American Chestnut Cameos
This fall, Ryan Somma and I have been making cameos on the homepage of the Virginia Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. We are just followers. The tree itself has been making cameos long before either of us were born.
Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 200th Birthday. Like many young men, Lincoln spent his youth chopping trees for split rail fences. When Illinois politician Richard J. Oglesby looked for a way to brand Lincoln’s campaigns, he wanted to find “one thing in Mr. Lincoln’s unsuccessful career as a worker that could be made an emblem.” That one thing was rail-splitting and it was effective! During the 1860 Republican Convention in Illinois, rails split by Lincoln and his cousin were brought in and held a banner that read, “Abraham Lincoln the Rail Candidate for President in 1860.”
With that aspect of his background getting so much attention, it is not surprising illustrations and paintings often depict a young Lincoln splitting rails.
Three depictions of Lincoln Splitting Rails
And what is he splitting? Nowadays, split rail fences are made out of cedar. But back in Lincoln’s time, the American Chestnut, with its tall and straight trunks and its strong and rot resistant wood, was the tree of choice.
So, whenever we look at illustrations in history books or oil paintings on museum walls and we spy Lincoln splitting rails….
The American Chestnut is making a cameo.