Abraham Lincoln traveled to a farm on the outskirts of Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the battle was fought.
Lincoln knocked on the front door of Mount Airy at Grove Farm and asked a young girl if he could come in and visit some of the wounded Union and Confederate soldiers that filled the hallway and rooms.
Later, Lincoln laid his left hand on a wooden chair that was commandeered by Union officers camped in the front year and posed for a famous photo by Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner.
Thirty years ago, I was introduced to Louise Grove in Hagerstown by a local businesswoman who bought Grove Farm. Louise’s aunt Louisa said she answered the door for Lincoln when he visited Grove Farm.
Ms. Grove, who was a librarian at Pearl Harbor and later served as chief librarian on General Douglas McArthur’s staff in Tokyo after the war in the Pacific, showed me a chair that was pressed into service by Union soldiers at her grandfather’s farm. But she wouldn’t tell me if it was the chair Lincoln laid his hand on.
I began my search for that chair shortly after becoming the morning news co-anchor at WDVM in October of 2017, After months of searching, I located what a fourth generation Grove told me was ‘the chair.’ Robert Grove inherited the wooden chair from his father, a favorite cousin of Louise Grove.
When asked if his father, a retired Fairfax County judge, ever told him if it was ‘the chair’ that Lincoln laid his hand on, Robert said, “Yes, hundreds of times.” But Grove who lives in Clifton, Virginia, had no proof other than family tradition.
Grove agreed to have Lawrence and Abe Crouse, 19th century chair experts in Kearneysville, West Virginia, examine the chair.
“There is a very good chance, a 50-50 chance of it,” said the elder Crouse, “however, unless somebody could document it, it’d be hard to say Abraham Lincoln actually had been with this one, since some ancestors have looked at it and remarked about it.”
Dennis Frye, the former chief historian of the National Park Service at Harpers Ferry, says the problem with tradition is that it often changes. “As memory fades, the story will change and so we have to be very careful with oral history, oral tradition or family tradition, but we can’t dismiss it.”
After watching Larry and Abe Crouse examine the chair in their workshop, Robert donated the chair to Ed Beeler, curator of the Sharpsburg Heritage Museum, a mile away from Grove Farm.
“It’s back in the neighborhood where my ancestors were born, died and are buried,” said Grove as he and his wife headed off on vacation at Chincoteague Island on the eastern shore of Maryland.
Only Louise Grove knows if the chair that was passed down through generations is ‘the chair’ Abraham Lincoln laid his hand on when he visited wounded soldiers at her grandfather’s farm. But Robert says she probably took that secret to her grave.