While casting about through my list of history topics for BeeLines this week, and coming up rather "dry" for a good human-interest story for the week between Christmas and New Year, the shrill ring of the phone and the voice of Christina (Trump) Hederstedt provided a possibly perfect answer.
She identified herself in connection with Roger Trump who has been a long-time family friend, and Roger's brother, the late Fred Trump who wrote "Lincoln's Little Girl" - the biography of Grace Bedell who in 1860 wrote the history-changing letter to Abraham Lincoln suggesting he grow a beard to win votes for the upcoming presidential election.
Hederstedt explained Tim Trump, son of Fred Trump, had come from Oklahoma for a few days to visit his Uncle Roger Trump who is currently at the Hamot Medical Center's health care rehabilitation center in Erie, Pa. Hederstedt had taken Tim to visit the old Trump farm on Hardscrabble Road, and to see the Lincoln-Bedell Park and monuments here in Westfield. After reading the informational signs and visiting the Patterson Library for more information, she expressed concern the current generation of young people and even their parents have never heard about the first-written, definitive and historically accurate book about the Lincoln-Bedell story. At that juncture, Hederstedt requested an interview and story, commenting a lot of people do not believe this was a real event, just a fanciful children's story and local myth.
This photo of the Fred Trump family was taken about Christmas of 1961 at their home in Lansing, Mich. From left to right are Fred Trump and three of the four children: Christine Trump, now Hederstedt; Tim Trump; and Eric Trump. Lois Trump, Fred’s wife, is at the far right. Their youngest daughter, Laura, had not yet been born.
So, true to form, your local historian made a "beeline" for Erie, Pa., after contacting Tim Trump to confirm the time he and Hederstedt would be visiting Roger prior to Tim's flight back to Oklahoma later that afternoon. Prior to leaving, however, I researched through the files from the late Billie Dibble, former Westfield Historian, regarding the preparations for and building of the Lincoln-Bedell Park and statues, with particular emphasis on references to and media coverage of the Fred Trump book, "Lincoln's Little Girl." Selected articles and letters were taken to Erie to share with the Trump family, as well as copies of the two free books produced in 2011 on the occasion the re-enactment of Lincoln's inaugural journey by the National Park Service - "Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Greatness" and "Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Journey."
At the rehab center in Erie, Roger and Tim Trump were chatting. After introductions, the booklets given to Tim to take home to Oklahoma, and the gleaned articles were shared. Tim noted Fred Trump had died in 1987, about 10 years before the commemorative park was completed and dedicated. Fred's wife, Lois, died in 2003. Clara Trump, Fred and Roger's mother, was an alumna of Cornell, and both sons had also attended Cornell with Fred studying journalism and graduating, while Roger returned to help run the family farm on Hardscrabble in Westfield. Clara had been a school teacher and worked diligently with her sons on their school papers.
As school boys, both Roger and Fred were fascinated by the weather, not surprising because the Trumps were a farming family and weather is the number one concern for farmers. Along with several other school boys, including Dick Spark and Al King, Fred and Roger started a Science Club and became amateur meteorologists. When Fred left for the Army Air Force during World War II, his official task was weather observer. At home on the farm, Roger was encouraged to continue local weather forecasting with the Weather Bureau by Henry Felton and obtained a max-min thermometer. Also a rain gage was donated by Cornell Meteorology Professor Mordoff. Roger commented he probably only missed taking weather readings less than a dozen times in 57 years. The Trump family farm was named Everohill and had registered dairy cows, providing milk products to Dairylea.
The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union Street, in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m., or by appointment. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457, and the email mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fred Trump took to historical research and writing "like a duck to water" and authored several books - "Buyer Beware!," "Uphill into the Sun" and "The Grange in Michigan" - besides "Lincoln's Little Girl." After the war, he spent his adult years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Michigan and Kansas, was an editor at "Michigan Farmer Magazine" for 17 years and a state information officer for the Soil and Water Conservation Service in Kansas for almost 20 years. According to Tim Trump, his dad approached several publishers with the Lincoln-Bedell book, but none would accept it, so he published it himself in 1977. Although the copies were sold out soon after the one-time printing and libraries here and in places with Lincoln connections obtained copies, the Trumps did not make much money in royalties from the book.
According to correspondence in Billie Dibble's files, the book did continue to generate national interest. But it was not until the people of Westfield, N.Y., and surrounding villages of Chautauqua County decided to finally commemorate the story with a park and monument that the need for funds sparked the decision to re-publish Fred Trump book. A 1995 Post Journal story by Michael P. Iten notes, "The idea of having statues wasn't a new one. A newspaper column in 1915 put forth the idea, but it wasn't until 1990, when Town Historian Mary S. 'Billie' Dibble wrote an article calling for action that the idea was seriously discussed. Spearheaded by [Dr. Kent] Brown, the [Lincoln-Bedell Statue] Committee was formed and later incorporated, Oct. 8, 1992 ... One of the group's first fund-raisers was the revision of Fred Trump's 'Lincoln's Little Girl' by Ms. Dibble, Tristran Barnard and Douglas Spaulding."
The introduction to the revised edition states, "The memory of Fred Trump's sitting in Westfield's magnificent George W. Patterson Library, researching and writing this book in the 1970s, is one that the library staff recalls with pleasure. Mrs. Fred Trump, the author's widow, has graciously granted permission to Boyds Mills Press, publishing division of 'Highlights for Children' magazine, to republish this biography." The book's royalties were donated to the Lincoln-Bedell statue project.
Since the republication of "Lincoln's Little Girl" by Fred Trump in 1993, the book has received not only local, but also national and international fame. By 1995, bookstores in Indiana and Illinois, Lincoln scholars across the U.S., and even translation and publication of the book into Japanese had been noted by local media. Locally, from 2009 to 2011, Parkview Ice Cream Parlor's History Book and Gift Shop sold dozens of copies of the book, and it is still available for sale at the Chautauqua County Historical Society's McClurg Museum and at the Patterson Library.
Tim Trump was pleased to say, when he stopped at Mt. Rushmore, he found the book for sale at their gift shop. Tim kindly provided a 1961 Fred Trump family photo to use with this story.