Sunday, July 30, 2006

Unanswered Questions Fuel the Love of Learning

I still strive to know as many answers as I can, however, I believe it is acceptable for teachers to be stumped sometimes, and more importantly, I think its permissable to allow students to know their teacher is stumped.

That’s hard for some students, some parents, and even educators themselves to deal with given that teachers should be the ones with the answers. We all want highly qualified educators in our classrooms, but we also want educators who have a love of learning.

Many of my students, as young as they are, comment from time to time concerning the breadth of my knowledge regarding American History and my ability to tie in what they are studying in Language Arts to their Social Studies.

Students say, “Gee, elementaryhistoryteacher, how do you know all this stuff? How do you remember all of those dates? ”

Of course, my little dears have no inkling as to the amount of planning and research that go into a unit. They are clueless concerning the fact that I review a unit for several weeks before teaching it, and I constantly add and take away components of a unit depending on the needs of my learners.

One thing my little dears do have knowledge of is their teacher absolutely loves what she teaches. They understand that I have a rabid love of learning for any type of history and that I love a good question to research.

We would quickly loose our love of learning if we knew all the facts or had all the answers. The hunt for answers is my biggest attraction for what I do, and I want to translate that for my students. I want them to know how to search for answers themselves and string together facts to arrive at an answer.

Yesterday I came across a little factoid that caused me to travel down Internet sidestreets attempting to discover the answer to a question that involved a gold ring, strands of hair, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the presidential inauguration of 1905.

My creation

The assassination of President Lincoln was a horrible time for the American people. During that time of severe grieving many Americans who were at the President’s bedside or at the White House to pay their respects were given or simply took momentos of the occaision that have been handed down to sucessive generations or later donated to various museums and even sold to the highest bidder.

One of the more macabe mementos was locks of Abraham Lincoln’s hair. Some sources state that the first lock of hair was removed by Dr. Charles Leale who was the first doctor on the scene. Upon examining President Lincoln Dr. Leale discovered a clump of hair matted with blood. By removing this clump of hair he had easier access to the wound. Another lock of hair was reportedly removed by Mrs. Schuyler Colfax, wife of the Speaker of the House.

Both locks of hair were presented to Mrs. Lincoln and during the month that followed after the death of President Lincoln she distributed mementos to friends and acquaintances. One of the recipients of a few hair strands was Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, who was the second surgeon to be at the President’s bedside. Dr. Taft had assisted Dr. Leale with getting the President to breath on his own.Dr. Taft willed his Lincoln hair strands along with other mementos to his son, Charles C. Taft.

One of Lincoln’s personal secretaries was John Hay who went on to have a very distinguished career as Secretary of State. In fact Hay was the Secretary of State for President McKinley who himself was assassinated in 1901 thereby bringing Theodore Rooosevelt to the presidency to finish Mckinley’s term. Roosevelt was elected to his own term in 1904.

John Hay purchased six strands of President Lincoln’s hair from Charles C. Taft and put them inside a ring. Before the 1905 inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt, Secretary of State Hay contacted Roosevelt and presented the ring to him along with a note that is purported to say:

“The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Taft cut it off the night of the assassination…Please wear it tomorrow, you are one of the men who most thoroughly understands and appreciates Lincoln…”

Some of the John Hay sources I read mention the mutual relationship of respect and friendship between President Lincoln and John Hay even though they were far apart in age. It would seem that such a memento of his former employer and mentor would be very precious to him. However, some sources say he presented the ring to Roosevelt. The term presented could mean he only allowed Theodore Roosevelt to see and borrow the ring. I find it difficult to believe that Hay would have given it to Roosevelt.

My love of learning has been sparked. I was hoping to discover what happened to the ring. Where is it? Who has it? Is it in a museum? Is there a picture of Theodore Roosevelt wearing it at his 1905 inauguration?

Here is where elementaryhistoryteacher becomes stumped. The research I've conducted so far has only been on the Internet itself. I have not consulted the biographies or autobiographies of Roosevelt, Hay, or even Lincoln.

So, I’m continuing my love of learning by attempting to discover where this ring is. Shooting off an email to Sagamore Hills (the former home of Theodore Roosevelt) might elicit a favorable response, or to the Hay Library at Brown University.

I just love a good mystery!

Your comments are welcome if you have information concerning John Hay’s ring.

information from an ebay auction site
John Hay


CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Sorry, EHT, I have no clues for you as to the whereabouts of John Hay's ring. But your story reminded me of my visit to the Lincoln museum under Ford's Theater, which I visited several years ago. In a glass case in that subterranean chamber is the blood-stained coat that Abraham Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated. I stood in awe before the garment, grateful for the opportunity to look at a tangible link to one of history's great men. So, grisly as it may seem, I think I understand why those crowding around Lincoln's deathbed were tempted to snip off a lock or two of his hair: It was their last link to the Great Emancipator. Fingering that hair in the coming decades would remind them that the political and spiritual giant who had walked among them was not a figment of their imaginations.

EHT said...

I agree CTG. I visited the house where Lincoln was taken after the assassination when I was in the 7th grade. We walked across after our visit to Ford's Theatre. I remember seeing a bloody pillow myself, and I remember a feeling of awe...not being grossed out...simply because to me Lincoln was larger than life.