In Acorn Park, a historic game with Lincoln
Silver Spring man gets ball rolling on memorial dedicated to president's visits
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
It may not look like a ball field, but what's left of Silver Spring founder Francis Preston Blair's estate was home to what could be the most famous game of catch in Silver Spring history, according to a local historian.
Abraham Lincoln, whose 200th birthday was celebrated Feb. 12, likely played a game of "town ball," a primitive form of baseball, at Acorn Park during his time as the country's 16th president. After hours of fruitless research in anticipation of Lincoln's birthday, Jerry McCoy of the Silver Spring Historical Society finally found a connection between Lincoln and the town.
"It seemed to me as close Silver Spring is to the White House and considering how important Francis Preston Blair was as a political advisor that he had to come up there," said McCoy. "I was really pleased I could peg down this one historic moment."
McCoy found the item in a first-hand account by Francis Blair III, located in Allen C. Clark's 1925 book titled, "Abraham Lincoln in the National Capital."
"We boys, for hours at a time, played town ball on the vast lawn, and Mr. Lincoln would join ardently in the sport," read Blair's account, which first appeared in Ida M. Tarbell's "The Life of Abraham Lincoln." "I remember vividly how he ran with the children.
"… He entered into the spirit of the play as completely as any of us, and we invariably hailed his coming with delight."
In the account, Blair III says the Lincoln visits came when he was 8 to 10 years old, which would be around 1864, the year Lincoln was elected to his second term. The White House is seven miles away from the site of the Blair Estate.
"Like [President Barack] Obama, he liked to get out of the White House," said Elizabeth Smith Brownstein, a Lincoln historian and author of "Lincoln's Other White House: The Untold Story of the Man and His Presidency." "… Any opportunity to escape Washington."
Despite Francis Blair's reputation as a political advisor – the presidential guest house in Washington, D.C. was named after him – McCoy was surprised to find a direct connection between Lincoln and Silver Spring through some simple Internet searches.
"It's unusual that something that big, Abraham Lincoln, can be associated with a little community," said McCoy, the president of the historical society and a special collections librarian at the D.C. Public Library's Washingtoniana Division.
As a result, McCoy will start a movement to have a statue designed after a sketch of Lincoln playing ball with Blair III, found in "Abe Lincoln's Yarns and Stories," a 1901 book by Col. Alexander K. McClure.
He reached out to local artist Toby Mendez, who will be designing the memorial at the Veteran's Plaza site in downtown Silver Spring, to design the sculpture, which McCoy hopes can be ready by April 15, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death. The sculpture would be placed at Acorn Park, at the intersection of Kennett and Newell streets in South Silver Spring and a cost estimate is $200,000.
Those looking to donate can contact McCoy at 301-537-1253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.