Queer Places:
Oak Ridge Cemetery Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois, USA

Mercy Levering Conkling (November 21, 1817 - October 17, 1893) was a young friend of Mary Todd Lincoln from a well-off Baltimore family. Some time in 1839, Mary Todd moved from her father and stepmother’s stately, but crowded, house in Lexington, Kentucky, to the home of her married sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield, Illinois. During her stay at her sister Elizabeth’s house, Mary became good friends with a neighbor, Mercy Levering, who like Mary had come to Springfield on a visit to a relative (in Mercy’s case, her brother, attorney Lawrason Levering).

Mercy or Mercie Ann Levering Conkling was born on November 21, 1817, in Georgetown, DC, the daughter of Judge Aaron Righter Levering, of Georgetown, D.C., and Ann Butcher.

Abraham Lincoln first met Mary Todd in the Springfield home of her sister, Elizabeth Edwards, who had married into one of the richest families in Illinois. During the fall of 1840 Todd and Lincoln were edging toward engagement, and sometime around Christmas 1840 they may have become engaged. Lincoln's nervous courtship of Mary Todd contrasted strikingly with the easy intimacy he established with Joshua Fry Speed. Likewise, Mary Todd's intimacy with Mercy Levering, contrasted strikingly with her troubled, on-again, off-again relationship with Lincoln. Throughout the winter of 1839, while Levering was visiting Springfield, she and Todd became inseparable friends, and they corresponded when Levering returned to Maryland in the summer of 1840.

Mercy, whose name is also rendered as “Merce” or “Mercie” (the spelling on her tombstone), is known mainly for her association with a charming story from Mary’s early days in Springfield: during one particularly rainy spell that had turned the unpaved streets of the frontier city to muck, a bored Mary hit upon a novel way to travel the short distance from the Edwards mansion to the center of town: she and Mercy would take a pile of shingles with them and, by dropping the shingles in front of them to use as stepping stones, contrive to keep their feet out of the mud. Getting back home, however, proved to be problematic, so Mary, seeing a passing dray, asked the driver for a lift, a request with which he cheerfully complied. The more conventional Mercy declined the ride, which a denizen of Springfield later immortalized in verse.  

While visiting relatives in Missouri, the 21 years old Todd wrote to Levering, sorry to be denied "the happiness of seeing" her friend, "one I love so well," and planned to return early to Springfield, especially to see her. "How much I wish uou were near," said Todd, for Levering was "a congenial heart, in your presence I have almost thought aloud." She easily brought Levering to mind, Todd wrote, "for the brightest associations of the year are connected with thee." This is the year that Todd and Lincoln were probably moving toward an engagement. If Levering decided "to settle in Missouri, I will do so too," said Todd, not waiting to hear any suitor's plans. Back in Springfield, in December 1840, Todd wrote to Levering again, mentioning a female relative who had been visiting, "a most interesting young lady," whose "fascinations" have "drawn a concourse of beaux & company round us." Bemoaning Levering's "loss", Todd was glad to report a new female "companion", a "congenial spirit," Matilda Edwards (daughter of Whig politician Cyrus Edwards and cousin of Mary’s brother-in-law Ninian Edwards), "a lovelier girl I never saw." Todd suspected that Joshua Fry Speed's "ever changing heart... is about offering its young affections" at Matilda Edwards' "shrine." Speed and Lincoln both fell in love with and courted Matilda Edwards several well informed sources testify. In December 1840, Todd told Levering: "We cannot do much longer without you, your mate misses you too much from her nest, not to marvel at the delay" in meeting. "Write very, very soon if you love me," Todd urged. In June 1841, perhaps six months after Mary Todd and Lincoln's broken engagement, she wrote to Mercy Levering, reiterating "the love which I feel has ever been ours towards each other." Telling Levering that "time and absence only serve to deepen the interest with which I have always regarded you," she recalled the days they "strolled together & derived so much of happiness from each other's society."

On September 21, 1841, a few months after receiving this letter from Mary, Mercy married her beau James C. Conkling, a prominent Springfield lawyer. The couple had five children, including Clinton Conkling, who brought Lincoln the news of his nomination for the presidency. Clinton’s correspondence with his parents while he was at Yale before and during the Civil War gives some interesting glimpses into wartime Springfield as well as an eyewitness account by Clinton of the Baltimore riot of April 1861. Thanks to Clinton’s absence at Yale, we have this account from Mercy of Election Day, November 6, 1860, in Springfield: Springfield has been reclaimed at last, and is now in the Republican arm!! The boys had a great time here last night. Father was out till half past two. He describes the scene as perfectly wild. While the votes were being counted the republicans were at the Representatives hall, singing, yelling! shouting!! (The boys, not children) dancing. Old men, young, middle aged, clergymen and all! John Williams was put in the chair, a Secretary, Reporter etc appointed, and there they remained all night. Dispatches coming in all the while, and being read to the enthusiastic crowd, wild with excitement, and glory! With this I send you a paper, containing a list of the dispatches as they came in. So that you see the crowd had something to keep them excited! The Ladies in the goodness of their hearts prepared a supper, at Watsons saloon, where the gentlemen were invited to go in all night, or at least till 3 o’clock. The Democratic Headquarters closed at eleven and they retired quietly & feeling sad. Poor Dug!  

Mary Lincoln’s friendship with Mercy continued into Lincoln’s presidency. In July 1864, Mary, hearing that Mercy and her husband were in Washington, invited her to join them at Fortress Monroe. Later that year, in November, Mary wrote a gossipy letter to Mercy in which she concluded, “I shall be most happy, to welcome you at the Inauguration. If you can think over any plants, you have not & desire, let me know.”  

Mercy Levering Conkling died at the residence of her daughter Mrs. Anna D. Mathews,  in her seventy-sixth year. She was survived by husband, and five children, James of Franklin, Neb., Charles L. of St. Louis, Clinton L., Mrs. Mathews and Miss Alice Conkling of Springfield. She and her husband, who died in 1899, are buried in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery, the same cemetery in which their friends the Lincolns were laid to rest.


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