For all its absurdity, the central premise of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is less far-fetched than you think. True, the Great Emancipator never did pitched battle with the unholy armies of the night, but if you check out his biography, there was plenty of weird shit flying around throughout his life. He also appeared to be some kind of protean superhero – a status stemming from factual accounts as much as tall tales – and if any bloodsuckers ever crossed the man's path, we bet he'd give them the thrashing of their unlives. Here are five weird facts about our 16th President (and his descendent) that would give even the staunchest monster pause.
The Rock officially had nothing on Lincoln, who attributed his sterling wrestling skills to "a toughness of the sinews." Reliable accounts held that he could lift staggering amounts of weight, as well as hurling cannonballs farther than anyone else in the town of New Salem, IL where he lived. While working aboard a steamboat on the Mississippi River, Lincoln was challenged to a wrestling match by Daniel Needman, the local favorite and renowned champion. Lincoln beat him like a three-dollar mule, throwing him twice and establishing his reputation as supreme bad-ass to rasslin' fans everywhere. Just to show it wasn't a fluke, he did the same thing to Jack Armstrong, leader of the local yo-yos and an unconscionable cheat in the ring. Undaunted by his opponent's dirty tactics, Lincoln lifted the man full off the ground and shook him like a rag doll before finally ending the match (presumably by applying his dreaded sleeper hold).
The new movie portrays Lincoln as a bit of a steampunk gadgeteer, and while there's a lot of embellishment there, it has a basis in truth. He professed a fascination for mechanical contraptions, and often disassembled them to find out how they worked. He proved to be quite a tinkerer too. According to his friend Henry Whitney, who knew him during his lawyer days, Lincoln would routinely examine the farming implements at the homesteads where he slept, and often gave formal lectures on the subject of inventing. He even used his stovepipe hat as a jury-rigged storage device: keeping speeches and other knick-knacks stuffed into its depths.
It's no surprise, then, that he remains the only president with his own patent: a device used to help boats get over sandbars, which he officially registered in 1849. In light of that, the axe-gun combination he wields in the movie starts to look a lot less ridiculous.
Speaking of axes…
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree," Lincoln once said, "and I'd spend the first four sharpening the axe." The man's skills with a chopper readily matched his skills in the ring, and while he couldn't split railway ties with a single blow as the tall tales maintained, he cut an imposing figure with an axe in his hand. As a boy, he helped clear the land of his father's homestead, meaning that he practically grew up with an axe in his hand. Historians note that he received pay from his early days as a railsplitter in clothing – one yard if material for every four hundred rails – and that, as a large man, he needed to split a huge number of them to stay in pants. He liked his pants a lot.
Lincoln himself suffered from tragedy after tragedy in his personal life, including the loss of his mother at an early age, his first true love and three of his four children. But his surviving child Robert seemingly carried the icy chill of death with him, especially when it came to chief executives. Robert witnessed the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 at the hands of a disgruntled would-be speechwriter. Twenty years later, he attended the same World's Fair as President William McKinley just before McKinley met his end at the hands of Michigan anarchist Leon Czolgosz. We're guessing he didn't get asked to a lot of White House dinners in the interim.
(Incidentally, Robert also owed his life to a famous actor named Edwin Booth, who saved him from a train crash. Edwin had a brother by the name of John Wilkes Booth who found a notable way to balance the books…)
Perhaps because of so much tragedy in his life, Lincoln and his wife Mary evinced a keen fascination for the occult. They routinely participated in séances hoping to contact their departed sons, both at the White House and in the homes of local psychics. Some of rubbed off: Lincoln reportedly experienced premonitions of his own death – including dreams of seeing himself in his coffin – and claimed to have spotted a ghostly double of his image in the mirror. He believed that meant he would not survive his second term in office, a belief that proved all too tragically true.