Located on the southeastern corner of Fifth Avenue and East 135th Street, this playground, as well as the adjacent Abraham Lincoln Houses, honors the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). Born to migratory farmers in the backwoods of Kentucky, Lincoln had less than one year of formal schooling. Still, he was a voracious reader. The Bible, the plays of Shakespeare, and Parson Weems’ Life of Washington were among Lincoln’s favorite works. In 1831, a young Lincoln settled in New Salem, Illinois. There, he worked as a storekeeper, surveyor, and postmaster while studying law. In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the state legislature and, in 1836, became a lawyer. Although he served in the House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party (which later became the Republican Party) from 1847 to 1849, he lost two bids for Senate in 1856 and 1858. Nevertheless, Lincoln made a reputation for himself over the course of seven debates with his Democratic opponent, the incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861).
The Republican Party nominated Lincoln as its presidential candidate in 1860. He proved to be a controversial choice, polarizing national opinion over slavery. Lincoln won the election, but received less than 40 percent of the popular vote, much of which came from non-slaveholding states. By his inauguration day in March 1861, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, and four more states followed in April. On April 12, 1861, with Confederate forces firing upon the federal garrison in Fort Sumter, South Carolina, the Civil War began.
For four bloody years, Lincoln guided the nation through its most devastating conflict, though again, with considerable controversy. Invoking what he called “the war power,”Â Lincoln curbed civil rights in the North even as he mobilized the nation for war and moved toward freeing slaves in the South. He jailed suspected Confederate spies and sympathizers without trial. Lincoln also called out the militia without securing a Congressional declaration of war.
On January 1, 1863, again without the approval of Congress, Lincoln unilaterally issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in those Confederate states not under Union control. Criticized for these actions and others, Lincoln never wavered from his commitment to preserve the Union. He understood all too well what the Civil War meant, a fact aptly demonstrated by his short but moving Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863): “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”Â
Elected President again by a razor-thin majority in 1864, Lincoln vowed to bring the nation back together, “with malice toward none and charity for all.”Â Unfortunately, this was not to be, for on April 14, 1865, a Southern nationalist and actor named John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln’s death brought considerable sadness to Americans, North and South, even though his presidency had divided the country. In recent years, historians consistently rank Lincoln as America’s greatest president.
In 1944, the City of New York acquired this playground as part of the Abraham Lincoln Houses. Two years later, the land came under Parks’ jurisdiction, and was simply named the Abraham Lincoln Houses Playground. In 1985, Parks shortened the playground’s name to Lincoln Playground. Two years later, Parks completed an extensive rehabilitation of the property, planting London Planetrees (Platanus acerifolia) and Shadblow serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis), renovating the comfort station, installing new concrete and asphalt pavements, adding new kindergarten swings, and removing the playground’s original sandpit. Today, the playground offers ample open space for neighborhood children to play, and the well-kept basketball court is host to tournaments in the summer months. Lincoln Playground is more than a welcome place of recreation; it is a memorial to a dedicated public servant whose character serves as an inspiration to all.