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  #1  
Old 11-27-2001, 08:45 AM
tsunamisurfer tsunamisurfer is offline
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Over the years, I've read/heard various individuals repeating "eyewitness" accounts that Abraham Lincoln had a squeaky, high-pitched voice.

Yes, we all know this by now as "common knowledge," but I'm left wondering if it is actually a myth that has been repeated over and over until it took on a life of its own.
Upon what reliable observation/evidence (numbers of and veracity of witnesses) is this assertion based?

I think it's fair to imagine his voice had a distinct country dialect, although I'm not sure of even that. What is fact is that Thomas Edison's voice-recording technology was, IIRC, at least 15-20 years away from development at the time of Lincoln's death, so all we have are eyewitness accounts--flawed as they sometimes are.

[Yes, I was hoping for a rich baritone. A bass profundo of either Sam Ramey or, um, Barry White caliber would have been a bit much.)
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  #2  
Old 11-27-2001, 09:02 AM
plnnr plnnr is offline
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I've wondered about this as well, ever since I read Gore Vidal's book on Lincoln. It also got me thinking about the vocal qualities of other Presidents. I can't help but think that George Washington mumbled a bit, given his tight lipped appearance in portraits. I know what kind of accent he most probably had - the vocal qualities of the residents of the Northern Neck of Virginia has a very distinct sound.

Is Theodore Roosevelt the first president to have an actual record made of his voice?
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Old 11-27-2001, 09:41 AM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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Well, we have a letter from William Herndon (Lincoln's law partner) written in 1887, saying

Quote:
Lincoln's voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry, his sensitiveness, and his momentary diffidence, everything seemed to be against him, but he soon recovered.
Abram Bergen, who knew Lincoln when they were lawyers together, wrote in his "Intimate Memories of Lincoln"

Quote:
But whenever he began to talk his eyes flashed and every facial movement helped express his idea and feeling. Then involuntarily vanished all thought or consciousness of his uncouth appearance, or awkward manner, or even his high keyed, unpleasant voice.
Both these quotes, though, although written by people who knew Lincoln, were still written after his death.
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Old 11-27-2001, 09:43 AM
Olentzero Olentzero is offline
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It may be apocryphal, but this is of some relevance and interest here.

There's a site called http://www.tinfoil.com that has digital recordings of old wax cylinders from the turn of the last century and before; one item is a recording of William Howard Taft. IIRC, it's a campaign speech for the election of 1908. Roosevelt, according to the small amount of research I did, didn't make his first recordings until 1912 - so neither of them were President when they made those recordings.

According to this site, William McKinley had a speech of his recorded at the Pan-American Exposition of 1900, apparently thus becoming the first sitting President to have his voice recorded. Benjamin Harrison made some recordings as well, but those were in the 1890s, long after his administration. Finally, Grover Cleveland had some of his speeches recorded during his term, but because of the quality of his voice he had an actor read them.
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Old 11-27-2001, 09:57 AM
bup bup is offline
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Well, I can't find a cite, but I know I heard of a ontemporary account (related in the New York Times) of a campaign speech Lincoln made in Manhattan, and his voice was described as high-pitched.
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  #6  
Old 11-27-2001, 10:02 AM
Dinsdale Dinsdale is offline
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I thought he had a lovely, sonorous and mellifluous voice when he complimented Uhura as "a lovely negress."
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Old 11-27-2001, 10:43 AM
tsunamisurfer tsunamisurfer is offline
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Quote:
Lincoln's voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry, his sensitiveness, and his momentary diffidence, everything seemed to be against him, but he soon recovered.
Reflecting back over several decades, I don't think I've ever heard a man's voice characterized as "shrill" or "squeaking," unless perhaps it was uttered by a political partisan engaged in invective. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both had rather high-pitched voices, yet I've never heard anyone other than a Pat Buchanan-type label them as shrill or squeaking. Remember that Lincoln was despised/resented/mocked by legions of his contemporaries, mainly those in the south, but also northerners.

That said, I'm also curious about the relationship between Lincoln and his former partner. Was their parting amicable? Any lingering resentment or envy toward the failed businessman who later ascended to the presidency?
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Old 11-27-2001, 12:40 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
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tsunamisurfer, please note that Captain Amazing cited two different sources.

I've always imagined Lincoln's voice to be something like Harry Truman's. Somewhat high-pitched and nasal, with a midwestern drawl.
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  #9  
Old 11-27-2001, 02:40 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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Quote:
Originally posted by tsunamisurfer
That said, I'm also curious about the relationship between Lincoln and his former partner. Was their parting amicable? Any lingering resentment or envy toward the failed businessman who later ascended to the presidency?
By all accounts, their parting was amicable enough. Herndon had helped organize Lincoln's campaign, and when Lincoln won, he turned the law offices over to Herndon and went to Washington. The two of them corresponded while he was president, and I believe Herndon came to Washington for several visits. He and Mrs. Lincoln didn't get along, but Herndon and the President were friendly enough.

Also, at the time Lincoln accepted Herndon as his law partner, he had moved past the "failed buisnessman" stage. He was a former congressman, had just bought a $5000 house, was a respected attorney, and was active in Illinois politics.
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  #10  
Old 11-27-2001, 03:52 PM
tsunamisurfer tsunamisurfer is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by spoke-
tsunamisurfer, please note that Captain Amazing cited two different sources.

I've always imagined Lincoln's voice to be something like Harry Truman's. Somewhat high-pitched and nasal, with a midwestern drawl.
Noted re: the two sources.

BTW, from recordings I've heard, Truman was a baritone. When I first heard it, I was surprised, given his rather bookish appearance. I do not recall his having a the "high-pitched" voice you recall. (Interesting how you and I have two different recollections of Truman. Makes one think about the Lincoln scenario.)
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  #11  
Old 11-27-2001, 07:01 PM
Spavined Gelding Spavined Gelding is online now
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My voice is clear and resonant.

Your voice is high pitched.

His voice is squeaky.
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  #12  
Old 11-27-2001, 10:24 PM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is offline
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He sounds quite commanding and erudite at the Hall of Presidents.
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