Occasional Blog

This is where I say things that I need to say that I haven’t said elsewhere.

How Abe Lincoln Became Our Hero Because a Cow Ate a Weed

The grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln (1784–1818), Spencer County, Indiana

The grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln (1784–1818). Her body lies somewhere nearby, but we don’t know where. Spencer County, Indiana.

Pioneer people lived in terror of “milk sickness.” They could not figure out why you’d die if you drank some milk but not other milk. In some counties, half the population could die from it.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s farm was healthy, but her neighbors came down with the disease. Nancy was kind, smart, and active, always encouraging her children to read and improve their minds, and her instinct was to go help her friends despite the danger. She went to stay with them as they died. As she nursed them, she drank the milk in their house. She died, too. It was 1818, and her son Abraham was nine.

It took nearly a century for scientists to realize it was caused by cows eating wild white snakeroot—and that the cure was eating sugar, a rarity in Indiana at the time (the locals have certainly made up for that with their current diets).

Abraham Lincoln had suffered the first shocking death of a loved one, and at a critical age. The trauma shaped him to be the compassionate, literate, but emotionally detached man the country would later need him to be. All because a cow ate a weed.

Guidebook of the Year

Me, Butterbeer, impish pride

Me, Butterbeer, impish pride

I have received the Gold award for Guidebook of the Year in the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, which is presented by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. The competition is judged by faculty members of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It is considered by many, including me, to be the highest honor the travel writing industry bestows.

Frommer's 2014 EasyGuide to Walt Disney World & Orlando, by Jason Cochran

Frommer’s 2014 EasyGuide to Walt Disney World & Orlando, by Jason Cochran

The book that won is my guide to Walt Disney World, Universal, and Orlando (right) that I wrote about on this website when it was released. The next edition comes out this fall.

I previously won the Gold a few years ago for the other destination for which I write an annual guidebook, London.

Writing these books means a lot of footwork, a lot of hotel-hopping, a lot of dinners alone, countless hours at a computer, and a lot of sweating over the details for months. There are many times when I doubt it’s worth it. Life’s funny, though—sometimes you find out what’s worth it all at once, and it comes when you least expect it.

I really don’t know what to do with the information that I have now won the Lowell Thomas Award twice, one for both of the books I do. I am grateful, of course.

Thanks to the SATW, to the Frommers, and to the people who have bought my work and enjoy it.

So here’s with a photo of me at Walt Disney World when I was about 5 or 6. If I had known that one day I would be paid to go there and ride the rides, I don’t think I would have survived to 7.