I first met Dr. Fred Antil over the phone. He called my WRDV radio show one day and wanted to know if he could promote his new book “A Lincoln Treasure Trove” on our four-station network.
Fred said he loved our programming and thought that our audience would be just the right one for him. I assured him that though we play vintage music (mostly) none of our listeners were around when Mr. Lincoln was President. I also told him we were a public radio station and, while he could be a sponsor, we could not carry “call to action” advertising. That seemed okay with him, he said he really wanted to reach our audience with the information, so he signed up.
I must admit that my first thought was that world really didn’t need another book about our 16th President but now that I’ve read it I’m of the opinion that, yes, the world was ready for this book. There’s a lot of “I didn’t know that” moments when you crack it open. It’s filled with quick-read stories, some you know – or think you do – some you never dreamed happened.
Abraham Lincoln has long been one of his passions. Over the years, he retraced Lincoln’s steps around the country and collected little-known factoids about the sixteenth president. After he retired, he compiled his research in a book titled "A Lincoln Treasure Trove." “It was great fun to do, and I hope people find it fun to read,” says Fred. “This was a bucket list item; seeing it come to fruition was fantastic.” Been there, done that.
Lincoln, you’ll learn, was the only US Chief Executive to actually engineer a successful military campaign (the Union took Norfolk from the Rebels) and he also visited the front lines on more than one occasion. He owned a newspaper – published in German, which he could neither read nor write – but it was a pro-Republican tome in Illinois and it aided his party’s political ambitions. Despite the “Honest Abe” monicker history has given to him, no one ever called him “Abe” – to his face.
Though he only enjoyed one year of formal education he was granted three honorary doctorates – two from Ivy League schools. The first came from Knox College in 1860 followed by one from King’s College (later Columbia University) in 1861 and one from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1864. He never called himself Doctor Lincoln. Of all the leading lights of our nation that got honorary doctorates (Washington and Jefferson among them) only Benjamin Franklin actually used his – he was known as Dr. Franklin.
Lincoln was not a handsome man, but those who met him dismissed the notion that he was ugly. A story he once told was of a man who pulled a pistol on him and said “I always said if I met a man uglier than myself I would shoot him.” Lincoln replied, “Shoot away, if I’m uglier than you I want to die.”
As an academic myself (40-plus years in higher education) I was fascinated by this longtime Cornell professor – who now lives locally and has immersed himself in our area’s culture and is a key player in local historic organizations – Craven Hall, the John Fitch Steamboat Museum, others.
A former Marine, hospitality executive (he spent two years working for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Clubs), a hospitality industry consultant, and Cornell University professor. Fred has two master’s degrees and a doctorate. He not only wrote the book but he also re-enacts Lincoln’s life for schools and civic organizations and has been doing so for quite some time. (His granddaughters got him started at their elementary schools). He founded and runs the very popular history club at his residence at Ann’s Choice Retirement Community in Warminster.
I physically met him at the radio’s station’s open house in November and could see why he could easily portray Mr. Lincoln. He bears an uncanny resemblance to the old rail splitter. He admits he has to die his beard darker for his Lincoln appearances.
Fred earned his bachelor’s from Cornell University’s hotel management program and after graduation, joined the Marines as a communications officer where he led a school that taught senior non-commissioned officers and junior officers how to be better instructors. Following that he joined Marriott Corporation’s personnel division.
At the same time, Hugh Hefner, Playboy magazine’s founder, was undertaking a major brand expansion: the Playboy Clubs and he needed someone to direct personnel operations. Fred took the position and moved to Chicago. After two years, shifts in the culture convinced Fred that the Playboy model would soon be out of step with younger customers – it was a short ride - and he moved on. Fred spent the next six years as vice president of the American Management Association, a consulting firm.
In 1983, he returned to his alma mater, at Cornell’s School of Hotel Management, as a professor and special assistant to the dean.. He retired from academia in 1993. But he’s hardly retired from his scholarly pursuit of Abraham Lincoln. He has made and continues to make a significant contribution to information about one of our nation’s greatest leaders.
Listen to Ted Taylor on WRDV FM (89.3)Tuesdays from 8 AM to Noon and Wednesdays from 10 pm – 1 am or contact him at email@example.com