AND SHOULDN'T BE IN YOURS
An essay by Charles A. Chapin
Illinois State Historical Society materials coming to my hands when I joined the Advisory Board included a list of books for sale to members. I was astounded to see the Mariah Vance book listed for sale, and said the Society ought not to stock it, advertise it, or sell it. I had thought the credibility of this book had been laid to rest with Professor James O. Hall's review of it in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, (Winter issue, 1998). The wounded editors, Lloyd Ostendorf and Walter Olesky had replied, in separate statements, in the Louisiana Lincolnator, (Winter issue, 1998).
Professor Hall directed his criticism to historical and technical inaccuracies, a number of highly improbable events recounted, and the number of hands through which the text had passed before publication, leaving the reader to doubt that the account was really just what Vance told.
I have another perspective on this, but before we get to that, let me show you the time-lines involved:
This offer, and especially Morrow's election in August not to publish, was widely reported and commented on in such places as the New York Times, The New Yorker magazine, the State Journal-Register, and the Illinois Bar News, among others.
* Lincoln's Unknown Private Life, an oral history by his black housekeeper, Mariah Vance, 1950-60. Lloyd Ostendorf, Walter Olesky, editors, Hastings House Publisher 1995.
16 ILLINOIS HERITAGE
The only piece of Adah Sutton's handwriting we had seen heretofore was the one page sent out by Morrow in 1993. I had had the opportunity to analyze it in comparison to the printed text, and found:
1. There were 499 words on that page. Olesky had changed 125 of them (25 percent). Most of the changes were to eliminate colloquialisms, such as: "dat's" changed to "that's"; "sottin" changed to "setting"; and "larn" changed to "learn".
2. One could not see the sense in changing "shin" to "chin" and "shinbone" to "chinbone", but those were changes.
More startling were three reverse changes, that is, changing from English to a form of dialect. Twice the handwritten "Mr." is changed to "Mistah", and twice the handwritten "Lincoln" is changed to "Lincolumn". Finally, the handwritten "God" is changed to "Gawd". These three elements of dialect appear in all the rest of the printed text, but obviously are not derived from Mariah Vance as reported by Adah Sutton.
Now let's take a look at the book in its final form. As mentioned, the front part (Volume 1) was in print and the second part (Volume 2) was in handwriting, said to be a facsimile of Adah Sutton's manuscript.
This was considered an important point. Each of the principals in this affair gave assurances as to this authenticity of this facsimile.
Hy Steirman led off with his "Publisher's Letter", at pages 12-13:
"The authenticity of the hook is not in question. The experts who applaud it or question it, in fact, never studied the original manuscript; they read a typewritten copy or an interpretation of it. For historical integrity, Hastings House is producing a unique hook of two separate volumes:
1) A facsimile edition of Adah Sutton's complete handwritten manuscript, just as Mariah Vance told it to her. (underlining mine)
2) For easier reading, a printed version of Adah Sutton's manuscript of the words of Mariah Vance, prepared with editorial comments by co-editor Walter Olesky, a former award-winning feature writer with the Chicago Tribune and author of over forty books."
Lloyd Ostendorf, in his "Forward" (sic) gave this assurance to the reader at page 21:
"After decades of determination, Mariah Vance's stories of the Lincolns are at long last being published. Our thanks go to Hy Steirman, publisher of Hastings House, who not only read and accepted the manuscript as authentic, but made the decision that eluded all the other 'publishers: to publish the two Volumes under one cover; the transliterated book for easier reading and the reproduction of Adah Sutton's original manuscript in her own handwriting to verify authenticity, "(underlining mine)
Then Walter Olesky, in the "Introduction" made this simple and categorical statement at page 49:
"The copy of the original handwritten manuscript reproduced in this book is exactly as Adah Sutton transcribed it from her shorthand, notes." (underlining mine)
Those 260 pages of the "facsimile edition" are all in handwriting manifestly different from the sample first page of Adah Sutton's handwritten manuscript submitted to William Morrow & Company back in 1993, and circulated to its several advisors. (I had made a photocopy of it at that time and put it in my "spittoon' file".)
When these first pages were compared, I found 40 places where words, phrase or spellings were changed between the 1993 version and the 1995 version. It may also be noted that line lengths are different. There are a number of "write-over" corrections in this "original manuscript" which were not in the 1993 original. [See the accompanying photos of the first four lines of each version. These are placed parallel to each other for easy comparison.]
As Adah Sutton had died in 1976, she was not available to rewrite her text, and someone else had to be found to write it all out. Once one realizes that fact, the value of the "facsimile edition" as proof of authenticity, and proof of non-tampering with the story, vanishes.
One need not agonize over whether to believe the startling stories set out or not. It is simply NOT HISTORY! Not only did the new writer pen the entire text but he or she also re-wrote Adah Sutton's Preface, a much longer one than was submitted to Knopfback in 1978 (Professor Hall sent me a copy). This new one included an explanation that Mariah couldn't say "Lincoln" and always said "Lincolumn", a device we know was invented by Walter Olesky long after Adah Sutton died in 1976. Based on this evidence, that Preface bearing Adah Sutton's signature and date of April 12, 1960, is, in my opinion, unquestionably a forgery. Let me repeat my title: that Mariah Vance book has no place in my library, and shouldn't be in yours!
ILLINOIS HERITAGE 17