Big Lex, the blue horse that adorns Lexington's tourism signs, should sport a stovepipe hat.
A new National Park Service study, as reported in the Herald-Leader on April 27, notes that more than 240,000 visitors to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville expended $13 million in the region.
Lexington also benefits from this Lincoln-related tourism.
Two important stops on the Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail are Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, and the Mary Todd Lincoln House. These sites play an important role in bringing visitors to the Horse Capital of the World.
Lincoln once said that Clay, the Lexington lawyer who served as speaker of the House and U.S. secretary of state, was his "beau ideal of a statesman." Many of Clay's policies influenced Lincoln well into his presidency. Because of this connection, Ashland has effectively intertwined the story of the 16th president into its interpretation.
While Clay was Lincoln's political ideal, another Lexington native played an even greater role in Lincoln's life: his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.
Born in Lexington and raised in the house that now bears her name, Mary Todd Lincoln was well educated and politically aware, and she actively supported her husband's political career as he rose to become the 16th president.
During the Civil War, many of Mary's siblings supported the Confederacy, making the family a visible example of how the conflict shattered Kentucky families. For President Lincoln's extended family, it truly was a "brother's war." The Mary Todd Lincoln House provides the perfect venue to tell this complex story, especially in 2018, when the site will commemorate the bicentennial of Mary's birth.
In addition to its importance as an historical site, the Mary Todd Lincoln House provides visitors with a first impression of Lexington. Because of the house's location near the Lexington Visitor Center, the Mary Todd Lincoln House becomes the first stop for many tourists, exposing them to Lexington's heritage and hospitality.
Therefore, this historic home takes on additional importance.
It is understood in the tourism industry that heritage tourists — those who visit historic sites and cultural attractions — spend more money and more time at their destinations than other visitors.
Heritage tourists impact the local economy across a wide spectrum of businesses, including hotels, restaurants and other attractions. They are not just attending one site or event and then leaving Lexington; instead, they are staying and spending more. Therefore, these two Lincoln sites easily contribute tens of thousands of dollars to Lexington's economy each year.
While bourbon, the horse industry and the University of Kentucky reign supreme as tourism-related economic drivers, a diversified tourism industry is important. With heritage tourists representing the "beau ideal" of the industry, supporting Lexington's museums and historic sites makes sense. These historic structures and associated museums, including the city's Lincoln sites, help the regional economy.
Look at the face on the five-dollar bill. And know that local places tied to that president help bring that money to Lexington.