Website) Photo: Lincoln Family Tree
December 29, 2010
December 22, 2010
I just received the latest Lake Claremont Press newsletter and, frankly, it was too good not to steal. I honestly don't think they will mind though.
Oldest Chicago by David Witter is slated for release in January. Think combination history/guide book of/to Chicago's past. Trust me. You'll want this book. But, back to the newsletter... And, I quote:
Holiday Shopping Guide
Enhance Your Holidays with Chicago's Oldest
Thanks to Oldest Chicago author David Anthony Witter for compiling this wonderful guide to celebrating the season with gifts and treats from some of Chicago's oldest and most beloved businesses.
While most Americans are spending this Christmas season scurrying from mall to mall trying to buy the latest flat screen TV, palmtop computer, video game, or other newly processed silicon-based innovation, we thought some shoppers might want to go back to a simpler time. You can travel to the era of George Bailey or even Ebenezer Scrooge, without a time machine, right here in Chicago by simply following this Oldest Chicago Christmas Shopping Guide:
C.D. Peacock Jewelers (1837): 524 N. Michigan, Chicago; Northbrook Court, Northbrook; Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg; andOakbrook Court, Oakbrook. This business was started at a time when Native Americans still hunted and traded not far from Chicago's city limits. Today, the bronze doors, Tiffany chandeliers, and other symbols of past grandeur have given way to smaller shops throughout the area, but the C.D. Peacock name still lives on throughout Chicagoland.
Iwan Reis and Co. (1857): 19 S. Wabash. What could be more Dickensian than smoking a fine pipe around a raging fire at Christmas time? Buying the pipe and tobacco from a store that has been open since the days of A Christmas Carol! Now on its sixth generation, the oldest family business in Chicago has over 200 pipes ranging in price from $25 to $25,000. It also sells cigars, lighters, and other smoking paraphernalia that are as beautiful as any jewelry, all in the heart of downtown.
Merz Apothecary (1875): 4716 N. Lincoln. If you truly want to bring back the beautiful fragrances, sights, and delights of an old European Christmas, then Merz Apothecary is the place to go. Nestled in the quaint, Old World area of Lincoln Square, the store exudes Swiss/German charm. Bring back a small bag of fragrant tea, ointment, or perfume made from speedwell, stinging nettle, or Swedish bitters.
Central Camera (1899): 30 S. Wabash. You can have your cake--the newest digital cameras, video recorders, and other photo devices--and eat it too at a business that doubles as a both a modern camera store and a living museum to the art of film. Founded at the time not long after the days of photographers disappearing behind a giant box, the knowledgeable staff here not only knows digital, but also caries parts, film, and actually repairs cameras from what is fast becoming the lost art of film photography.
The Jazz Record Mart (1959): 27 E. Illinois Street. What could be more outdated in this era of modern technology than the CD? The record and the cassette tape. The Jazz Record Mart has them all, with over 10,000 cassettes, records, and CDs. Browse through the collection and see glorious album covers featuring renditions of Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Muddy Waters. Read actual liner notes. Talk to a knowledgeable staff of mostly musicians and artists. Rub elbows with other jazz fans and musicians from not only Chicago but all over the world. Or, download in a dim room alone.
And, for special holiday treats:
The House of Glunz (1888): 1206 N. Wells Street. Started with the help of friends Oscar Mayer and Charles Wacker (yes, they were real people), the House of Glunz has a wide-ranging selection of beer, wine, and champagne for your Christmas table or New Year's Eve party. It is also located in Old Town, one of Chicago's oldest and most fascinating neighborhoods.
Roeser's Bakery (1911): 3216 W. North Avenue. The oldest place to buy your Christmas cakes, pies, and cookies. Serving Chicago since 1911, Roeser's is a true old Chicago Bakery. Based in the German-Scandinavian tradition of Humboldt Park, this bakery now caters to all ethnic groups and tastes with fresh baked goods and specializing in custom-made party cakes.
Margies Candies (1921): 1960 N. Western. Need hand-dipped, home-made truffles, terrapins, toffees, and other candies for filling Christmas stockings? No? Then come in on a cozy winter night and have a sundae, banana split, soda, or malt in a shop that looks like a set from a Shirley Temple movie. Maybe you can even sit at the same tables where famous customers ranging from Al Capone to The Beatles have enjoyed Margie's classic Chicago treats.
