Friday, October 28, 2022

Booknotes: Mary Lincoln Demystified

New Arrival:
Mary Lincoln Demystified: Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham’s Wife by Donna D. McCreary (SIU Press, 2022).

People employed or engaged in public history get bombarded by all manner of questions from patrons, with same or similar queries coming up again and again. Former Lincoln Museum historian Gerald Prokopowicz compiled his own set of FAQs in 2008's Did Lincoln Own Slaves?: And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln. Now Donna McCreary, who has portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln to various audiences for many years, takes on the other half of the Lincoln marriage in her book Mary Lincoln Demystified: Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham’s Wife. Over that long period of time, McCreary has undoubtedly been asked every question under the sun and having to come up with good answers led her to conduct her own research. "Decades of conversations with audiences, scholars, and relatives of the Todd family frame McCreary’s intimate and devoted research to offer a new and unique portrait of the most tragic First Lady." Indeed, this volume's bibliography is comprised of a large and diverse collection of primary and secondary source materials, including archival papers, newspapers, books, and scholarly articles.

More from the description: "Though Mary has been portrayed in books and film, McCreary’s book contains information not found elsewhere—details others have overlooked and those that would not fit well into a narrative history—such as lists of Mary’s beaus, servants, and the Todd family slaves; appendixes that present mini-biographies of families and friends; and a uniquely thorough timeline. Mary Lincoln Demystified covers areas in which McCreary’s audiences have expressed the most interest: Mary’s sanity, her family relationships, her views on slavery and African Americans, her personality and habits, and what happened to her possessions and children after she died." The Q&A part of the book alone fills 250 pages, and all of the material is footnoted.

Referenced above, the first appendix is an extensive compilation of short but informative biographies of Mary's extended family. In the second appendix, McCreary collects brief biographical sketches of Mrs. Lincoln's significant social and political friends, neighbors, "beaux," and public supporters. The birth to death timeline of events in her life is also pretty comprehensive.

Finally, "(w)hile sympathetic to the woman she portrayed for two decades, McCreary examines both sides of controversial issues and presents the facts with her trademark style and flair. More than a good read, McCreary’s Q&A factbook, based as it is on decades of extensive research in primary and secondary sources, will be the definitive resource for answers about Mary for years to come."

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