Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln and Vallejo

What do a ship, a shawl, and a school all have in common? They are just three things that connect Vallejo with President Abraham Lincoln. Today marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Although Lincoln never visited the City of Vallejo – or California for that matter – there are still several interesting connections between the community and our 16th president. The ship was the nuclear submarine USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN 602) that was overhauled and refueled at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1972-73. The shawl is one purportedly once worn by Lincoln and now part of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum’s permanent collection. The school is Vallejo’s Lincoln Elementary School. Here are the stories of those, and other, local Lincoln connections:

Lincoln and Mare Island

Although the Mare Island Navy Yard was less than ten years old when Lincoln was elected, the President nevertheless had an influence on the distant California base. During the Civil War Lincoln authorized $50,000 for the construction of Mare Island's first Marine Barracks. Lincoln also authorized the funds to build Mare Island’s Hospital.

When news of Lincoln's assassination reached Mare Island in April 1865, work was suspended for three days. Military salutes were fired every thirty minutes from sunup to sunset. A memorial cortege led by Mare Island sailors wound through the streets of downtown Vallejo.

In Washington D.C., one of the 22 honorary pall-bearers at Lincoln's funeral was Admiral David G. Farragut, Mare Island's first commanding officer.

General Mariano G. Vallejo and President Lincoln

General Mariano G. Vallejo traveled to the East Coast in 1863 and, according to Vallejo family lore, met with President Lincoln on several occasions. One purpose of Vallejo's visit was to lobby the federal government on behalf of his disputed California land grants.

General Vallejo purportedly shared this humorous anecdote with Lincoln, much to the President's amusement. Vallejo praised the spirit of Yankee innovation: "The Yankees are a wonderful people - wonderful! Wherever they go, they make improvements. If they were to emigrate in large numbers to Hell itself, they would irrigate it, plant trees and flower gardens, build reservoirs and fountains and make everything beautiful and pleasant, so that by the time we get there, we can sit down at a marble-topped table and eat ice cream!"

Lincoln School

The oldest public school in Vallejo is named Lincoln School, in honor of the 16th President. Three different school buildings have occupied the site near the corner of Sonoma Blvd. and Carolina Street. The current Lincoln Elementary School was built in the 1930s.

Lincoln's Shawl?

A wool shawl now in the Museum’s collection, was found in Vallejo's Lincoln School. It was donated to the school by an elderly lady who told of a family tradition concerning Abraham Lincoln and the shawl. She said that the shawl had been owned by her great-aunt, a resident of Illinois, who lived on a farm where Lincoln often stopped overnight on his way to Springfield. The shawl, she claimed, was frequently loaned to Lincoln to put over his shoulders on cold Illinois evenings. Could this be Lincoln’s shawl?

The Lincoln Highway in Vallejo

The Lincoln Highway was America's first coast-to-coast highway. In California, the highway originally headed south from Sacramento and traveled through Stockton, where it turned west and then crossed over the Altamont Pass.

With the completion of the Carquinez Bridge in 1927 the Lincoln Highway was re-routed to a more direct route through Solano County and Vallejo. In Vallejo, the highway followed present-day Broadway and Alameda Streets to South Vallejo, where it followed Fifth Street to the Carquinez Bridge. Concrete posts emblazoned with a brass medallion of Abraham Lincoln marked the route across the country.

USS Abraham Lincoln

A final local connection is the nuclear submarine USS Abraham Lincoln (SSBN 602). The sub was one of the "Forty-one for Freedom" - subs names for American leaders and heroes. USS Abraham Lincoln was based at Mare Island during 1972 and 1973 where it received an extensive overhaul and refueling.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Snowstorms and Movie Stars

A few tidbits of local history from 91 years ago:

From the Vallejo Evening Chronicle -
February 19, 1918

"5 Inches of Snow in Green Valley at Noon Today"

“Five inches of snow at the city’s property in Green Valley with no indication of the snow storm abating was the news received here at 12:30 today from C.W. Douglass in a telephone message to his family. This is one of the heaviest snow storms the valley has experienced in several winters and aside from making the mountains particularly beautiful in their white mantle, means much for the water supply."

From the Vallejo Evening Chronicle -
February 27, 1918

Fatty Arbuckle, motion picture star, spent part of yesterday afternoon at the Mare Island Barracks, helping the marines provide some good publicity in the shape of motion pictures to be used in recruiting work, and incidentally giving the children of the station the event of their young lives."