Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Recreating Lincoln's Columbus Ohio Funeral


On April 29, 2008, the city of Columbus, Ohio held a recreation of its funeral for Abraham Lincoln. An exact replica of Lincoln's coffin was placed in the Ohio Statehouse, just as the original was on the same date in 1865. Civil War re-enactors stood guard over the replica to make the scene authentic to the original.

According to the article in today's Columbus Dispatch newspaper, more than 50,000 people filed through the Statehouse rotunda on April 29, 1865 to pay their respects to the fallen nation's leader. This was in just 6 1/2 hours of viewing, so the turnout was roughly 8,000 viewers per hour. Impressive, to be sure.

Columbus was just one location of many other cities which held public funerals and viewing for Abraham Lincoln. Massive displays were held in New York, Buffalo, Albany, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, and of course, Springfield, Illinois. A second Ohio city, Cleveland, was the only one which thought to hold the viewing outdoors, thus permitting an amazing 100,000 people there to pay their respects and gratitude. All told, it is estimated that 1 million people braved the elements to see Lincoln's body, attend funeral processions in the various cities, or silently watch his funeral train roll through the countryside. The nation hasn't had such massive turnouts for a fallen leader since. The customs established at these various funerals for Lincoln have since been used in services for John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and others.

An excellent resource for learning more about the Lincoln assassination and the numerous funerals held for him is the classic book "Twenty Days" originally published in 1965 for the centennial of the assassination. The book, written by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., is a step-by-step account of the assassination, the killing of John Wilkes Booth, and fascinating photos of the funerals in the different cities. It's a must-have book for any Lincoln buff.

Another outstanding source of information about the Lincoln funeral train and it's stops along the way may be found at this webpage, part of the wonderful Abraham Lincoln Research Site. This particular page contains detailed route information of Lincoln's funeral train, the dates in each city the funerals were held, and so on. It also contains a copy of an original photo of the actual funeral procession held on April 29, 1865 in Columbus, Ohio.

Monday, April 28, 2008

John Wilkes Booth Descendants Think He Escaped


History tells us that John Wilkes Booth, the young actor who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, was cornered in a barn near Port Royal, Virginia, and was shot to death on April 26, 1865. Legends have persisted ever since that date that Booth escaped and lived to an old age.

According to an article originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and found on azcentral.com, two Booth descendants believe the legends about their infamous ancestor. Now, aided by Booth researchers and historians, the two sisters are close to obtaining DNA tests which just might prove (or not) the legends of Booth's survival to be factual.

Genetic samples purported to be those of Booth are preserved in both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. and could be compared against those known for sure to be of his brother, the famous actor Edwin Booth. Genetic material from Edwin is preserved in New York, New York.

It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Lincoln experts don't buy into the theory of Booth's escape, as there is at this point absolutely no proof of any kind to support such a claim. Indeed, Edward Steers Jr., the author of "Blood On The Moon," the definitive study of Lincoln's assassination, doesn't even include this theory of Booth's survival in his latest book, "Lincoln Legends, Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated With Our Greatest President."

It will be interesting to find out the results if and when the DNA testing is conducted. Hopefully, it will prove once and for all that John Wilkes Booth was given the ultimate justice for his heinous crime.

New Lincoln Memorial For Indiana


From the Fort Wayne, Indiana Journal Gazette comes a story about a new memorial to Abraham Lincoln. The memorial will be installed near his homestead in Indiana, where he lived from 1816 to 1830. A Fort Wayne team has been given a grant of $300,000 by the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to build and sculpt the memorial, which will be a new addition to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

The new memorial will consist of a circular plaza with granite obelisks marking significant events of Lincoln's life. The illustration I've included is an artist's concept of the memorial's appearance.

This new memorial is to be installed in 2009, the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Statues Of Old Abe Are Rejected



From the April 19, 2008 edition of the Lincoln Courier (Lincoln, Illinois) newspaper comes a story about how donated statues of Old Abe have been rejected for display in the local courthouse.

