By G. E. Shuman
Dear Readers, I wrote this column several years ago. It is about time, and connections. If you have read it, I hope you will again.
I knew a man, who had a friend, who was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. I guess that makes me pretty old. But, facts are facts, and facts are often strange things. That one fact happens to be true. And, no, this is not a riddle, with some strange twisting of words like the old brain-teaser “I’m my own grandpa” or anything like that. Neither am I writing here about some clairvoyant or supernatural experience of someone, supposedly, speaking with the dead. I don’t believe that is possible. The simple truth is, I knew a man, who had a friend, who was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. And, yes, I mean THE Abraham Lincoln. I have thought of this fact during times when my family has visited Washington, D.C. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking up at that famous statue of my favorite president, it is difficult for me to believe that someone I knew well, knew a close friend of his, well. Read on, if you’d like to learn how this strange fact is possible.
To me, it is fascinating to look down the imaginary, or not-so imaginary tunnel of time, into the dusty past. I envision a well-worn, dry-leaf scattered path, into years of yesterdays, and decades of things which no longer are. In the mind’s eye, there is a thread which somehow connects us to that past, as long as consciousness continues. It is a fiber of reality, of ‘now’, tying us to what once was. Something about the fact that the memory of this cord will be broken at my own death is why I write this now. For some reason, it is important to me that the dusty, mildew-y, musty years of the ‘back then’ and their connection to the ‘now’, are not forgotten.
The truth is, I have always been fascinated by the idea of time. Another truth is that I’m not quite sure that time actually exists, other than in our own observance of the endurance of the things and people around us. I am reminded of the old riddle: “If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Likewise, for instance, in deep space, where there is nothing to wear out, or get old and dirty, and no clock to measure the moments, does time exist, or need to? I guess I’m not sure. Things happened ‘in the past’ we say, or will happen ‘in the future’. Things are thought of as being either behind, or ahead of us, as this is how our minds tend to work. I have always wondered where those things ‘really’ are, right now. (So, have I given you a headache yet?)
And now for my slight thread of a connection, only three people ‘back‘, to President Lincoln. You might have heard of a very diminutive man with the stage name of Tom Thumb. You may wish to ‘Google’ Mr. Thumb, if you have not heard of him. Being a famous performer, Tom Thumb, whose real name was Charles Sherwood Stratton, and his little wife, the former Lavinia Warren, were good friends of Mr. Lincoln, and were frequent guests of his at the White House. Mr. Thumb died in 1883, at the age of 77, but Lavinia lived on until 1919. During her later years, around the turn of the century, Mrs. Thumb frequented the small town of Palermo Maine, and happened to stay there at the Shuman House, a hotel which was operated by my great grandparents. My grandfather was a young boy of about ten at the time, and was in charge of caring for the guests’ horses; a chore he disliked very much. During this time, he and his mother got to be good friends with Lavinia (Warren) Thumb.
And now that thread of time extends out, all the way to us, and to now. Gramp Shuman lived well into his nineties, and I knew him for many years. Therefore, and without trickery or exaggeration, I knew a man, who had a friend who was a friend of Abraham Lincoln.