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Today's Story by Tom LaPorte and Mike Brady

Lincoln wrestling with an alligator just isn’t in the cards.

The secret diary of John Hay

EDITOR’S NOTE:  John Hay was one of two secretaries who were like adopted sons to Abraham Lincoln.  He and John J. Nicolay assisted Lincoln, kept visitors at bay, and were always available as the 16th President managed the country’s greatest crisis. Together, Hay and Nicolay wrote an authoritative Lincoln biography, based on access to the presidential papers. 

Until recently, however, it was not known that Hay kept a private diary during his days in the White House.  Lincoln scholars Tom LaPorte and Mike Brady recently uncovered this historic document, and in honor of Lincoln’s birthday (February 12), Fiction365 is pleased to publish the first excerpts from this extraordinary uncensored look at our nation’s greatest president. 


November 30, 1863

Dear Diary:

The People are being fooled some of the time tonight.  The lights are burning late, and it looks to all the world like we are prosecuting the war.  In fact, President Lincoln is practicing his magic again, insisting on being addressed as Abraham the Magnificent.

It’s not so much the waste of time.  It’s the smirk.  It’s the overuse of his own clichés to the point of indignity.  Yelling “Four Score!” is bad enough on the golf course.  But when it accompanies that fourth rabbit out of his hat, it’s downright un-presidential.

And, that hat.  Whoever gave it to him should be shot.  Sure it was quaint when he started keeping state papers in there.  But birds? And scarves?  The Second Inaugural was a disaster.

If he could keep his hobbies separate from his official duties, the war might have been over two years ago. But he no longer seems able to resist showing off to a crowd.  I called in more than a few favors to keep the phrase “Nothing up my sleeve” out of the coverage of Gettysburg.

But I guess it’s better than the practical joke phase he went through after The Wilderness campaign.  I’ll be the first to admit getting a kick out of Secretary Seward and the mouse trap.  And, the look on Stanton’s face when he saw that plastic vomit?  Priceless!  I think it was the only time I ever saw the Hellcat he’s married to laugh.

If he really wants to put his magic to use, he might make her disappear.


January 11, 1864

Dear Diary,

I don’t trust the new intern.  She knows how to distract the Tycoon from his duties.  One bat of her lashes and he goes into his Honest Ape routine to make her laugh.  That’s my cue to leave the room, but I still have to listen from my office to his twangy, fucking “Hey, watch this,” and “Look! No feet. No hands.”  I can only imagine.

The name Landa sounds distinctly southern.  And calling him her “hat trick” to his face is the height of disrespect.  I could go on, but the mere thought of her makes me shudder.

The idea that he would dump the Hellcat to marry her is utterly scurrilous, yet she believes it and has spoken of it to Mrs. Keckly.  The country is not ready for First Lady Landa Lincoln.


March 23, 1864

Dear Diary,

He had another of his dreams last night—the dreams where he always ends up laying in state in the East Room.  The entire cabinet has grown weary of these recitations.  Nobody thinks any credence should be put in his dreams. They are not moved when he points out that his first one involved growing a beard, which he did. That’s just dumb and embarrassing.

Subsequent dreams are more revealing than they are portentous. Lincoln wrestling with an alligator just isn’t in the cards.  He will never learn to fly.

And then boating his way to a distant shore?  He is working too many hours.


May 15, 1864

Dear Diary,

Now, he thinks he’s a chef.  “This is the hat I was born to wear,” he says as he dons that big, white cloth mushroom.  The flowered apron looks preposterous over his black frock coat.  The wooden spoon is decidedly not majestic.  But this is his White House, and he can do what he wants.

Last night, he prepared salmon for Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase.  He was unhappy with the sauce, and embarrassed by the rolls.  But what really derailed the occasion was when he called himself “the real cook in this house,” and said it was good the secretary’s name was Salmon and not Garbage, or Mary would have had to cook the meal.  Hellcat was fit to be tied.

Nobody knew what to say last week when Mr. Lincoln roasted a turkey, and then “emancipated” the dark meat.  When he wasn’t looking, we made sandwiches for the staff.

Tomorrow, he’s making Gettysburgers, and they’re sure to offend.  “Lots of catsup,” he keeps saying.  He won’t listen to us that sandwiches can be named in honor of important battles without being full representations.  His All-you-can-eat Bull Run still occupies part of the south lawn.

He can’t keep his mind on any one hobby for more than a few days.  The Old Soldier’s Home is stuffed to overflowing with stamp albums and dried out aquariums.

I long for Paris.


June 12, 1864

Dear Diary,

Juggling is not his strong suit.  But, try telling that to “Abraham with His Magnificent Balls.”  His problem isn’t getting them up in the air.  He’s brilliant at that.  It’s keeping them in the air that’s the problem.  If he wants to do it in public, he’d better learn some eye-hand coordination, and clean up his language.  There’s no audience in the world that will sit through the President of the United States yelling “Mississippi Fuck” every time he drops one.


