Monday, August 11, 2014


A great road trip is a marriage of adventure, scenery, history and reflection coupled with good meals, sweeping curves and a visit to a local bookstore.

Travelling Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail found us in the boyhood country of Abraham Lincoln. Local history tells us that Thomas Lincoln owned farmland near Sinking Springs, where the future president would be born.  But records of the day were scant and the old man lost that property in a dispute with someone else.

Young Abe’s early home on the banks of Knob Creek reinforced those log cabin notions we grew up with.   

Scanning the pastoral draw, the National Park Service docent reports that Lincoln nearly drown in a swollen Knob Creek and that Lincoln’s infant brother Thomas was born there and died within days of his birth.

The pleasant mid-summer weather that greets us, opined the docent, belies the wicked winters that are common to the region.  One can only imagine the family of Thomas Lincoln huddled in the tiny cabin against the ice storm, praying the stores of firewood, grain and dried meats would last until the thaw.

Back at Sinking Spring, a memorial constructed on the site of Lincoln’s birthplace reminds us that from the humblest of beginnings, great individuals emerge.  The Park Service maintains Sinking Spring and the surrounding grounds.  Constructed inside a marble building similar to the memorial in DC is a replica of Lincoln’s cabin-of-birth. 

The memorial was commissioned on the hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, with signatories to the project including Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Samuel Clemens.  The associated visitor’s center captures not only the essence of his frontier childhood but also the heart of his strength and character. 

Having assumed leadership roles during my education career, I could not avoid picking up Donald Phillips book “Lincoln on Leadership.”  A brilliantly readable text, Phillips provides context to some of Lincoln’s most sublime statements, ending each chapter with principles the President employed as he guided a tenuous ship of state through the most uncharted of waters.  His ability to translate a global picture into words easily consumed by the intended audience proved to be Lincoln’s essential gift to our fractured nation. 

We think of our times as tough.  But when we honestly reflect on the era in which Mr. Lincoln was raised and the issues with which he had to find resolution, we can’t help but regard our times as posh, in comparison, and our self-created issues and imminently solvable: if only we lifted the level of discourse to the heights touched by the young boy from Kentucky who nearly drowned in Knob Creek.


“Lincoln on Leadership.”  Donald T. Phillips.  Business Press (a Hachette imprint – so don’t try finding it on Amazon.) 1992.  $15.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

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