Friday, March 28, 2008

Outstanding Lincoln Exhibit In Oregon


Since this past December (2007), the Oregon Historical Society (Portland) has been putting on an exhibit which appears to be outstanding. The exhibit, titled "A House Divided, Lincoln: In His Own Words" features priceless Lincoln letters, campaign memorabilia, political cartoons, rare plaster casts of his face and hands, and a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The reader might wonder, as I did, about what ties Lincoln could have had to Oregon. I didn't know that Lincoln was actually offered the governorship of Oregon Territory in 1849, an offer which he turned down.
I would encourage the reader to look at a very entertaining and informative video about this exhibit on the Society's exhibit homepage. In this video, a Lincoln re-enactor is seen strolling along the sidewalk in front of the Society museum, sees his own statue and walks inside. There, a local Lincoln scholar gives "Mr. Lincoln" a quick tour of the exhibit, while "Lincoln" offers various comments about the items on display. The re-enactor doesn't appear to have the height of the original, but he looks pretty close to the original. And the re-enactor is wise enough to use an approximation of Lincoln's frontier dialect, not quite "hillbilly," but definitely using terms like "reckon." At the end of the video, the scholar asks "Mr. Lincoln" to not be so long between visits and states "we need you here." How right he is!

The video is about 8-10 minutes long and is well-done. I wish Ohio wasn't so far from Oregon, because I'd love to see the exhibit in person. It runs through April 27, 2008, so there's still a month left to see it. Here is a local review of the exhibit, taken from OregonLive.com

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Obama's "Lincoln Moment"


Much has been made in the past week of Barack Obama's "Lincoln Moment" speech he gave in Philadelphia after the firestorm of controversy raised by his former pastor's (Jeremiah Wright) church sermons in which Wright repeatedly stated "God Damn America" due to racial injustices, past and present.

Reaction to Obama's speech (the complete text is here), has been mostly positive, including Chris Matthews of MSNBC who labeled it as "worthy of Abraham Lincoln". But while the speech was incredibly eloquent and meaningful, as nearly all of Mr. Obama's speeches have been, was it indeed "Lincolnesque" or not?

Harold Holzer, one of the leading Lincoln scholars, for one, thinks it was not. In fact, Holzer states that Lincoln's famous "race speech" was actually much closer to the Rev. Wright's sermons than to the speech given by Obama. In an editorial piece from the New York Sun from March 24, 2008, Holzer takes the reader through the "fury" (Holzer's term) of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Holzer claims that Lincoln unleashed a "stern lecture" on America for permitting slavery in the first place and that God had punished the nation with the terrible tragedy which was the Civil War. He also writes that most people focus on the brilliant closing of the Address, in which Lincoln wished "malice towards none."

It must be remembered that when Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address on Saturday March 4, 1865 (the text may be found here), no one knew that the Civil War was barely just 6-8 weeks away from being over. It had dragged on for nearly four years and brought death to more than 600,000 Americans by the time of his speech. It would be no wonder if Lincoln really did unleash "fury" on his fellow countrymen.

My depth and breadth of knowledge about Abraham Lincoln certainly are not close to that of Holzer's, but I disagree with his claims he makes in the editorial about the Address. In the Address, Lincoln briefly restated the facts that while both sides (the North and South) sought to avoid war, one side sought to make it (the South) while the other chose to accept it (the North) in order to defend their beliefs about the nation. Then Lincoln went on to say how odd it was that each side prayed to the same God for his help in achieving their goals. But nowhere do I personally detect "fury" in Lincoln's Address. Indeed, he even quotes the "judge not, lest we be judged" verse from the Bible. He also states that if it is God's will that the war continue "until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

I know that Holzer says the most important part of Lincoln's Address is the section on slavery, but it is due to Lincoln's closing paragraph that I believe that he was not unleashing "fury" at all. He stated " With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

If Lincoln really had "fury" in his bosom that day, I highly doubt that he would have shown such magnanimity in his closing. I read no condemnation of America in Lincoln's remarks, rather just an excellent grasp of the events which led to the bloodiest war in our nation's history.

For an in-depth examination of the speech many scholars consider Lincoln's greatest, even above the Gettysburg Address, the book "Lincoln's Greatest Speech" by Ronald C. White, is indispensable and is a must-have for any Lincoln library.

Turning Abe Into A Tourist Attraction


With the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth less than one year away, it seems that every locale in the United States is trying to cash in on his continued popularity by coming up with some way of attracting tourists. Booneville, Kentucky is no different. In the Lexington, Kentucky Heralld-Leader comes this story about a somewhat mysterious folk art carving of Abraham Lincoln in a sandstone boulder.

It seems that back in the 1930's, a local family cared for an itinerant pack peddler named Granville Johnson, who was sick and needed both care and shelter. As he grew healthier, Mr. Johnson would disappear from the family's home with a hammer and chisel for hours at a time. Later that summer, Johnson finally revealed what he had been working on. It was a life-sized carving of Lincoln, showing him holding a book in his left hand.

