Originally reported by Tanner Latham and Marshall Terry of WFAE. Listen to the radio story here.
Bostic, NC -- Bostic, North Carolina, is a sleepy little town in Rutherford County nestled in the shadow of the mountains. There's a town hall, a post office, some churches and stores. There's also the Bostic Lincoln Center. Lincoln. As in Abraham Lincoln. The center's whole purpose is to tell the controversial and disputed story that our 16th president was born in North Carolina. Keith Price opened the Bostic Lincoln Center four years ago, because he did not want the local lore to be lost.
It's been a local legend at least since the first book was written on the subject in 1899. "All of us that grew up here, from the time we were born, we were hearing stories about lincoln," says Price, the founder of the center. "Everyone had a version of it." Price was born in Rutherford County, left for school, the military, and then a career as a contractor. And after 40 years, he returned to retire. He reconnected with a grade school buddy named Tom Melton. Now, Melton had been an elementary school principal in the area, and was the messiah of the message that Lincoln was born here.
When Melton passed away, Keith picked up the torch and led the group of believers to open the Bostic Lincoln Center. It's housed in downtown Bostic's old train depot the town actually donated to the group. Keith and other volunteers man the center on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. It's small. In one room, stands a bookcase filled with Lincoln biographies and a few that have been written claiming Lincoln's North Carolina roots. The other room is lined with tables topped by bronze Lincoln busts. There's even a replica of his death mask. The Bostic Lincoln Center sits right off of main street in an old train depot.
Most stretches of the white-washed, wooden walls are covered with paintings of the president and pencil-sketched portraits drawn by local school children. And the rest of the walls are covered up by storyboard panels that detail a different story on Lincoln's birth.
Of course all the mainstream history books will tell you that Abraham Lincoln was born the son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks in a cabin near Hogdenville, Kentucky. But the Bostic Lincoln center has a different version. "What we're about primarily here is that Nancy Hanks birthed her firstborn here in Rutherford County and named him Abraham," says Price. There were lots of women named Nancy Hanks in the area, but they believe the mother of Lincoln lived with the family of Abraham Enloe. While there, she got pregnant and had a son she named Abraham. One theory is that Abraham Enloe was the father. According to the story, Enloe paid Thomas Lincoln to marry Nancy Hanks and move to Kentucky, which is where everyone agrees that Abe was raised. At least one historian says the two men were connected; that Thomas Lincoln worked as a cattle driver for Abraham Enloe and as proof, cites a document with both their names on it.
This whole legend is based on a couple of books written over the last hundred years. The information was culled from oral interviews with locals who corroborate the North Carolina Lincoln birther story. What's key here, though, is that there is a lack of evidence and a mountain of skepticism. "I would say that it's highly unusual for being based on absolutely nothing that is held to be true by the regular Lincoln historical community," says James Cornelius, the curator of the Abraham Lincoln presidential library and museum.
He's just one of many Lincoln historians who have doubts. Back at the Bostic Lincoln Center, those who believe the North Carolina birth story say he was born in a cabin a few miles up the road, a site Keith Price is hoping to develop into a tourist destination. We followed Keith there. It's called Lincoln Hill, of course. You have to walk through the woods on a narrow access road that's about four feet wide. It leads to the ruins of a stone foundation on private property. There's a hole in the ground where the basement probably was. "Parking and handicap access. And all the things we want to have," he says. "Have a self-interpretive sign. Trails and all that. It'll take a life of its own."
He seems convinced that it's going to happen, but there's that enormous obstacle: the proof. And all the Carolina Lincoln believers we talked to say they know how to get it.
"Do the DNA," says richard eller, a history professor at Catawba Valley Community College and author of the book The Tarheel Lincoln. First, he says to gather the DNA of a modern Enloe descendent. "And there's plenty of Enloes out there that would be willing, glad to have themselves tested," says Eller.
We found a modern Enloe. David Enloe, who lives in California. A few years ago, he and his wife took a trip to North Carolina just to visit the Bostic Lincoln Center. Now, we have to say here that David is not 100% sure how direct his lineage is to Abraham Enloe. But, he does kinda looks like Abraham Lincoln. He's a tall guy and his facial features - when you're looking for them - do resemble that of Abe's. Some believe David Enloe bears a resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. He grew up hearing the story of the Enloe/Abraham Lincoln connection and traveled to Bostic from California after he heard the center had opened. They have similar hairlines and cheekbones. That's certainly not definitive.
So we asked David if he'd be willing to give a DNA sample. "Yeah, I'd be happy to do that," says Enloe. "And if it proved negative, at least we'd know.” And, it is possible to know. We talked to a professor of genetics at UNC Chapel Hill. He says that if David Enloe's connection to Abraham Enloe is direct enough, we could take some of David's DNA and compare it to Lincoln's blood. Which brings up probably the biggest hurdle any Carolina Lincoln believer has to overcome: access to Abe's blood.
Yeah, there are actual artifacts with Lincoln's blood from the night of the assassination. The problem, according James Cornelius from the Lincoln Library, is that testing those samples could destroy them. "If you can manage to pass some wand like on Star Trek over the item and collect the vibrations of its DNA and read from that, I'm all for it," says Cornelius.
And that's where we're left. No history book revisions on the horizon. The Bostic Lincoln center has had about 3,000 visitors since it opened four years ago. 1,500 of them have signed a petition requesting DNA testing be done. Keith says they're just trying to spread their story as much as possible. And, they may end up getting a little bump in attendance simply from their nearly-famous name. While we were there, we found a framed letter that Keith had received from an attorney representing the Lincoln Center in New York. It was a cease and desist letter, asking the North Carolina museum to change its name so that no one would confuse the two.
Keith politely declined. "Can you imagine little Bostic Lincoln Center winding up in some sort of a national level confrontation with the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts?" Keith asks. "Who in the world was going to look better?"