A Newel post is the pole that serves to support the handrail of a staircase banister. I grew up in Detroit in an old house (probably built in the 1920’s) that had a staircase leading to the upstairs. My family lived in that grand house from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. As kids, my brother and I would slide down that banister playing and having fun-as kids did back then. The Newel post was, of course, the end point of the slide (and because of that-us boys needed to be careful-if you know what I mean). The house was lived in by other families after we moved out. In fact, it was occupied until about 2009. Now the old house is abandoned and will either be torn down by the city or burned down by vandals. Someone did set it on fire in 2010 but it only partially burned. I drive by the house every once in awhile and check it out. At any rate, I have the Newel post from the house! It will be restored eventually…
For fifty years family members and friends grabbed that Newel post to secure themselves as they climbed the stairs. Most of those folks have passed on. Oh, if the post could talk! When one first walked into the house through the front door, one’s attention would naturally be drawn to that post at the stairs. There it stood for so long-no matter what had gone on in the family-triumph or tragedy-or just routine life-it stood there like a soldier at attention. It was solid and unmoving. It said to us that some things will remain constant. It said that whatever was going on-it too would pass. It represented stability in an ever changing world.
Then the time came when it too would pass. The post, with the house- was empty, neglected, and forgotten. So the old post had done its duty. And now, it waits to be restored. Once done, it will serve again to remind of all those memories. Others who don’t know its history, might look at it and like its appearance-but I will also appreciate its role in my life.
There is another Newel post in my thoughts today. Its located in a house in Springfield, Illinois. In the house, it remains solid and true. Its in the house that the Lincolns once lived in. And what if it could talk? It would tell of the countless visitors to that place over the years. The many hands that have touched and held on to it for balance. It would tell of the visitors to the Lincoln home in his day. It would speak of the victories, the tragedies, the family moments, and the lives of the Lincolns.
There is a letter that was written by Elizabeth Lushbaugh Capps that was uncovered by James Hickey, former curator of the Lincoln Collection in Springfield. In the letter by Ms. Lushbaugh Capps, she recalls her encounters with Abraham Lincoln at his home. Here is a portion of the letter (with emphasis on the Newel post reference by this writer):
“Again, I see Mr. Lincoln lying on the floor in his front hall of his home, playing with his children and dangling a baby up over him. A chair was turned down to rest his shoulders on and his feet were up on the newel post. Then again I see him pushing or pulling some kind of cart with a cab, in it as he walked back and forth in his own yard and reading a book as he walked. These are little things, but they show how he loved and cared for his children and could adapt himself to all circumstances.”
Lincoln’s feet up on the Newel post. Can you see it in your mind’s eye? His long legs stretched out and upward-as he played with his boys. Maybe Mary Lincoln was watching “Mr. Lincoln” while he enjoyed himself so. How often the Lincoln family members would hold on to the top of the Newel post as they made their way upstairs. Their hands felt the wood. It provided security as they ascended towards the bedrooms. When was the last time Abraham Lincoln touched the household Newel post? Probably the day he left Springfield for Washington. It was February 11, 1861. Although I’m sure he hoped he would return to his beloved home someday-I think in his heart he would never return. He never did.
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