Wednesday, February 11, 2009

He’s no Ann Rule, but still ...

By J. Kingston Pierce

As anybody who’s paid attention to the burgeoning racks of Abraham Lincoln-related books over the last six months probably knows, tomorrow will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of America’s 16th president--the last U.S. chief executive to be elected from Illinois before Barack Obama. In addition to all of the published works commemorating this occasion, scholar and author Henry Louis Gates hosts Looking for Lincoln, a two-hour documentary being shown tonight on PBS-TV. (Gates’ essay about “Honest Abe” was published earlier in The New York Times.) And National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon broadcast an extraordinarily fine essay last week that looks at the Great Emancipator, warts and all.

But leave it up to Mystery Readers Journal editor Janet Rudolph to remind us that Lincoln wasn’t simply a fine writer, skilled statesman, and crafty commander in chief, but he also penned at least one mystery short story, while still practicing as a prairie lawyer. As Rudolph writes in her blog, Mystery Fanfare:

Lincoln was a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” was first published around the time that Lincoln was defending the Trailor Brothers in 1841. He based his story “The Trailor Murder Mystery” on this case. It wasn’t uncommon then for lawyers to write true crime pieces which were popular with the public--and not considered a breach of etiquette. What is unusual is that Lincoln chose to write fiction based on this case. “A Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder” (the original title) first appeared on the front page of the Quincy Whig on April 15, 1846 and was described, as “A murder mystery by Abraham Lincoln.” The story was reprinted as “The Trailor Murder Mystery” in 1952 in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Click here to read Abe Lincoln’s brief foray into true-crime fiction for yourself. Or you can download an audio version of “The Trailor Murder Mystery”
here.

READ MORE:How Would Lincoln Vote Today?,” by Michael Lind (Salon); “Lincoln’s 100th Birthday Noted by the Globe,” by Frank Herron (100 Years Ago Today).

(Cross-posted from Limbo.)

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