Today, more than 70 years later, the carving is still in excellent condition and is registered by the Smithsonian Institute American Art Museum in its folk art repository. Now local officials are proposing buying the property from the current owners and establishing some sort of walking trail which would lead tourists to the carving. There is some minor controversy as there always is when change comes to a community.

The article I pulled this story from shows another photo of the carving in its entirety.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lincoln Casket Replica In Nebraska

One of the things I most like about being an Abraham Lincoln blogger is that I come across some weird items which fascinate me, and at least hopefully hold the interest of my readers. Just today, I stumbled upon this little article from the McCook Daily Gazette (Nebraska) which talks about a replica of Abraham Lincoln's casket being on display at the local mortuary.


The photo shows the casket. It's one of three replica Lincoln caskets made by the Batesville Casket Company. It supposedly is an exact replica, but I have no idea if it truly is. There is also a replica casket on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Thank goodness they don't have a replica Abraham Lincoln body in the casket. That would've been too weird even for me!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lincoln Letter Could Bring $5 Million At Auction

On April 3rd, Sotheby's auction house in New York, NY is holding an auction of incredible presidential letters and other documents. Apparently, the gem of this auction will be a letter President Lincoln wrote in response to a petition sent to him by Massachusetts school children, pleading with him to free the "little slave children." The petition, titled "Children's Petition to the President asking him to free all the little slave children in this country," was signed by 195 boys and girls and was sent to Lincoln in April 1864.


Lincoln replied at once, on April 5, 1864. In the letter, Lincoln wrote that he had a passionate desire to see the end of slavery, but that he felt he didn't have the power, but that God did. He wrote: "and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it." Eloquent as always.


The image on the right is of the letter. Sotheby's estimates it could bring as much as $5 million, breaking the previous record ($3.1 million) for a Lincoln manuscript or letter. Wow.


Story and photo come from AuburnPub.com of Auburn, New York. Auburn was the home of Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward.

Abraham Lincoln In Post-It Notes?


Here's Abraham Lincoln as you've never seen him. A senior art student at Illinois Wesleyan University, Chris Killham, has created this unusual "portrait" of Abraham Lincoln entirely from Post-It notes. Killham created this work, titled "Hugs & Kisses, Abe" by using over 6,000 Post-Its of varying colors, then pasting them on a total of 105 poster boards. He created it after his art professor suggest that he work in larger formats. Unfortunately, the work has already been disassembled.

You can read the full article here, courtesy of Pantagraph.com

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

History Detectives Visit Abraham Lincoln Museum In Springfield



Here's a fun little story from the Springfield, Illinois Journal-Register concerning the arrival to Springfield of the team from "The History Detectives" television show produced by PBS. The team, including the show's host, Wes Cowan (seen on the Antiques Roadshow as a specialist in Americana) came to Springfield to investigate whether some old song sheets discovered by an Oregon couple might have belonged to Abraham and Mary Lincoln. It seems that a couple of the sheets contain what appear to be a couple of Lincoln signatures. The photo I've included depicts Cowan (on the left) interviewing Jean Baker, the prominent Mary Todd Lincoln scholar.

Sadly, the historians believe the signatures aren't real and that the provenance provided to the couple who bought the sheets is bogus. Still, the story is intriguing and I hope I catch it. Just last season, the show experts came to Springfield to investigate whether a letter supposedly written by Lincoln and purchased at a garage sale in Florida was real. Amazingly, it was. That's the kind of story that keeps someone like me, a Lincoln buff and an antiques nut, searching for the next treasure out there.

I've actually had a couple of dealings with Mr. Cowan, one a good outcome and one less than good. About 10 years ago, I purchased an original 1865 broadside announcing Lincoln's assassination, published by a Canton, Ohio (my hometown) newspaper. I was thrilled to get it. Just a couple of years ago, I actually called Wes to have him check what appeared to be an original Department of War notice that John Wilkes Booth had been shot. The notice was coming up for auction the next day in a town not far from me. He told me the notice "looked good" and then asked me where the town was. BIG mistake. The next day, I attended the auction and the buyer (certainly not myself) didn't hesitate to spend $2,000 on the winning bid. I was suspicious that it might have been a representative from Cowan's business.

I was correct. I next saw this wonderful "Booth Shot" broadside was listed for auction on Cowan's business (Historic Americana) website. It brought over $8,000. So by calling him, I inadvertently led him to a treasure which he made a killing on. Perhaps slightly unethical, but all is fair in the collectibles trade. Still, I love watching his shows.


Continued Fallout Over Closure Of Lincoln Museum

I've been somewhat remiss in keeping up with my posts over the past few days or so. We here in Northeastern Ohio were nearly buried on Friday night and Saturday by over 14 inches of snow and I've been trying to keep up with shoveling, etc. In the meantime, though, I've been keeping informed about the ramifications of the scheduled closure of the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The eminent and nationally known Lincoln expert, Harold Holzer, published an impassioned editorial on March 9, urging the operators of the musem (Lincoln National) to find a home for the valuable and irreplaceable collection of Lincolnania. As Holzer points out, the museum serves as a primary source of information to countless authors, researchers, and fans of Lincoln. It's an excellent editorial and I urge my readers to read it.

