Abraham Lincoln Swam Here

John Hmurovic
November 2018

Abraham Lincoln and his son, Tad Lincoln.

According to Smithsonian magazine, the phrase “George Washington Slept Here” became something of a cliché in the real estate business along the east coast. Our first president did travel extensively as a surveyor in his early years and stayed in many homes along the way. But in the centuries since, a few real estate agents in that part of the country used the phrase to make the house they were selling a little more enticing to potential buyers. In some cases, their claims may have been true, in others probably not. But they could get away with it, because whether George Washington slept there was too difficult to prove or disprove.

Standing is Minnie Neubeiser Lightfoot. Seated to her right is her mother, Anna Konyvesy Neubeiser. To Minnie’s left is her grandmother, the wife of Joseph Konyvesy, who according to family lore, saved the life of Mary Todd Lincoln at Wolf Lake. This photo is from the Lightfoot family collection and shows them on the porch of the family home, on Wolf Lake in Hegewisch, before it was demolished in 1947.

Right here in Whiting-Robertsdale, we can make a similar claim: “Abraham Lincoln Swam Here.” Is it true? Maybe. Is it false? Maybe. The only reason to consider this as a possibility is because of what one local family told a local historian over seventy years ago.

Augie Ruf is the historian. He was from the Chicago side of Wolf Lake. He once spoke with Minnie Neubeiser Lightfoot, whose mother was Anna Konyvesy Neubeiser. Anna and her husband, August Neubeiser, lived on Wolf Lake at 128th Street in Hegewisch for 62 years. They maintained a resort at that location until the building was torn down in 1947. Doing the math, if they lived there for 62 years that means they moved in around 1885. But before moving to the shores of the lake, Minnie said her parents lived just a short distance away from it. They lived in a log cabin at what is today the corner of 134th Street and Burley Avenue in Hegewisch. They moved there in the 1850s.

Mary Todd Lincoln

According to the family story, Anna’s father, Joseph Konyvesy, saved the life of Mary Todd Lincoln when she almost drowned in Wolf Lake. The Lincoln family supposedly came to the lake on “several occasions.” Abraham and Mary would have had three living sons at the time, but the article by Augie Ruf only refers to two sons being present one day at the lake. On that day, the boys were bathing in a creek that led to Wolf Lake. Their mother, Mary, thought one of the boys was drowning, so she dove into the lake to rescue him. The boys were fine, Mary was wrong in her impression that they were in danger. But as she attempted to come to the rescue, she almost drowned. According to family lore, Joseph rescued her.

Is it true? Did Abraham Lincoln and his family enjoy sitting along the shore of Wolf Lake and swimming in its waters? The Lincoln family never lived in Chicago. Springfield was their home. But Abraham’s work as a lawyer and as a rising political figure in the state frequently brought him to the largest city in Illinois. It’s possible that he would have come with his family at least part of the time. Beyond that, however, we don’t know. Neither the Neubeiser family nor Augie Ruf gave us any more clues. We are unlikely to ever find out. So, the next time you have a guest and you show them Wolf Lake, tell them that Abraham Lincoln swam here. It may not be true. But it might be. And either way, it’s a good story.