For some time, the internet has surfaced stories of random citizens’ encounters with the actor Bill Murray, in which he performs some bizarre but mundane act – for example, sending a plate of rice to a girl in a restaurant, stealing a french fry from a stranger, or sitting down to type on someone’s open laptop while they were in the bathroom at a Starbucks.
When the person (victim?) inevitably looks outraged at the inappropriate act, only to look up and see that it is the famous actor, Bill Murray says to them: “No one will ever believe you.”
It’s genius, clearly. But it’s not original.
Murray may have gleaned inspiration from another benevolent, if socially peculiar, celebrity: Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, whose visage on the five dollar bill can be turned into Murray with just a few penstrokes, also had an affinity for communing with the common man – or girl.
In case you wanted more reasons to appreciate the lovable old uniter-in-chief, in 1860 he took the fashion concerns of an 11-year-old girl very seriously.
In 1860! I’m sure there was nothing else occupying his time, like, I don’t know, a major presidential campaign or the early rumblings of a war that threatened to split the country in two.
Lincoln was running for president against three other dudes: a Southern Democrat, a Democrat and a Constitutional Unionist (and you’re welcome for this stellar example you can pull out whenever someone bemoans the two-party system in the U.S.). He ended up crushing them all, sweeping 18 states and gaining 40% of the popular vote.
And there’s a good chance that he has 11-year-old Grace Bedell to thank.
As a young girl, Bedell saw a picture of Lincoln’s wrinkly, solemn face and basically had this reaction:
In October 1860, Bedell took matters into her own hands and wrote the president, asking him to *please for the love of God* grow some whiskers to hide his old-ass face:
I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are.I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.
“All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” Can’t argue with that logic! This is why every political candidate should be consulting pre-teen girls on their looks, and yet as far as I know, they aren’t typically on the payroll or in the focus groups.
Lincoln, a month out from the election, received the letter and wrote back four days later:
I have no daughters— I have three sons— one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age… As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?
Good point. But if I know anything about Lincoln, he probably mailed off that letter, returned home and stared at himself in the mirror for a long while, intently examining the craggy, pecked surface of his gaunt visage. Because just a few weeks later, by the time Election Day came around, he had grown a full beard.
He won the election, and Bedell must have surely been pleased.
But this was not the end of their story. Lincoln, on his train ride from Illinois to Washington to begin the presidency, passed through Bedell’s hometown of Westfield, New York. Among the large crowd gathered to see the new president, the young Bedell stepped forward to meet Lincoln, and as she tells it, the new President put Bill Murray to shame:
“He climbed down and sat down with me on the edge of the station platform. ‘Gracie,’ he said, ‘look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.’ Then he kissed me. I never saw him again.”
Lincoln’s appearance had several witnesses, although the story still retains an air of the magical. The New York World even reported in rather poetic fashion, “The young girl’s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker, for the growth of which she was herself responsible.”
The two are even commemorated in a statue in Bedell’s hometown (and you know how we feel about lady statues).
You can’t quite say the same about Bill Murray stealing some french fries (at least not yet). Well, you can – but no one will ever believe you.