“Selected Scenes From my Unhistorical Road Trip,” by Michael Fowler

May 15th, 2024 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

As a history buff, I spent my recent vacation on a week-long road trip to sniff out real American history, and failed miserably. I wasted hundreds of dollars and put countless furlongs on the car to arrive at the completely faked Abe Lincoln Birth Cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky, for example. This monument to a great president contains not a twig from the original cabin, but the shed-like structure stands close to my home in the Midwest, so that’s where my ill-fated journey began.

To be fair, the fine print in the Lincoln Birth Cabin brochure admitted it was a hoax. Located indoors within the Lincoln Museum (always a bad sign for a cabin), it was a replica of an interpretation, as the literature acknowledged, composed of wood that may have been from the same species of tree that that actual birth cabin, long vanished, had been built from. More likely, one supposed, it was not from the same tree at all, but was a different sort of timber altogether, a prettier one that looked good in a museum.

Leaving The Lincoln Museum in a bit of a huff, I discovered that the Honest Abe chicanery didn’t stop there. Driving through the center of Hodgenville, I passed the Lincoln Laundry, the Lincoln Bank, and even the Lincoln Law Office, all modern and open for business, with Abe’s classic silhouette on display on doors and windows. The downtown reeked of honesty.

Just out of town, I came across a barn with a sign that said Abe Lincoln Gifts, and pulled into the dirt lot. I purchased a 10-inch bust of Lincoln done in anthracite coal. Abe looked just like he does on the penny, only he was larger and dustier. But I really only wanted directions to the second Lincoln Cabin near Hodgenville, that I heard about at the Museum. I never knew a second Lincoln cabin existed, and my mouth watered with historical hunger as soon as I got word of it.

This second cabin was the Lincoln boyhood or perhaps teen cabin, where the great man allegedly lived as a boy and young man. Looking back, it’s as hard to say which was the more thrilling to view—the Birth Cabin or the Teen Cabin—as it is to say which was less authentic.

The teen cabin, located outdoors at Knob 7 along Route 32 (A knob, for those who don’t speak Kentuckian, is a hill) was a symbolic simulacrum, of which not one plank could claim to be genuine. But you could walk into it and sniff around, as long as you didn’t touch any of the precious fakery, like the shovel Abe learned to write on, or the candle he lit to read at night. I looked for, but didn’t spot, old copies of Playboy Magazine stuffed under the studious teen’s mossy mattress, and flasks of cheap cologne on his knotty table.

Repulsed by all this quackery in the nation’s Midwest, I headed northeast for the real deal. New England teemed with history, and a fact-finding mission to the Nathaniel Hawthorne House in Salem, Massachusetts was right up my alley. Hawthorne was never one of my favorite writers, ever since I was forced to read The House of the Seven Gables in school. But The Scarlett Letter was pretty cool, so I was a big enough fan to want to see inside his home. In doing so, I counted on the great state of Massachusetts not to flimflam me with Lincoln Cabinesque duplicity.

What a fool I was. The Hawthorne House was a monument of bogusness not even located on the site where Hawthorne once lived, nor even in his actual neighborhood. Instead it was an old house, thought to be similar to Hawthorne’s, that had been dragged by house-moving machinery to a good spot for tourism, and remodeled to include an extensive gift shop—The amount of fakery in such places, I’ve learned, is directly proportional to the size of the gift shop. Colonial Williamsburg, where I visited the year before, is a good example of this. Colonial Williamsburg has a gift shop the size of a city block, revealing the place for what it really is: not so much an historical site as a theme park. True, you can meet Thomas Jefferson in a tavern and have a laugh with him, but this gives you the same feeling as running into Goofy at Disney World.


Still in Salem, and desperate for on-site reality after touring Hawthorne’s faux residence, I ventured downtown to see an actual witch. I thought she might be related by blood to the witches tortured in the 1690s by those fun-loving Puritans that Hawthorne, perhaps sitting in his fake study only blocks away, wrote so movingly about.

Inside the witch’s lair, which doubled as a café with souvenir shop, I joined a small crowd to hear a young woman with loose hair and dressed in a tie-died robe and sandals talk about the tainted history of the place, such as the crushing to death of women between massive rocks. The lady acknowledged that she too was a witch, but I got the impression she was too high to worry about being pressed between rocks. Besides, she claimed to be a good witch, a Wiccan nature-worshiper, and offered to sell us listeners some crystals. Fearful of falling into the satanic trap of commercialism, I fled.

I didn’t stop running until I reached Yorktown, Virginia, more or less on my way back to the Midwest and home, as my vacation was coming to an end. Here at last I encountered some hard-nosed history: the actual field tent of General George Washington, a remnant of the Battle of Yorktown from 1781, was in plain sight inside a climate-controlled display case at the Yorktown Museum, and it was thrilling. Or the museum purported it was that tent. Perhaps it was something a local Boy Scout troop discarded in 1981, and the museum people refurbished it to dupe tourists.

They’re supposed to mention trickery like that, but you never know.


Michael Fowler writes humor and horror in Ohio.

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