August 10, 2007

Abe’s Voice.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 6:56 pm

lincoln-07.jpgI have a good ear for voices. There have been times when I’ve recognized someone from his or her voice when I didn’t recognize the face. I hear and remember inflections, cadences, pitches, timbres, and accents. Fascinating stuff, that.

Then there is Abe Lincoln.

Chances are excellent that you have read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address dozens of times, if not more, and you probably heard various actors recite those perfectly crafted phrases and sentences. When I read the Gettysburg Address, in my mind’s ear I “hear” the beautiful baritone of Raymond Massey.***

Problem is that my “mind’s ear” is wrong, for history tells us that President Lincoln’s voice was anything but a beautiful baritone. On the contrary, it was described as “shrill, squeaking, piping [and] unpleasant.” Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated twelve years before the first recording of the human voice, so the sound of his voice is lost to history. In fact, there isn’t a person on the planet today who has ever heard Lincoln’s voice.

I admit that I do experience a bit of cognitive dissonance trying to imagine Lincoln sounding more like Pee-wee Hermann than Raymond Massey, but, still, I’d sure love to be able to hear the real thing, shrill and piping though it might be.

***This Wikipedia entry suggests (without any citation to a source) that Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, heard Massey perform early in his career and was “struck by the similarity between Massey’s speaking voice and that of his father.” My guess is that the story is complete baloney, or if Robert Lincoln really said that, he was flattering Massey.


  1. The first time I saw “Arsenic & Old Lace,” when I was 9-10 years-old, around the time VCRs were proliferating, I recall being completely awestruck by the physical resemblance Raymond Massey bore to President Lincoln, only to find out (I didn’t click the link, but I know what it’s of) that he actually portrayed him in film. The resemblance between the two was so eerily similar, it would have been criminal had he not been type-casted in the role. And with that deep voice, it could almost be said that Raymond Massey looked more like Lincoln than Lincoln himself.

    Comment by Erica — August 10, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  2. Do you know what old Abe said when he woke up from a three day drunk during the civil war? I freed who?

    Comment by Catfish — August 10, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  3. Abe is the STUD of all Presidents of the USA. No one can even come close to his brilliance and nobility…except maybe Ronald Reagan. Can you imagine that BITCH clintoon…if she weasels her way back into the WH? She will completely trash it, our constitution and the Office (although, her “husband” already set that in motion!).

    Comment by Lee — August 10, 2007 @ 8:58 pm


    Comment by Hammer — August 11, 2007 @ 12:07 am

  5. Jimbo, funny you’d suddenly do a post about Lincoln. I just got Andy Ferguson’s newest book (“Land of Lincoln”).

    Comment by dogette — August 11, 2007 @ 7:58 am

  6. Perhaps you could think of his voice as that of Jimmy Stewart instead of PeeWee Herman.

    I only ever hear the voice of the animatronic Lincoln at Disney World.

    Comment by Joan of Argghh! — August 11, 2007 @ 8:57 am

  7. I always “heard” something along the lines of James Earl Jones…

    Comment by That 1 Guy — August 11, 2007 @ 11:50 am

  8. I don’t know why, but I always heard high pitched. He is long, like a long pipe on a pipe organ. I just assumed he had a higher voice. The deep voice didn’t seem right to me… I know that is an odd thing to say.

    Comment by Bou — August 11, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  9. We look at Lincoln and think “James Earl Jones voice.” But he probably sounded a lot more like Mike Tyson. Yeef.

    Thomas Edison, thank Gawd, was not born too soon.

    Comment by Elisson — August 13, 2007 @ 9:06 pm

  10. Jimbo, I’ve been a lurker here for some time, but when I saw this, I had to comment seeing as how I am from Kentucky where the Great Man was born. Yep, Lincoln had a high pitched voice and actually that was a good thing. That tone of voice has carrying power and since he made a lot of out door speeches, his voice could be heard at the edges of the crowd.

    Comment by Ellen — August 16, 2007 @ 9:24 am

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