“Janie, I do declare, You’re the spittin’ image of your Great Aunt Mary!!!”
Those are some of the earliest words I remember my Grandpa Todd saying to me as he joggled me up and down on his knee when I was around 2 years old. I grew up spending a lot of time with Grandpa Todd, my golden curls tumbling down around my neck and shoulders as we took walks and shared a lot of nice times together. My mother, Lucille Jane Todd, was an excellent seamstress and always spoiled me by sewing many fancy outfits for me. I loved to wear all my fashionable clothes and I suppose I was a ‘Fashionista’ just like my Great Aunt Mary before I even knew anything about her love for designer clothes.
As I grew older, I loved school and was always at the top of my class; although I never did like any of my History classes. Go figure! On purpose, I missed becoming Valedictorian by .01 of a point due to my extreme shyness and fear of giving oral reports in school. (Now, you can’t get a word in edgewise if I am in front of a crowd!!!)
After I married and had three children of my own, my current husband and I adopted a little girl and then raised two of our grandchildren. We home-schooled the last two kids and on President’s weekend in February 2002 we took them to a Civil War reenactment at Calico Ghost Town in southern California. Of course, I fell in love all over again with the beautiful dresses at the Saturday night Blue & Grey Cotillion!!! I just HAD to have some of those gowns for myself!!! I shyly spoke to the organizer’s wife and asked if they needed someone to portray the 16th First Lady.
The two ladies at the registration desk looked at each other and almost fell off their chairs while simultaneously shaking their heads up and down as they picked their chins up off the floor, their curls spilling out from under their bonnets in their excitement.
They said it was as if Mrs. Lincoln, herself, was standing right in front of them. Thus, my association with Civil War reenacting as a Living Historian began.
Sixteen years have now passed and I have had the honor of being a Living Historian, sharing the Guest of Honor position on the S.S. Abraham Lincoln, and speaking before many schools, clubs, and Civil War Round tables. I have also attended many Civil War reenactments from coast to coast; as well as having the honor of sharing an award for being the Best Mary Todd Lincoln presenter in the Association of Lincoln Presenters in the year 2006. Recently my husband, Tim, who portrays Rev. Dr. Phineas D. Gurley – Lincoln’s Pastor, and I were part of the Civil War presentation of the full-sized replica of Lincoln’s Funeral Train at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC.
Four years ago my family and I bought a 4 acre mini-farm here in Salisbury, NC; and my many ball gowns still hang in the Civil War closet of my mind.
One of my most favorite memories was one time out in Oxnard, California. President Lincoln presenter, Don Ancell, and I were taking a lunch break from the crowds and were sitting in a couple of rocking chairs talking and reminiscing. ‘Still in 1st Person’, it was almost like we were whisked back in time to the Executive Mansion and we were sharing many laughs about 2 of our sons, Willie and Tad, and the antics they were up to when we first moved into that big white house in Washington City. (I must make a note to write down all those memories in a journal to share with the world someday. )
Since I look very much like MTL, and am of the same height, weight, eye color, and hair color, I once entered a Mary Todd Lincoln look-alike contest and noticed that Mary’s original ball gown had many small black polka dots incorporated into the fabric design; sooo, I took my ball gown apart and added over 10,000 small black dots to my gown, too!!!
Many regards to y’all from my ‘chicken coop chores’ to dressing up for ‘First Inaugural Ball’ presentations. Looking forward to meeting each one of you some day…
‘His’ Love Is Eternal,
aka: Mary Todd Lincoln