I Suck at History: My Brother’s Teachings on The Historical Accuracy of Abram Lincoln Vampire Hunter

I enjoy history, but I’m not a very good student at it.  The fact that I have a miserable memory for dates and names mean that, as soon as I finish reading a book of an historical  subject that interests me, only the most basic facts are retained.  I have found that the bulk of my historical knowledge comes from what I see on the movie screen.  Abraham Lincoln is a figure I find very interesting but, other than the basics they teach in grade school.   However, I don’t have to wait for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln movie to come out to learn more about our 16th President since he’s currently slaying vampires in theaters everywhere.

After attending Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, I started to wonder what they had borrowed from actual history and what was completely fabricated.  Lucky for me, my brother does not have the same problem with history on me and has read many books about Honest Abe.    After the break is a list he sent me, on my request, giving some historical context to ALVH.  He also let me know how the movie differs from its source material, Seth Graeme Smith’s book of the same name. SPOILERS (for book and movie) FOLLOW,  OF COURSE.

If you know of any historical tidbit in regards to the movie, please share in the comments.  What have you learned from movies?

Historical inaccuracies  for Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

-There is no historical evidence that Abraham Lincoln ever fought vampires

-This is a matter of opinion, but Mary Todd Lincoln was rather plain-looking and always a little chubby throughout her life; Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in comparison, was too skinny and pretty a choice for the character—though I imagine she may have been cast to be an action girl, despite her only moment of action being shooting one vampire in the head with a toy sword. Benjamin Walker also makes for a pretty handsome Abe, who was a homely man, while not necessarily ugly. Abe once replied, when someone called him two-faced, that if he “had two faces, do you think [he] would wear this one?”

-Joshua Speed died 17 years after Lincoln’s assassination (he did not die in the book either, probably for the same reason).

-Willie Lincoln is made to look like the Lincolns’ only child. At this point in the film, Robert Todd and Tad would have been alive. Tad would die a few years after his father’s assassination and send Mary further into despair.

-Mary Todd Lincoln was never engaged to Stephen Douglas, even though he did court her for a time. Then again, this may have just been an assumption of Abe’s, since Mary DID seem to scoff at the notion.

-It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight for Abe and Mary. They were engaged twice before getting married.  Their actual relationship varies depending on which historian you consult: either they are happily married or Mary was the scolding wife and Abe the henpecked husband. This, of course, varies on which source you look at. Toward the end of their time together, they did seem to be a happily married couple.

-I’m pretty sure Lincoln’s hat would not support the weight of someone standing on it, even if they are as skinny and light as Mary Todd was in the movie. It was a sweet moment, but impractical.

-William Johnson originally met Abe in Illinois, not while growing up in Kentucky.

-I remember the trailer and some production photos for the film showing a complete Washington Monument. The final film got it right in the very first minutes of the film. The Washington Monument was still under construction during Lincoln’s presidency.

-I thought it was odd that the film seemed to jump from Abe studying law books to him getting into politics. Abe practiced law before entering politics. In one scene of the book, he defended a woman only to have to kill her at night, after finding out she was one of the bad vampires.

Book and Film Differences

-William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), Adam (Rufus Sewell), his sister, and Harriet Tubman do not appear in the book. I imagine Adam and his sister were introduced because they wanted central antagonists—there isn’t really one in the book. Missing from the adaptation were another of Lincoln’s allies, Jack Armstrong, who Lincoln wrestled with and befriended in New Salem, Illinois—his role was filled by Mackie’s character, it seems—though William Johnson was a historical, figure, too. Johnson was Lincoln’s personal valet, though he is not mentioned in the book or, if he is, it is only in passing. He contracted smallpox while returning from Gettysburg and died; this may be why he is not featured at the end of the movie.  Other characters absent were Edgar Allan Poe—though his role was minor, it was memorable. He was fascinated by the vampire lifestyle and became a friend of Lincoln (both men were born the same year, interestingly), Secretary of State William Seward—who turns out to be a seasoned vampire hunter as well, Lincoln’s earliest love interest, Ann Rutledge—who was killed by a vampire, and Abe’s vampire bodyguards—who, while not being developed or even named, were constantly around Lincoln until Willie’s death.
Obviously, for a movie under two hours long, certain cuts need to be made, but some of the substitutions made were just strange, unnecessary, and/or wasted opportunities.

-A scene I miss from the book is one where Abraham rips into General George McClellan for his failures. At first, Abe accuses him of being a vampire, thinking that only a vampire failing on purpose could explain the general’s failing. He finds out that McClellan is just a lousy general. A lot of the war was cut from the film, but this was one of my personal favorite scenes in the book. The war was not covered much during the movie. Vampires were involved in the fighting—on both sides—from the very beginning, though, not just at the bequest of Jefferson Davis.

-Henry Sturgis’s character was a Roanoke colonist in the book. His was a sole survivor, kept alive by the vampire that killed off the rest of the colonists for company. It is not entirely clear where Henry and his wife were attacked, but it was certainly different circumstances than the events told in the book.

-Henry Sturgis is not the only good vampire, in fact a lot of the list of vampires to kill were given via a network. It is implied that he is the only good one in the film—kind of odd that Abe doesn’t say he trusts him until the end of the movie when he is holding up a train engine all by himself.

-Lincoln knew Henry was a vampire very early on. It was never kept as a secret. At any rate, all the time that he spent with Henry, Lincoln should have found that out himself…especially since they were around mirrors in the film.

-Vampires could kill each other in the novel. Henry actually killed John Wilkes Booth in the book after he killed Lincoln. Sorry for the spoiler.

-Stephen Douglas was a pawn of vampires in the book; while he may have been one in the movie, it was not really played on. Also, he later becomes an opponent for the presidency and then a friend of Abe’s.

-The Jack Barts character is killed by Abe while he is still a child—very early in the story with a homemade stake; this makes Abe’s father very nervous about repercussions from vampires. Henry also sometimes hand-delivered vampires to Abe—such as the vampire responsible for killing his first love.

-Mary Todd was oblivious of Abe’s second life for most, if not all, the book.

-I can’t remember if Lincoln had a shotgun in his axe in the book, or if this, like the loom in Wanted, was purely a creation of the director.

-The book begins with Henry giving the journal to Seth Graham Smith himself.

-Lincoln runs for president on the behest of the good vampires and Seward in the book.  In the movie, Henry frowns on the political pursuits. Henry is also for the abolishment of slavery.

-The massacre of Union troops depicted in the film actually happened at The First Battle of Bull Run, not at Gettysburg. By the time that battle rolled around, the soldiers were more prepared to fight the vampires—they did not have a crazy run for silver like they did in the film.

-Lincoln is fervently against bringing Willie back to life as a vampire. His death enrages him to the point that he banishes Henry and all vampires from the White House.

-SPOILER for BOOK: Henry DOES turn Abe into a vampire and they continue to fight vampires, such as KKK vampires and the like. In the end, they watch the I Have a Dream Speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Andrew Rosdail can be found on Twitter at @arosdail.
He is a playwright and author of the based out of Minnesota.

Jacob Rosdail is a Documentary Filmmaker and Co-Founder of Filmcast Without a Cause