If there is one life of which the American people wish to know everything, it is Abraham Lincoln's. And it is probable that no life in history has been studied with more eager care than his. Historians, students, collectors, lovers of his name, have for three generations followed his every footstep, run down a thousand false trails and a hundred true ones, uncovered all that letters, recollections, tradition, even rumor, had to tell. And in all that career, already in our ears half legendary, there is no chapter which seemed more utterly closed, or which most of us, men and women, have more eagerly desired to open, than the idyll of New Salem, the love of Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge. Historians have for the most part passed it over as casual fancy of boy and girl. The romancers have had a truer inspiration, but, in the absence of tangible facts, a vague tradition was but slender nourishment for the imagination. A few patched together references, an occasional letter, records of a scattered group of places and people completely outside the fairy circle of the two to whom for a season it was all in all—such scant fare was all that the most industrious research supplied. Obviously the evidence was in. The whole book was closed, and that chapter had not even been really opened.
Such was the situation. It was hardly to the editor's discredit that, when he heard that the letters which once passed between Abraham and Ann still existed, he remarked, 'Interesting, if true,' and went on with his work. But the thought, once entered, would not leave his mind. He investigated. Rumor turned to evidence, evidence to proof. In this place he would like to put on record the Atlantic's gratitude for the kindness and helpfulness of Miss Wilma Frances Minor, who, when a strange turn of fortune presented her with a treasure beyond price, felt instantly her responsibility. In the brief period during which she has owned the materials by which the love story of Lincoln and Ann can be fully told for the first time, she has by travel, inquiry, and unceasing effort sought through living tradition, wherever it could be found, material which might add still more to the picture of Lincoln in the New Salem years.