Living Stage Folk Who Knew And Cheered Lincoln

On President Lincoln’s 102nd birthday, the Magazine found some of the actors whom he had befriended, and sought their recollections of the President. Here is Teresa Carreño‘s story of meeting the President when she was just nine years old:

“I was a capricious little minx,” she said in relating the episode, “not a day older than 9, and with a will that was considerably stronger than my physical appearance, which was that of a child even younger.

“As my father and I were going to the White House that morning, he implored me to play something severely classical if Mr. Lincoln should invite me to try the piano. He had an idea that Bach would be suitable for such an occasion, and, although I did not agree with him, I said nothing, resolving mentally to do as I liked — perhaps decline to play at all.

The President and his family received us so informally and they were all so very nice to me that I almost forgot to be cranky under the spell of their friendly welcome. My self-consciousness all returned, however, when Mrs. Lincoln asked me if I would like to try the White House grand piano. At once I assumed the most critical attitude toward everything — the stool was unsuitable, the pedals were beyond reach, and, when I had run my fingers over the keyboard, the action was too hard. My poor father suggested that a Bach ‘invention’ would make me more familiar with the action.

“That was quite enough to inspire me to instant rebellion. Without another word, I struck out into Gottschalk’s funeral ‘Marche de Nuit,’ and after I had finished modulated into ‘The Last Hope’ and ended with ‘The Dying Poet.’ I knew my father was in despair and it stimulated me to extra effort. I think I never played with more sentiment. Then what do you think I did? I jumped off the piano stool and declared that I would play no more — that the piano was too badly out of tune to be used.

“My unhappy father looked as if he would swoon, but Mr. Lincoln patted me on the cheek and asked me if I could play ‘The Mocking Bird’ with variations. I knew the air and didn’t hesitate over the variations. The whim to do it seized me and I returned to the piano, gave out the theme, and then went off in a series of impromptu variations that threatened to go on forever. When I stopped it was from sheer exhaustion.

“Mr. Lincoln declared that it was excellent, but my father thought I had disgraced myself and he never ceased to apologize in his broken English until we were out of hearing.”

Now that I think about it, that’s really more a story about herself than it is about the President.

LIVING STAGE FOLK WHO KNEW AND CHEERED LINCOLN: The Martyr President Was a Frequent Theatregoer and Made Friends of Many Actors and Actresses; Interesting Recollections of Some Who Still Remember Him Vividly, Including Patti, “Lotta” and Carreno. (PDF)

From February 12, 1911

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