It is unusual to unearth one completely new story about the Lincolns. A recent donation to the Presidential Library and Museum has brought us two new stories that shed important light on the characters of Mary Lincoln and her son Robert, through their friendship with a young couple.
Daniel W. Tillinghast was born in Morrisville, N.Y., nephew of a senator from Rhode Island whom President Lincoln knew slightly as a general of militia in the Civil War. While a boy, Tillinghast moved with his family to Chicago, around 1850.
Louise Boone, born 1844, was a daughter of Dr. Levi Boone, who took office as mayor of Chicago in 1855. Her aunt’s husband was Jesse B. Thomas, Illinois’s first senator. Lincoln wrote to Edwin Stanton on 1 Sept. 1862, “I personally know Dr. Levi D. Boone, of Chicago …” It seems that Louise briefly lived in Springfield as a young lady.
Daniel and Louise met, and married in Chicago in September 1863.
After President Lincoln’s death, Mary, Robert, and Tad were living in July 1865 in a Hyde Park hotel, when scarlet fever broke out in the house. The young Tillinghast couple lived there too. Louise offered to take Tad, apparently as yet little affected by the disease, to her parents’ farm north of the city. She kept him there for a couple of weeks, until the fevers had passed on the sultry South Side.
How could the widowed Mary Lincoln, at this stage with no real income, thank the young lady for perhaps saving her youngest boy’s life? Mary gave the Tillinghasts the 14-karat-gold pen/pencil from the late president’s White House desk. Her gift may have expressed the depth of the potential peril: more than 800 people, most of them children, had died of scarlet fever in Chicago during the 3 previous summers.
The Lincolns soon moved north 8 miles to the Clifton House hotel, on the southeast corner of Madison and Wabash. The Tillinghasts evidently stayed in Hyde Park for a time, and a year later moved to Michigan Avenue, north of the Chicago river. Anyway, on Friday Oct. 27, 1865, about 3 months after Tad’s rescue, Robert wrote this hitherto unknown letter to Daniel from his law-clerk office at the corner of Lake and LaSalle:
“You! Chauncey Brown expects you & me to come to his house & play a game of Billiards this evening. I propose to weigh anchor at 7 ½ P.M. Shall I have the honor of seeing you?
The envelope is addressed to D.W. Tillinghast Esq at 161 Kinzie St., his hides-and-leather business about 3 blocks from Robert’s office.
The two friends had clearly got past the summer’s threat to everyone’s health, and Robert, just 22 years old, had got over his father’s death 6 months earlier at least enough for some Friday night fun. (Note the same-day delivery of mail in central Chicago.) The letter, though, is on black-bordered mourning paper, per custom of the day within the year after the death of a parent.
Robert may also have been growing weary of living in a hotel with his mother and little brother, and he got his own place at year’s end. What is more, Abraham Lincoln had also liked billiards, and his son with his well-positioned friends partook of the game in the last generation before it fell into ill repute amongst the better classes.
This is all we know of direct contact between the families, since no more letters would have been necessary for near neighbors. Daniel and Louise soon had 2 children. Robert soon married, whereupon his mother took Tad, her last dependant, to Europe the next week, and stayed for over 2 years.
In the winter of 1874 Daniel Tillinghast was superintending the start of a big new operation for his business at the Union Stockyards, when he caught cold, which became pneumonia, and died. A sizable obituary of him ran in the Chicago Tribune on April 20, 1874. He was barely 30.
We know any of this, and nearly all of this, thanks to a resplendent piece of generosity by Peggy Davis, of Chatham, Mass., who this year donated both the gold pen / pencil and the letter. Both artifacts go on display in mid-April in the Treasures Gallery. Mrs. Davis, namely Margaret Tillinghast Porter Davis, is the great-granddaughter of Daniel and Louise. Her own grandmother wrote a long letter in 1933 explaining the families’ connection, and that letter will also be on display – the proof is in the provenance, they say in the museum trade.
That epistolary proof in fact fills out a skeletal allusion in a published letter by Mary Lincoln from July 1865 that mentioned a “daughter of Dr. Boone” who took Tad “up to the country.”
For those keeping track, an ounce of gold in 1865 cost roughly $25.00. It is now about $1,450.00. But the value of the sentiment shown by all parties in that 1860s friendship, and in today’s double-storied donation, are inestimable.