Too bad we don't have Marshall Field's anymore - but, I digress. Missed the LCP newsletter? Be sure to sign up on the Lake Claremont Press Blog.
December 21, 2010
There have been many Chicagoans who have spent their lives caring for the less fortunate; Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Louise de Koven Bowen are just three of the well-known individuals who worked to make the lives of the poor better. But, a person you may not know is one whose spirit and example is particularly notable this holiday season.
From: History of the Chicago Tribune, 1922
In December, 1909, The Tribune received a letter from one of its readers, who asked that his letter be printed in The Tribune without disclosing his identity. The original Good Fellow is still anonymous, but his letter initiated a movement which makes many thousands of children of the poor happy each Christmas. The famous Good Fellow letter as it appeared in The Tribune of December 10, 1909, follows:
To the Good Fellows of Chicago:
Last Christmas and New Years' eve you and I went out for a good time and spent from $10 to $200. Last Christmas morning over 5,000 children awoke to an empty stocking—the bitter pain of disappointment that Santa Claus had forgotten them. Perhaps it wasn't our fault. We had provided for our own; we had also reflected in a passing way on those less fortunate than our own, but they seemed far off and we didn't know where to find them. Perhaps in the hundred and one things we had to do some of us didn't think of that heart sorrow of the child over the empty stocking.
Now, old man, here's a chance. I have tried it for the last five years and ask you to consider it. Just send your name and address to The Tribune—address Santa Claus—state about how many children you are willing to protect against grief over that empty stocking, enclose a two-cent stamp and you will be furnished with the names, addresses, sex, and age of that many children. It is then up to you, you do the rest. Select your own present, spend 50 cents or $50, and send or take your gifts to those children on Christmas eve. You pay not a cent more than you want to pay—every cent goes just where you want it to go. You gain neither notoriety nor advertising; you deal with no organization; no record will be kept; your letter will be returned to you with its answer. The whole plan is just as anonymous as old Santa Claus himself.
This is not a newspaper scheme. The Tribune was asked to aid in reaching the good fellows by publishing this suggestion and to receive your communication in order that you may be assured of good faith and to preserve the anonymous character of this work. The identity of the writer of this appeal will not be disclosed. He assumes the responsibility of finding the children and sending you their names and guarantees that whatever you bestow will be deserved.
Neither you nor I get anything out of this, except the feeling that you have saved some child from sorrow on Christmas morning. If that is not enough for you then you have wasted time in reading this—it is not intended for you, but for the good fellows of Chicago.
Perhaps a twenty-five cent doll or a ten cent tin toy wouldn't mean much to the children you know, but to the child who would find them in the otherwise empty stocking they mean much—the difference between utter disappointment and the joy that Santa Claus did not forget them. Here is where you and I get in. The charitable organizations attend to the bread and meat; the clothes; the necessaries; you and the rest of the good fellows furnish the toys, the nuts, the candies; the child's real Christmas.
A corps of clerks are kept busy during the six weeks preceding Christmas each year distributing to Chicago Good Fellows the names of poor children whose cases have been checked by Chicago charitable organizations. If any names remain untaken on Christmas Eve, their owners are supplied with toys and Christmas cheer by The Tribune. Newspapers in other cities have taken up the Good Fellow idea until it is quite impossible to estimate the amount of happiness generated as a result of the publication of the above letter in The Tribune.
Good Fellow started a movement that was to endure and spread to many other cities such Cleveland, Fort Worth and New York. But, who was the man who embodied such Christmas spirit?
(From: The New York Times, March 3, 1928)
A short biography from the 1908 Blue Book of the State of Illinois:
FITCH, EDWARD C, (Representative, Republican), of 6328 Monroe avenue. Chicago, lawyer, was born in Vandalia. Il. April 2, 1862 and educated in the public schools of Alton. Il., and graduated from the University of Indiana. He served as county superintendent of schools of Edwards county and as trustee of the Southern Illinois Normal. He was appellate court attorney for the city attorney of Chicago. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Psi College fraternity and a Knight Templar Mason. He is a widower; was elected to the House In 1900.
The Journal remembers Edward C. Fitch this Christmas season; the original Good Fellow.
Recommended reading:Philanthropy (Encyclopedia of Chicago)