Recently, while surfing the Internet, I blundered on a bit of information that surprised me. A professional filmmaker, working for a company called Lost Colony Productions, had acquired the rights to James Cathey’s “The Genesis of Lincoln” and had launched a film based on this bit of Jackson County history. I did a little research and found that the film had been abandoned due to some “problems with the script.”
It seems that the actors became overly enthusiastic with the relationship between Abraham Enloe and Nancy Hanks. As a consequence, the actress became pregnant and the director seems to have lost the distinction between “script and reality.” In short, this misguided project was canceled. Thank God.
However, this scandalous trivia bears witness to the fact that the folklore and/or history that gave birth to James Cathey’s book is still vividly alive in this region. Cathey’s book has been resurrected and is available in paperback.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Lincoln/Enloe folklore, the story of Lincoln’s illegitimate birth is as follows.
Nancy Hanks worked as a servant to a prosperous farmer named Abraham Enloe who lived “on the bank of the Oconaluftee.” Nancy became pregnant by Enloe, and Enloe’s wife demanded that Nancy leave. According to this version (there are many others), Nancy left with a farmer named Lincoln who was bound for Kentucky.
When I was a student at Western Carolina University (then Western Carolina Teachers College), I ended up as a drama major and took a series of classes under Josefina Niggli. On one occasion, Ms. Niggli delivered a series of lectures on the importance of folklore to theater. As a consequence, we were required to read the collected plays of the Carolina Playmakers. These were plays that had been written by students in Fred Koch’s playwriting class. We were required to pick a play, cast it and produce it. One of the plays in the collection was “Leavin’s,” which turned out to be the Abraham Lincoln/Enloe story. As luck would have it, I was cast as Abraham Enloe, and I still cringe when I remember it. I was dressed in torn clothes, including bib overalls and everything was held together by safety pins, which, according to my student director was “in keeping with the way mountain people dressed.”
Actually, it wasn’t a bad play. It ended with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing while a heartbroken Abraham Enloe stood staring after the departing wagon. His final speech was biblical:
“Wherefore she said unto Abraham, cast out the bondswoman and her son, for the son of this bondswoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Issac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, let it not be grievous in thy sight ... The son of the bondswoman shall make a nation, because he is thy seed.”
There are a half-dozen variations of this tale, and as a consequence, there are a dozen or more “Lincoln birthplace” locations. Judge Felix Alley went even further and attempted to prove that Nancy was pregnant when she arrived at Enloe’s farm and Enloe could not have been the father. In fact, the father was John C. Calhoun. It seems that Nancy had worked in a tavern in South Carolina before coming to the Enloe farm – a tavern frequented by Calhoun.
I remember that James Cathey’s book had a set of photographs of Enloes and they were very distinctive. The Enloes tended to be tall, lanky and sober-faced with big ears and large noses, just like Abraham Lincoln.
It has occurred to me that in this age of astonishing technical advances, and things like DNA, perhaps we could finally resolve this mystery. What do you think? Perhaps not.
Perhaps some mysteries should never be solved. Perhaps we should always be able to think, yes, this man was born here and he was one of us. Perhaps we, too, are capable of his nobility and eloquence. Remember that speech in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”? “Given a choice between the legend and the facts, always go with the legend.”