Honest Abe's Honest Almanac
A Cornucopia of Amazing Facts, Useful Wisdom,
and Amusing Anecdotes Concerning the Social, Political, Economic, Educational, and Cultural
Life of Springfield, Illinois, Past and Present, etc.
You owe no one an apology for not having heard of the Almanac. Very few were printed, and it quickly disappeared from the two or three shops where it was sold.
Honest Abe's Honest Almanac has long since fallen out of copyright protection. Only the paper edition conveys the feeling I intended, but I've not seen it online in the stock of any used bookshop. It remains in the public domain, and now lives
forever on the internet.
The project was a youthful folly of the sort to which I am still prone. In those days I collected odd facts the way that velvet collects dog hair. I thought it would be fun to collect odd facts about Springfield into a parody almanac. I had naive hopes of selling them to the tourists, who didn't bite, thus proving again that Lincoln—"You can't fool all of the people"—was a savvy marketer. I wasn't. I even forgot to put my name on the cover.
It was published under the imprint of Talisman Press, my “company,” which I named after the steamboat that traveled up the Sangamon from Beardstown, promising a new era of river commerce, only to be forced to chug back in reverse when the river fell.
I had no capital, so to cover the cost of typesetting and printing I shamelessly hit up friends and associates for cash donations. They were upright citizens—among them were a university professor and an insurance company executive, which made me doubt everything I was brought up to believe about business and education—and I did not embarrass them in print by revealing their names.
The result was 64 pages on newsprint I titled, Honest Abe's Honest Almanac. It is the sort of publication that gets shelved under “Satire and Facetia” by any librarian worth her free parking space, but which could just as accurately have been described as Sophomoria. It was a youthful blend of antic humor and local history and not very successful as either.
The introduction conveys the tenor of the thing:
While it was a takeoff, I tried to make the facts within it legit. Errors there were, but they were inadvertent. The modern adjectival sense was apparently derived from the use of inexpensive shoddy (“‘fabric from wool-processing byproduct’”) for unsuitable applications such as for military uniforms at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. I mistakenly inferred that the term originated with the Springfield Woolen Mills.
Careless as a researcher I might have been, and innocent as an historian I certainly was, but dishonest, no.
HAHA—you must believe me that I was unconscious of the aptness of the acronym—can be downloaded for free by anyone with a computer internet link and more time to waste than is healthy. The good folks at Open Library have made it available online. So has the Internet Archive, which offers a faithful facsimile here.
Someday I might have the time to post it here as a PDF. Readers have some recourse. I was amused and annoyed to learn that the almanac has been reissued in the UK by Forgotten Books as part of its—get this—Classic Reprint Series. Dear readers, understand that I don't get a penny of that. Also, Amazon is peddling it as a Kindle book.
I'm grateful that it can be enjoyed in any form, I guess, but nothing can replace that delicious tang of decaying newsprint that you get with an original copy. ■
It is appropriate at this point for an editor to explain to his readers why it is that his book exists. Whether its purpose is to enable its readers to treat their neighbors with more consistent courtesy, or lead a happier and more fruitful life, or cultivate a more productive garden, books of this sort are supposed to serve some instructive end. Sadly, Honest Abe's Honest Almanac does not. The most thorough reading of the pages contained herein will not make the conscientious reader one whit more happy, prosperous, or wise. At best, a reading of this small collection will take his mind off the troublesome present for at least a little while, and that is reason enough for a book to exist.
Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.
One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.
See Home Page/Learn/
Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.
The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.
The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.
A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.
Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."
Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards, posters, and videos.
The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.
“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered."
The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like.
The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly.
An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than
Southern Illinois University Press 2017
A work of solid history, entertainingly told.
author of Abraham
Lincoln: A Life
One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.
Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018
A lively and engaging study . . . an enthralling narrative.
The Annals of Iowa
A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians
as well as local historians generally.
Journal of Illinois HIstory
A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.
A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.
Journal of the Illinois
State Historical Society
to read about
to buy the book
SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.
The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more. Of particular note are its Prairie State Books, quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.
The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to
The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.
Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order
by book title.
Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.