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Chappaqua Family Tells Story Of 'Living With Lincoln' In HBO Documentary

The Kunhardt family in their Chappaqua attic with director of photography Clair Popkin, far right.
The Kunhardt family in their Chappaqua attic with director of photography Clair Popkin, far right. Photo Credit: Submitted
The Kunhardt's: George in back left; Peter Sr. in front, and Teddy, far right.
The Kunhardt's: George in back left; Peter Sr. in front, and Teddy, far right. Photo Credit: Submitted
The Kunhardt's Chappaqua house during filming.
The Kunhardt's Chappaqua house during filming. Photo Credit: Submitted

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- A Chappaqua attic is among the backdrops of a new HBO documentary, "Living with Lincoln" which airs April 13 at 9 p.m.

Other Westchester sites include the South Salem studio of Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken who produced the theme music, and Katonah-based Kessler Studios which was used for voice-overs.

But the real story is the one of the Kunhardt and Meserve families who literally lived with Lincoln for five generations and who, on the 150th anniversary of his assassination (he was shot on April 14, 1865 and died the next morning), use the film to paint an intimate picture not only of our 16th president, but of their their family, warts and all.

George and Teddy Kunhardt, who are fifth generation descendants of a Civil War soldier, and produced the film with their father, Peter Kunhardt Sr., said making this documentary was a labor of love that gave them a chance to travel back in time and explore their past.

Not to mention open up some very private family dynamics. The story starts with William Meserve, a Union soldier who crawled out from the Battle of Antietam, only to be met later by President Lincoln who thanked him and his fellow survivors.

A generation later, Meserve's son, Fredrick, due to reasons best told in the film, would make it his life’s mission to track down every Lincoln photograph he could.

Fredericl Meserve's daughter, Dorothy, who married Philip Kunhardt Sr. and would forever be known for writing the children's book, "Pat the Bunny," (celebrating its 75th anniversary this year), also took up the Lincoln baton, hunting down photographs, pamphlets, maps and artifacts.

Dorothy's son, Philip Jr, a LIFE Magazine editor, did his part, too, in preserving the collection, along with his sons Philip IV and Peter, and now his grandsons, Peter Jr. of the Pleasantville-based Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation which recently sold a vast part of the collection to Yale University (see Daily Voice story here ), and George and Teddy of Kunhardt Films. Peter Sr. narrates the film.

According to George Kunhardt, who along with brother Teddy, worked for more than two years on the project, there are many themes to the documentary: The relationship of parents and their children, life and death, memory, guilt, depression, and finding the right work/life balance.

"We wanted to tell this story from an honest, emotional point of view so that people outside our family would be able to identify with what our family has experienced," he said. "This is not your typical Lincoln film."

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