Lincoln’s friend tells story in own words

Bob O'Connor

If Ward Hill Lamon were alive today, he would probably approve of a new book listing him as author and Bob O’Connor as editor.

Lamon, who was Abraham Lincoln’s law partner and bodyguard, wrote the book in 1880, but it didn’t fall into O’Connor’s hands until 2007.

“I feel I was chosen to do this project,” O’Connor said of the book, “The Life of Abraham Lincoln: As President.”

“No one else would have got it done.”

He said he doesn’t know why it was never published.

O’Connor, a native of Dixon, Ill., lives in Charles Town, W.Va., but has traveled to Danville for Arts in the Park the past three years. He plans to attend this year’s event, as well, on June 24-26.

He’s an expert on Lamon, who was born in Charles Town and moved to Danville when he was 18. He feels a connection with Lamon, and portrays him in the first person. Unlike O’Connor, Lamon had a habit of drinking, smoking and cussing.

“It’s fun to be him for a day,” O’Connor said, adding he even pretends to take nips from a flask (empty) during portrayals.

O’Connor learned there were Lamon papers in the Huntington Library in California. He got permission to do research there in October 2007, and was amazed when he found a manuscript — typewritten — by Lamon, who had terrible handwriting.

O’Connor bought permission to publish the documents, and the library sent a microfilm to him. He bought a microfilm reader on eBay, and began the tedious work of transcribing the words onto his computer.

Beginning in November 2007, it took him 300 hours to transcribe the 600 pages, and he completed the project last November — just days before his rights to the work expired. O’Connor didn’t work on it continuously, as he was working on other projects, and he works part-time for the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Charles Town.

The project was difficult in that sometimes the pages were out of order.

“It wasn’t exactly from Point A to Point Z,” he said. “It was a pretty daunting task.”

There were times when O’Connor wanted to add punctuation, and fix the run-on sentences, but he left everything exactly as Lamon had written it.

He also wrote a glossary for 400 terms from the 19th century that aren’t used anymore, and wrote footnotes identifying 1,300 people, some of them obscure.

“It kind of wore me out,” he said of the project. But when he held the finished product in his hands, he said, “It was a great feeling. I’m proud. I’m happy to see it.”

In this book, Lamon tells of Lincoln’s daily struggles in talking to widows and women whose husbands were in Civil War prisons. He describes Lincoln’s views regarding his family, and discusses other issues and events.

Alan Woodrum of Danville is another Lamon admirer who’s looking forward to finishing the book.

He has started it, and said, “If you’re interested in history, the first-hand account really grabs you.”

While reading it, he said he has to get into the mindset of the late 1800s, as the people spoke differently.

“It’s going to be an interesting insight into what Ward Hill Lamon actually thought,” said Woodrum, who also is a Lamon interpreter.

Woodrum and his wife, Becky, are volunteer coordinators of the Lamon home in Lincoln Park, which is open from May to October.

He said books will be available during Arts in the Park. O’Connor will be at the Danville Public Library on June 24, and at the Lamon House on June 25 and 26.

O’Connor said Lamon has ties to Danville, as he lived here from 1848 until 1856 and was Lincoln’s law partner from 1852-56. Two of his daughters are buried here.

In fact, O’Connor said he’d like to see Danville celebrate Lamon’s ties by erecting a banner along one of the main streets. He would even underwrite the cost, if he could get permission from the city.

The author of six books, O’Connor also has written a historical fiction account of the life of Lamon called “The Virginian Who Might Have Saved Lincoln,” which was published in 2007.

O’Connor’s new book was published by Mont Clair Press of West Conshohocken, Pa., a division of Infinity Publishing.

FYI

“The Life of Abraham Lincoln: As President” is 519 pages long and retails for $23.95. It’s available on Amazon.com, Buybooksontheweb.com or from Bob O’Connor’s Web site, www.boboconnorbooks.com.

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