Lincoln, Christmas and Apolonia Stuntz’s Toy Store

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of watching Lincoln, Spielberg’s Academy Award nominated movie staring Daniel Day-Lewis.  In addition to learning a a great deal more about Lincoln’s struggles to pass the Thirteenth Amendment and his final days in office, the fine detail of the Lincoln White House, in all of its lack of dignity (compared to today’s White House), was fascinating. Christmas was not yet a national celebration as it was to become a short time later, and, after the death of Lincoln’s son Willie (in February 1862), the Lincolns were even less inclined to celebrate the holiday.

01994a.previewTad Lincoln, the President’s youngest son, by all accounts, appeared regularly in his father’s office and was present during many of his father’s meetings and travels.  Watching the movie, I was fascinated by Tad’s toys, which seemed to be mostly soldiers and maps of battlefields.

Toy soldiers (precursors of the plastic Army men so ubiquitous today that they appear in films like Toy Story) were popular during the 1800’s.  Abraham Lincoln was said to have frequented Apolonia Stuntz’s Toy and Candy store, a small store just a few blocks from the White House.  Apolonia’s husband, Joseph, a veteran of Napoleon’s army, carved some of the soldiers himself.

There’s an excellent video on YouTube created by the Indiana State Museum describing these soldiers and other playthings from the White House.

Robert Sivard, who was a popular painter in the mid-1900’s, painted this version of the Stuntz Toy Shop, which includes the image of Abraham Lincoln shopping inside the store.  The small store is no FAO Schwartz (except for the New York Avenue address), but it’s sad to learn that the building became a dry cleaner in the early 1900’s and was then destroyed to make way for more modern buildings.  Here’s a link to a Washington Times article about the store and its connection to Lincoln.

Toy soldiers like the ones Tad played with then, have given way to


Lincoln and Santa Claus

Thomas Nast's 1861 drawing of Santa

Since this is President’s Day weekend, I was curious to know what Abraham Lincoln’s Christmas was like in the 1860’s.  According to the White House Christmas Card website, Lincoln worked on Christmas morning.  Earlier in his political career, when he was an Illinois legislator, he had voted not to establish Christmas Day as a holiday because he didn’t want to waste the taxpayers’ money.

I wonder what he would think of the lengthy recesses today?

It wasn’t until the next president, Ulysses S. Grant, that Christmas became a national holiday in 1870.  We can thank Lincoln, however, for establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday.  I don’t think that Lincoln and his wife did any Black Friday shopping, though.

Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly illustrator/cartoonist during Lincoln’s time, is credited with drawing the first images of Santa Claus as we imagine him today.  During the Civil War, Nast drew illustrations of Christmas and soldiers.  Strangely, it was after Lincoln’s death that Nast created several best-selling drawings of the Lincoln family celebrating Christmas.