August 5, 1864

Dear Diary,

“Tennis whites” will never catch on.  What is more, he should never wear them again.  His are the boniest knees ever to spring from the imagination of Almighty God.


December 3, 1864

Dear Diary,

Abe Lincoln: Epic Poet?  I think not.  The Tycoon’s first attempt at serious verse fell a little flat last night, when he regaled a Congressional delegation with rhyme:

“In this age of heroic lore

Nothing tops the Civil War

With all those soldiers dead and stinkin’

I’m one lucky bulletproof Lincoln”

On it went for half a god damn hour.  By the time he was done, the veins on Senator Sumner’s neck were visibly pulsing.  I thought Thaddeus Stevens was going to slug him.  The last time that happened, chairs were broken.

(That was the first time the Hellcat’s compulsive spending has ever paid off.  We have 75 backup chairs in the basement.  If the war ever requires for bolts of lace, we’re set for that, too.)

I suppose I’ll have to do the research, but I’m convinced there is no past president who ever appointed himself Poet Laureate of the United States.


March 8, 1865

Dear Diary,

Hellcat has been in one of her snits again, and Maestro Lincoln isn’t helping.  His plan to soothe her spirit by playing the violin has been hard on all of us.

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles makes it worse with flattery.  It only encourages him.  Just last week, Stanton had a brainstorm and invited General Halleck to a meeting where Lincoln wielded a wild fiddle and performed a terrible version of “Orange Blossom Special”.

Everyone present was ready to scream.

Down the hallway, Mary Lincoln was already letting loose. Outside the White House, birds were taking wing, carriage horses reared and bolted. Fugitive slaves came out of hiding, holding up their hands in abject surrender.  Lincoln was oblivious, as he always is.

He hoots and hollers like a man possessed as he runs the bow back and forth, heggeldy peggeldy.

Lincoln always exults and lets out full-throated whoops and shrieks as he accelerates the tempo. He always accompanies his fiddle playing with high-step dancing, his knees practically hitting the fiddle. His boot heels pound the wooden floor. His fiddle bow frays. His Cabinet suffers from frazzled nerves.

Lincoln invariably ends it with a “Shave and a Hair Cut, Two Bits!!” runs over to his rocking chair, sits down and goes to sleep.

He wakes up to an empty room, asking how “they liked it.”  Nobody has the temerity to tell him the truth.


November 22, 1864

Dear Diary,

Great.  Now his big hobby is his Legacy, with a capital L.  He’s taken to talking slowly so we can write everything down.  Frankly, it’s not always that worth preserving.   For example:

“Seems to me that this country of ours is suffering from some sort of malaise. Might be from the war, who knows? I mean, who can ever really know what’s bothering so many people? Might be from the crazy late spring we had. Could be the goddamn Dutch. Dunno.”

He insists that nothing be edited, but what president ends a great quotation with “dunno”?

He also reaching too early for immortality, calling himself “not just a president, but a brand.”

He’s naming everything after himself:

“And so I urge you all to begin calling it, Mr. Lincoln’s War. And you may call our army, Mr. Lincoln’s Army. And when you hear me speak, you may call it Mr. Lincoln’s Speech. And when I show up in the morning with one of my bruises, it will have been inflicted with Mr. Lincoln’s Wife’ Griddle Pan, and so forth.  I dunno.”

He is trying to convince anyone who will listen that he never aspired to be President–  but the nation simply called on him to save the union.  This simply is not so.

He also dictated a change in his will declining to have his picture on money of any denomination lower than a $100 bill.  “Mother Lincoln didn’t raise no pocket money president,” he says.

I wouldn’t put him on a penny, personally.


April 14, 1865

Dear Diary,

I really can’t excuse this any more.  He’s taking full credit for winning the war. No one can believe his presumption and ingratitude. All those boys did not die “because they were supposed to.”  It really is unbearable to be around him.

“Now that it’s over,” he asks, “what will I do with my emancipation powers?  I can’t just stop emanicipating.  A man has needs.”

It’s making my hair stand on end and my spirit plume with hate. This war has ended one fatality shy.

I am taking the afternoon off and arranging a surprise ending for tonight’s play.


Tom LaPorte and Mike Brady live in or around Chicago, where Abraham Lincoln was nominated for President in 1860.  Mike once lived in Virginia, which John Wilkes Booth tried to reach after killing Mr. Lincoln.  Tom spends much of his time explaining to people that he is considerably smarter than Mike.  In fact, Mike is probably smarter than Tom.  Why, then, does Mike live in a north suburb, rather than downtown?  And what’s with the literary references he always drops into conversations?  A truly educated man would not sport such pretension.


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