From an article published yesterday, March 10, by a Fort Wayne television station comes word that the Lincoln Museum Board Of Directors has voted to try every way possible to keep as much of the collection in Fort Wayne as possible. They will present a plan with various proposals to Lincoln National, based in Philadelphia over the next few months.

Like any good politician, the mayor of Fort Wayne, Tom Henry, weighed in with a statement of his own concerning the closure of the museum. Unfortunately, he probably won't have any impact whether the collection stays or goes.

Finally, there is yet another hard-hitting editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, strongly criticizing Lincoln National for not only turning its back on a community, but for also shutting access to perhaps the finest collection of Lincolnania publicly available. The author, Scott Bushnell, implies (with justification in my opinion) that corporate greed on the part of new management at Lincoln National is the primary reason for the closure.

Of course, it remains to be seen what effect, if any, these pleas and proposed plans will have on the decision by Lincoln National. Let's hope that the management at Lincoln National sees the light and remembers the goodwill and corporate citizenship it has established over the decades. Only an American company, with its focus on the short-term bottom line, would cut off access to such a National treasure.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Closing OF The Lincoln Museum In Fort Wayne, Indiana

This is a follow-up to the announcement this week that the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana is closing after being open to the public for 77 years.

Today's Fort Wayne Journal Gazette contains a somewhat moving editorial about the closure, lamenting what it means to Fort Wayne, to small cities around the country, and especially to Lincoln scholars. I never realized the sheer amount of documentation, books, brochures and other items the collection contains, numbering something like 230,000 in all!

I mentioned in my previous post that Lincoln Financial Group is going to try to digitize the documents and share or donate the other items in the collection. Still, it's a major loss to the Lincoln enthusiast community.

One can't help but wonder what the real reasons are for the closure, but I suspect it's due to declining profits or a desire to boost the bottom line at Lincoln Financial. One would have thought instead of just closing the museum, period, that Lincoln Financial could have sought public or private money in an attempt to keep the collection available to everyone. Instead, it has chosen to impact Fort Wayne, its citizens, and the Lincoln community of researchers adversely. That's a shame. By taking this action, Lincoln Financial has no doubt hurt its own corporate goodwill.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Bad Week For Lincoln Enthusiasts

This week has brought some unfortunate news to enthusiasts of Abraham Lincoln. Earlier this week, it was announced that the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana is closing its doors this June. The museum, run by the Lincoln Financial Group, has suffered from declining attendance for a while now. The museum's collection includes a shawl worn by Mary Todd Lincoln, some toys played with by the Lincoln children, a cane used by Abe himself, and numerous photos. The prize of its collection has to be a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln. All said, there are some 79 items in the collection. Unfortunately, roughly 20 employees at the museum will lose their jobs as a result of this action.

There is a slight bright spot, though. Lincoln Financial will explore possible ways of sharing this wonderful collection through exhibitions both real and virtual. Let's hope that the public can have continued access. It would be a shame if these treasures become hidden from public view.

The other unfortunate piece of news for us this week comes from Professor Brian Dirck of Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. For a few years now, he's run the premier Abraham Lincoln blog, the A.Lincoln Blog, at http://www.alincolnblog.blogspot.com/. His blog is extremely well-written and is an outstanding resource for people who wish to know more about our nation's 16th president. On what is his last post, Professor Dirck states that he will erase this blog within a few more days. Let us hope that he changes his mind and leaves all of his posts up. It would be a great loss of learned insight into Lincoln and his life, career, and presidency. We wish him well, but lament the loss of such an excellent blog!

When I started my own Lincoln blog a few months ago, I had no idea that another one already existed. I've tried very hard to avoid duplication of his efforts by checking his blog before I posted any information to mine. I've personally learned a great deal by reading his blog. While I have a good deal of knowledge about Lincoln, my level of understanding, I'm sure, pales in comparison to Professor Dirck's.

I have a fair number of readers of this blog, and the number who are return visitors is growing. I just want to assure you that I will maintain and continue to add to this blog in the hopes of informing and entertaining those who drop by.

Monday, March 3, 2008

University Puts Lincoln Archive Online

The University of Rochester (New York) has recently put its collection of 72 letters written by Abraham Lincoln online in order to share it with Lincoln researchers and enthusiasts.

One of the most interesting letters is one written by Lincoln on March 14, 1862 proposing the payment to slave owners of $400 per slave in order to achieve "gradual emancipation" so that hostilities might be ended. In the letter to Illinois senator James McDougall, Lincoln then proposed that in exchange for payment, slave-holders in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Washington D.C., and Missouri would agree to gradual emancipation within 20 years. Apparently, this suggestion did not apply to the slave-holders in states which were in rebellion against the Federal Government.

Obviously the idea never took off. It took the 13th amendment to the Constitution, after the Civil War, to once and forever end slavery in the United States.

The Rochester University archive is highly educational and informative. I encourage my readers to take advantage of another excellent repository of information about Abraham Lincoln.

 
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