Fact vs Fiction: Abraham Lincoln the Vampire Hunter

Cover of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

If you’re thinking “oh no she isn’t going there,” yes, yes. I’m going there. I wanted to have a bit of fun for Lincoln’s birthday. So, this blog is for all those who love history-meets-monster books/movies, as we take a look at fact vs fiction, Abraham Lincoln the Vampire Hunter.[1]

The movie starts with President Abraham Lincoln’s voice reading a letter he wrote to his old friend, Henry Sturges (more on him later).[2] The words are haunting. It’s written April 14, 1865: “History prefers legend to men…History remembers the battle and forgets the blood.” Did Lincoln write this? Fiction, he didn’t write it. The letter does have his taste for poetry and dark tendencies. It’s great prose by the author of the book and script writers. The movie then flashes back to when Lincoln was a ten-year old.

Young Lincoln is living with his parents in Pigeon Creek or Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana; it’s 1818.[3] Here, he sees his free black friend, William “Will” Johnson, struggling as Will’s parents are being separated from him. There is an iron yoke around the neck of Will’s father.  Abraham tries to help Will take on the slave trader. The man beats the boys. Abe’s father, Thomas Lincoln, comes to their aid and yells to the slave trader: “you know they ain’t slaves!”

Example of an iron yoke

The whole story of Abe and Will meeting as children introduces their friendship and the slavery conversation. Fact: the Lincoln’s moved to Pigeon Creek, Indiana in 1816.[4] Fiction, Lincoln and Will met later in their lives in Springfield, Illinois. Fact, they were long-time associates. Lincoln employed Johnson as a valet and driver in Springfield. When Lincoln became president, Johnson accompanied him to Washington City. He worked for Lincoln as a barber, valet, handyman, messenger, and bodyguard.[5] Fiction, Johnson’s mother was an enslaved woman. She wasn’t kidnapped in Indiana. Fact, iron yokes were put around slaves’ necks.[6] Free blacks were also kidnapped from northern territory and taken down south to be sold into slavery.[7]

Another crucial event in the plot occurred with Abe’s mother.  The scuffle the boys and father had with the slave trader made a vampire angry. This creature murders Lincoln’s mother. Abe witnesses the tragedy. Losing his mother in this way, devastated Lincoln. Fiction, of course, his mother didn’t die at the hands of a vampire. She died of milk sickness in October 1818.[8] Fact: His mother’s death was hard on young Abe, his older sister, Sarah, and their cousin Dennis Hank, their cousin who was orphaned and lived with them.  This episode in Abe’s life, though, drives him to hunt down vampires.

Painting by Norman Rockwell

Full of hate and revenge, Abe meets his most prominent friend, Henry Sturges. He mentors Abe in the art of killing vampires. Henry offers him a sword, but Lincoln says he is better with an ax. The legend is born: Abraham Lincoln the Vampire Hunter. He has no mercy on the monsters. Fiction: Lincoln didn’t have a friend named Henry Sturges. Fiction: Abe was never a warrior. Yes, he served in the militia during the Black Hawk War in 1832; yet, of his combat experience, he wrote “… I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes.”[9] Fact: Abe was a skilled ax-man. He cut down trees and built split rail fences. His nickname was “the rail candidate” while running for president.[10]

Statue depicting Abe as a militia soldier

Henry tells Abe vampire hunters do not get emotionally involved with people: cue Mary Todd. She plays a large role.[11] The two meet in Springfield, Illinois. Abraham tells Mary he hunts vampires; however, she thinks he’s kidding and says something about him known to be “honest Abe”. Fact: Abe and Mary met in Springfield, Illinois in 1840. He was 31, and she was 21. Fact: Lincoln had the nickname “Honest Abe.” He earned that title when he worked in a dry goods store during his youth. It is reported that he accidentally overcharged a customer. Realizing what he had done, he walked several miles to give back a couple pennies to the customer.  Fiction: It’s naïve to believe he never told a lie. Lincoln was a politician and military strategist. He was cunning.

Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd

That shrewdness served Lincoln well as a vampire hunter. The vampires are mostly Southern slave owners; although, there are a few vampires up north in Springfield, Illinois. The vampires use slaves as cattle, literally. During one fight with Lincoln, the leader of the vampires says to him: “Men have enslaved each other since they invented gods to forgive them for doing it.” Fact: Unfortunately, this is true. We tend to forget that the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, etc. had slaves. Slavery or human trafficking remains a problem today.[12]

Overall, the movie is fun, entertaining, and moves quickly. The casting is great; the acting is great. The author could’ve made some of the ammunition factory owners vampires – but that’s another topic.  Even if you aren’t into history-meets-monster books/movies, you may want to let your child or grandchild watch it once they’re 10ish. Who knows: You might spark the history bug in them or a vampire hunter – time will tell.[13]

Notes and Sources:

[1] The movie is an adaptation from the book, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. He also wrote, Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. I’ve seen both movies and want to read the books.

[2] Abraham Lincoln is played by Benjamin Walker. He’s a native of Georgia. It was an excellent performance..

[3] National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/presidents/lincoln_boyhood.html#:~:text=In%20the%20winter%20of%201816,winter%20in%20a%20temporary%20shelter.  National Park Service, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, https://www.nps.gov/people/sarah-lincoln-grigsby.htm.

[4] The Lincolns Leave Kentucky, https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/LegislativeMoments/moments08RS/11_web_leg_moments.htm#:~:text=Thomas%20Lincoln’s%20aversion%20to%20slavery,of%20antislavery%20churches%20in%20Kentucky%20.

[5] https://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/residents-visitors/employees-and-staff/employees-staff-william-johnson-1864.

[6] https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth-oai:mc87qd564.

[7] Confederates captured free blacks and took them back south during the Gettysburg Campaign in 1863.

[8] Milk sickness occurred when cows ate a poisonous plant called, white snakeroot. National Park Service, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, https://www.nps.gov/people/nancy-hanks-lincoln.htm.

[9] https://www.nationalguard.mil/News/Article-View/Article/573923/captain-abraham-lincoln-of-the-illinois-militia.

[10] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-legend-of-lincolns-fence-rail-35283/.

[11] Mary Todd is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s very good.

[12] https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/what-human-trafficking.

[13] There’s a great podcast about fact vs fiction of this book.  See https://www.basedonatruestorypodcast.com/199-abraham-lincoln-vampire-hunter-with-dr-brian-dirck. The photographs and paintings are found as follows. 1. Cover of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. 2.  Iron Yoke, https://civilwartalk.com/threads/photo-of-slave-wearing-collar-device-from-ken-burns-documentary.26352/. 3. Lincoln Militia statue, https://www.nationalguard.mil/Resources/Image-Gallery/News-Images/igphoto/2000039800/. 4. Lincoln painting by Norman Rockwell, https://butlerart.com/portfolio-item/lincoln-the-railsplitter/. 5. Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd, Library of Congress.

5 Responses to Fact vs Fiction: Abraham Lincoln the Vampire Hunter

  1. Good film. Interesting and entertaining. Most books about Lincoln unfortunately revere him as a God. He was not; in fact, he made a lot of terrible mistakes at first – such as forcing the South to fire on Sumter in order to precipitate war and blame the South for it – but he was brilliant, and learned from his mistakes. But to rarely if ever point out his mistakes does him a disservice. For example, Doris Kerns Goodwin’s book ‘Team of Rivals,’ while excellent, does not point out a single error of Lincoln’s, or criticize him, in some 500 pages. Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln truly made him human, though we have long ignored the young Abraham Lincoln, who was fascinating. When the classic film The Thin Red Line’ was released I immediately thought that its star, Jim Caviezel, would have made a fine young Lincoln. Too bad Hollywood didn’t…

  2. Excellent fun movie and fascinating article. Well done.

    The conspiracy theory that Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the Civil War is laughable and unsupported by any reputable historian.

    By the way, Team of Rivals has 754 pages of text, not “some 500 pages.” Perhaps some readers skipped a few pages? Goodwin starts off her book with an introduction referring to Lincoln’s “inevitable mixture of human foibles and strengths.” Hardly sounds like a prelude to a hagiographic biography, does it?

  3. I found the book to be more entertaining. The movie, in my opinion, takes itself too seriously, and the plotline ends up being wildly different from the book (though the screenplay was written by the book’s author, I believe). The book basically takes a solid biographical outline of Lincoln and inserts the vampire-hunting subplot to explain his actions throughout his life. It’s campy and fun; but they turned the movie into too much of an action flick.

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