Sunday, April 10, 2011

Did Lincoln Eat a Sandwich?

Part I

By Fidel Gastro

Few questions press upon the contemporary historian so much as the one of which president was the first to eat a sandwich. We know for instance that Buchanan ate only rice and sorghum and that, though Johnson requested that the White House staff prepare him an 'assortment of sliced meets betwixt bread, likewise sliced' that he, least popular of all the presidents, was refused this request by an indignant chef who would only serve him sweetmeats and pudding. And yet we know that the sandwich as a notable phenomenon in the American gastronomic palette was undergoing its nativity at this time. For an answer to our question we must look at the great innovator, Abraham Lincoln. My friends, we of the board have sought out answers so that your delicate sensibilities can continue to be coddled by antidepressants and television dramas, sparing you the difficult task of having to look for truths in musty old scholar-infested libraries. There is no creature more desperate and oil-covered than the anchovy – but the presidential scholar contends for that title mightily.

So did Abraham Lincoln eat a sandwich? Lincoln was, of course, an innovator: the first Republican president, the first to recognize mothers by assigning them their own holiday, the first to disavow slavery as an institution, and the first to wage aggressive war against the half of the country that disagreed with him. But was he the first to eat a sandwich? Our sources are inconclusive, and we must always regret that unlike that fastidious lunatic Hoover, he did not keep a diary of his caloric intake. Because Lincoln also suffered from a famous but as yet unnamed condition we know that he took none of his meals in the company of others – usually scrupling to eat behind a screen of some type. In his Illinois lawyer days this screen was only a bedsheet hung over his half of the table, but by the time he was invested in the White House a variety of screens were used – including a rather beautiful example donated by the King of Siam which was employed during state functions. Lincoln's cooks were likewise secretive – owing to the many campaigns of assassination both threatened and carried out, the executive chefs during his term were known to be, what was then classed as, idiots – people incapable of language but trained through special schools in culinary arts.[1] Thus they provide us with no useful accounts of the president's dining habits.

To discern whether or not Lincoln ate a sandwich we must instead look back at his early youth. These unspoiled seasons, free of the calamities that would characterize his professional life, were the only days where a sandwich could properly be enjoyed. As all know, a sandwich requires peace, both of mind and place, and a deep, nearly Taoist concentration upon matters so trivial that they overwhelm the important difficulties for which sandwich eating is unanimously understood to be a balm. For a president to enjoy a sandwich during times of grave distress, he must certainly have been what we in the common parlance refer to as Baller. (Consider, for instance, Franklin Roosevelt's offer of hot dogs to the King of England during the Great Depression). Leaving aside the question of whether Lincoln was indeed a Baller[2] we will instead look into the much less contentious question of whether, in his youth, he made experimental or recreational use of sandwiches.

The Log Cabin is a notable staple of the Lincoln mythology and it, in form, offers the strong suggestion of the sandwich. Logs lying crosswise pressing between them a mortar of dried mud – certainly the youthful Lincoln, eyes wide and imagination stoked by knowledge of the Great Republic must have regarded the walls of his rude home to be an example of the sublime architecture of that lord of foods. Indeed the modern sandwich itself was only recently made possible by the discovery of sliced meats. As we know, prior to the mid 19th century all meats were consumed in the form of turkey legs and skewered hanks, but that at this time the science of cutlery had developed sufficiently to allow the slicing of meat and bread into cardlike dimensions – ready to be stacked and shuffled. The log cabin of course predates the sandwich – and it has been the contention of many scholars that it's signature form – of stacked half timbers with their condiments of waddle and daub were the original inspiration for many frontiersmen and pioneers (known for their formidable beards and lust for sandwiches). What's more, if we, as Blogart has asserted, consider the appearance of the log cabin as it stands against the prairie,[3] there we see a stack of elements, not all of one type, but of different constitutions, all arranged neatly between a roof and a floor, much in the manner of a contemporary sandwich. Many scholars have not been convinced by Blogart's assertions, but we have all been chastened by his overwhelming hostility to criticism[4].

[1] For the presence of idiots in the white house see especially Darling's work – The Fool's Paradise, the White House and the Capital Maul.

[2] For notes regarding whether Lincoln was in fact Baller see

[3] See Gustavus Blogart's indispensable It's obviously a Sandwich!

[4] See Blogart's My Enemies, why they should be destroyed by venereal diseases.

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