Historic marker about beloved Albion girl gets a much-needed facelift

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 August 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION –  She is the girl who “changed the face of the presidency.” But for several years the historical marker noted the home of Grace Bedell in Albion has suffered from flaking paint, making it difficult to read the sign.

Bedell is the girl who wrote to Abraham Lincoln, suggesting he grow a beard. Lincoln, then a presidential candidate, took her advice and was elected.

Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard took the marker’s sign down about two weeks ago and Melissa Ierlan, the Clarendon historian, used a power wire brush to take off the rest of the paint. She then meticulously repainted the sign, including all of the lettering.

Ballard put the sign back on this afternoon with help from Jonathan Price, 18, of Kendall. Price is an intern this summer at the Cobblestone Society Museum, where Ballard is the director.

The sign on West State Street is next to Bedell’s home, which is now owned by Jim and Barb Passarell.

The marker was in sad shape before being repainted. (This was the good side. The other side had little paint left.)

Jonathan Price, the Cobblestone Museum intern, had heard the story of Grace Bedell. But he didn’t realize she was an Orleans County girl.

Grace spent most of her childhood in Albion. But when she was 11, she lived in Westfield in Chautauqua County. Abraham Lincoln was running for president at the time.

Bedell’s father Norman attended a country fair in the fall of 1860 and brought home a campaign poster featuring Abraham Lincoln and his vice presidential running mate Hannibal Hamlin.

Grace, 11, didn’t see how Lincoln could win, not with that face. He was too homely looking. But Bedell, who lived in a pro-abolitionist home, had an idea that would make Lincoln more appealing to the masses: Grow a beard.

One of the heritage-themed benches in Albion features Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln. Artist Peter Loran painted the bench.

On Oct. 15, 1860, Grace mailed a letter to Lincoln.

“I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you. You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President,” Grace wrote.

Lincoln took Bedell’s advice and was elected. He also wrote back to Grace on Oct. 19, 1860.

“I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters – I have three sons – one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age – They, with their mother, constitute my whole family –

“As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?” Lincoln wrote to Grace.

The community of Westfield in Chautauqua County erected two bronze statues of Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln in 1999, commemorating Lincoln’s meeting with Bedell when a train stopped in the village in early 1861 on his way to Washington to serve as U.S. president.

The marker now proudly proclaims a beloved part of Americana.

The Bedell family had lived in Albion for 40 years before they moved to Westfield in 1859. They stayed two years before returning to Albion. After she married in 1870, Bedell left Albion to live in Kansas.

Grace is more an Albion girl than a Westfield one. Her father Norman was a partner in a stove-making company next to the canal in Albion.

Norman Bedell was a staunch abolitionist. Historians say the family attended the Albion Methodist Episcopal Church, which split into two churches in 1859 because of the turmoil over slavery. (The Albion Free Methodist Church emerged from this split. It is the first Free Methodist Church in the world.)

Bedell wanted out of the disharmony and moved to Westfield, working in a stove-making business. Railroads were spreading in the mid-1850s and started to compete with the canal for shipping goods. Westfield had a new railroad.

Mr. Bedell worked there for two years and then moved back to Albion. Grace finished school in Albion, married George Billings and then settled in Kansas. Grace lived to be 87. The couple had one son.

The community of Westfield erected these statues of Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln in 1999, commemorating Lincoln’s meeting with Bedell when a train stopped in the village in early 1861 on his way to Washington to serve as U.S. president. Bedell briefly lived in Westfield, and mailed her letter to Lincoln from that community.