Another Lincoln Link

August 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve discovered another link between Susan and Abraham Lincoln (see “A Lincoln Link at Last!”). They were both billiard players.

While the Brunswick-Balke-Collender billiard table currently on display in the Dana-Thomas House did not belong to Susan, it was manufactured during her lifetime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. She must have had a similar table in that room because an unidentified neighbor wrote, “ [Susan] had a billiard room on the lower level which was her main exercise.” That revelation astonished me because I did not envision her with a cue stick in her hand. Evidently billiards was a commonly accepted game for women of means in that era.

Billiards had an identity crisis in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Brunswick Billiards website explains one image of the game:

In 1845—and the decades that followed—a billiard table was a fine status symbol. The mere presence of a table stated that you were a person of wealth and influence—because you could afford a table, you could afford a home large enough to accommodate one!

Ultimate Pocket Billiards, another website dealing with the history of the game describes the seamier side of billiards:

During the 1840s, billiards became associated with pool parlors… The word ‘pool’ at the time meant gambling, but it was soon attached to the American form of billiards–still commonly known as pool. While gentlemen played billiards in their homes or in their exclusive clubs, the popular version of the sport developed a questionable reputation.

Abraham Lincoln apparently participated in the former billiard world. A “Looking for Lincoln” plaque on Springfield’s Washington Street between 4th and 5th Streets marks the site of a billiard hall and describes Lincoln’s involvement with the game:

He evidently played it with lawyers and townsfolk in various halls and taverns along the judicial circuit. While awaiting news of his presidential nomination, he went to an “excellent and neat beer saloon” to play, but found the tables occupied.

The Brunswick Billiards website claims that Lincoln owned a Brunswick table. Presumably the table was installed in the White House because there certainly was no room for it in his Springfield home. The website says that Lincoln called himself a billiards addict and the game a “health inspiring, scientific game, lending recreation to the otherwise fatigued mind.”

If only we had a magic time machine, we could arrange a clash of the Titans—a billiard game between Susan Lawrence and Abraham Lincoln.

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