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Adlai Stevenson's Grecian Urn

11/10/2020 Jacob K. Friefeld

Adlai Stevenson of Illinois had been defeated by Dwight Eisenhower in the U.S. presidential election on November 4, 1952, and all there was left to do was concede. Before giving his concession speech, someone asked Stevenson how he felt. Stevenson said it reminded him of something he'd been told Abraham Lincoln said after an unsuccessful election: "He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh." Stevenson couldn't help but think of Lincoln on that night. They were, after all, both presidential candidates from Illinois, but more than Illinois roots and political aspirations connected the two men.

Stevenson's great grandfather, Jesse Fell, was a prominent Bloomington newspaper editor and publisher who played an instrumental role in ensuring Bloomington would be the home of the normal school, later Illinois State University. However, Fell is best known for the close friendship he shared with Lincoln. Most notably, he was responsible for the publication of Lincoln's campaign autobiography in 1860.

 
Jesse Fell (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)

 
Stevenson posing with a framed copy of Lincoln's campaign autobiography (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)

Considering his family connection with Lincoln it might have seemed natural to Stevenson when Mary Kampouris, a teacher from Greece, brought an urn from her country as a gift to honor Abraham Lincoln on July 11, 1950. She presented the urn to Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson along with two banners claiming that the urn contained "Earth from the Parthenon."

 
Grecian urn presented to Adlai Stevenson by Mary Kampouris (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)


Visitors to the ALPLM will soon be able to learn more about Adlai Stevenson's connections to Abraham Lincoln and see the Grecian urn on display when the new permanent Stevenson Room opens. The exhibit will explore the Stevenson family odyssey in Illinois and U.S. politics.


Jacob K. Friefeld
Research Historian

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