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“Did Abraham Lincoln really wear this hat?” Laura asked.

“Yes, he did,” my husband replied.

Amazed to be standing in a room with so many items that Abraham Lincoln touched, we gazed at his hat. There are only three of these famous hats still in existence. The same refrain (“did Lincoln really write this? Touch this? Sit on this?”) was repeated around this special room at Hildene in Manchester, Vt.

We read a letter that Lincoln wrote to a little girl who suggested that he grow a beard. On a re-election run through her town he remembered her suggestion and called her up on the train platform so she could feel his new beard.

Remarkably that is how he’s forever remembered — with a beard.

Katherine held in her hands a letter penned by Lincoln to then Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and a return letter from Grant. Reading the artfully-written and lyrically-composed letters, we learned that Lincoln wanted his son to understand what the war was like, but didn’t want him to actually fight. In his letter, he stated that he wanted Grant to answer as if Lincoln wasn’t the president of the United States.

Grant responded that he’d have Lincoln’s son accompany him like he was family. How phenomenally real — Lincoln was a father and a politician.

In another room we pored over a display of letters written to and from Union and Confederate soldiers. My voice caught several times reading the heartfelt communications. The war-torn and scorched flag of Confederate troops brought home the destruction of the fighting.

After a couple of hours, my husband and Laura had to drag Katherine and I away from the rooms of memorabilia where we could have spent the rest of the day.

Before we went to Hildene, both girls had read or heard enough books to understand the issues behind the Civil War: states’ rights, political power and slavery.

For example, in a book of historical fiction, American Girl Addy Walker was forced to eat tobacco worms that she missed in her task as a slave child cleaning the plants of their parasites. As Addy escaped to freedom and finally was reunited with her family, my children were drawn to learn more about this time in history. The girls had devoured books about Abraham Lincoln’s childhood, adult life and death. Katherine had learned about the childhood and political opinions of Mary Todd Lincoln. Touring the homestead of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert, in Vermont brought the Lincoln family to life for them.

Rachael Barlow is a married mother of two who lives in Groton. She is a retired lactation specialist and software engineer. She is active in New Song Community Church and one of the directors for the All Together Now Family Chorus.

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