Lincoln’s Hat

This is the second in a weekly series of posts connecting Spielberg’s Lincoln to President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Of the many light-hearted moments in Lincoln, none is delivered with as much subtlety as President Lincoln’s dedication of a new post office.  Lincoln’s address is succinct and quickly concludes with, “That’s my speech.” The crowd in the film erupts with laughter and the American flag is raised thus concluding the abrupt the festivities.

The subtle humor of the situation was not just in the quickness of the speech, but in how the President retrieved his notes for the speech. Lincoln removed his tall black hat, revealing his usually messy hair, and out dropped the paper from which he delivered his speech. When he was finished the president deposited his speech back into the tall black hat, put the hat on his head, and went on his merry way.

By the time of his presidency, Abraham Lincoln’s habit of using his hat as a brief case was well-established. As a lawyer in Illinois, Lincoln was a frightfully messy person. Papers, briefs, letters, and notes scattered to the four corners of his office. The top hat didn’t entirely solve his chaotic problem, but at least it allowed him to separate important documents from the untidy whirlwind of papers on his office desk.

That President Lincoln would continue this habit and tradition even after becoming the president speaks to his unassuming personality, but also to his powerful purpose.  After all, he was the president delivering important messages and ideas from that tall black hat.

At President Lincoln’s Cottage we keep alive Lincoln’s habit through our education program, Lincoln’s Hat. Elementary students not only learn of Lincoln’s peculiar habit with the top hat, but of his ideas on America’s peculiar institution of slavery. After learning Lincoln’s ideas and habits, the students themselves make their own top hats and store their ideas inside.

A powerful message of Lincoln’s Hat, and Abraham Lincoln’s life, is that ideas are potent and are what stir change. A man who received no more than a year’s worth of formal education helped dismantle legalized slavery in this country. Our 1st graders who may come from backgrounds as impoverished as President Lincoln’s can indeed see that their ideas may one day prompt tremendous, and positive, changes for our country.

-Curtis Harris, Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage

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