Seems that Mr. Lester Van Bibber and his wife commissioned two larger-than-life statues of Abe out of solid granite and wanted to donate them to the tourism bureau of Logan County, Illinois. One statue was meant to be displayed on the third floor of the Logan County courthouse, but when it was discovered that each 6'6" statue weighs 1200 pounds, it was rejected as being too heavy. Another statue was supposed to be donated to the Postville Courthouse State Historic Site, a replica of the courthouse where Lincoln practiced law. But that offer was rejected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

The Van Bibbers are extremely disappointed and blame officials for rejecting the statues. After seeing the photo of the one statue, I'd have to say I don't blame the officials. It bears about as much resemblance to Lincoln as a bad Lincoln impersonator does. Seems to me that the money would have much better spent establishing funds for scholarships or perhaps for an interpretive exhibit about Lincoln's work within Logan County.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lincoln Assassination Letter To Be Donated To Museum


Here's an interesting little story about a Greeley, Colorado family which has possessed a letter which contains an eyewitness account of the Lincoln assassination on April 14, 1865. The family has owned the letter since the 1930's, when the letter was found in an old trunk.

The letter, written in 1897 by Ohio congressman James Morris, gives a detailed account of how the shooting interrupted the play. It also quotes John Wilkes Booth as having said "Sic Semper Tyrannis" (Thus Always To Tyrants) on stage after the shooting before making his escape.

The letter will be donated this week to the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. It's admirable that the family would do this, because they could certainly earn a few thousand dollars from selling it. Now the letter will be available for everyone to enjoy and research. The Museum has authenticated the letter. It would be interesting to know if Congressman Morris was truly at Ford's Theater that night or simply "remembered" being there.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bad Lincoln "History"


Bad history is all around us, as documented in the book "Lies Across America" by James W. Loewen. Examples include a small town in Texas which claims that it's the site of the true first flight, never mind what we've read about the Wright Brothers in Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Another example is the Christopher Columbus statue in the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus which perpetuates the myth that until Columbus sailed, everyone thought the Earth was flat.

But now I've seen everything. Tomorrow, April 12, 2008 marks the opening in North Carolina of something called "The Bostic Lincoln Center Museum" which continues the unproven claim that Abraham Lincoln was actually born near the little town of Bostic in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Various people have tried to make the case for over 100 years now that Lincoln was born there, the illegitimate son of Nancy Hanks. Never mind that this claim is based on hearsay, oral traditions, and local lore without a single shred of evidence. The website for the "museum" in Bostic provides various links to other websites attempting to prove that Lincoln was really a North Carolinian.

A while back, I posted on this blog about the recent book "Lincoln Legends, Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated With Our Greatest President," authored by Dr. Edward Steers, Jr., one of the leading Lincoln scholars. Chapter 2 of this book, simply titled "Lincoln's Father" describes in great detail this long-time claim about Lincoln, his parentage, and his place of birth. He includes research about Thomas Lincoln, Nancy Hanks, a man named Abraham Enloe (supposedly Lincoln's real father), wedding licenses, and so on. It's very interesting and enlightening.

Steers' conclusion? "While there may have been a woman named Nancy Hanks who lived in western North Carolina in the early years of the 19th century, and while she may have given birth to a baby boy fathered by a man named Abraham Enloe, neither the mother nor the baby had any relationship to Nancy Hanks Lincoln and her son, Abraham Lincoln." In his opinion, people who claim otherwise, that Lincoln was born illegitimately in North Carolina, do so to somehow stain Lincoln's place in history.

Sounds about right to me. I'd believe the conclusions of Dr. Steers over some "museum" in the hills of North Carolina. No one who is truly knowledgeable about Abraham Lincoln will buy this myth which persists to this day. I hesitated to even post about this "Lincoln Center Museum" for fear of partially legitimizing it, but I chose to do so to illustrate that people should not believe everything they read or everything they are told. We all need to be aware of bad history, and this "Bostic Lincoln Center" is one of the worst examples I've yet seen.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pennsylvania Museum Displays Lincoln Assassination Relic

The main goal of this blog is to help educate people about the nation's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. I never cease to be surprised by just how much additional knowledge I have personally gained about him since I started the blog back in November 2007. The learning continues. Just today, I stumbled upon the story of the "Abraham Lincoln Flag," which supposedly was used at Ford's Theater to cradle Lincoln's head after he was shot on April 14, 1865. I had never heard of this flag, which is on display at the obscure Pike County Historical Society in Millford, Pennsylvania. Here is the story behind the flag.

After the shooting, pandemonium reigned in the theater. Doctors rushed to Lincoln's side to tend his fatal injury, but there were also others present in the presidential box. One was Miss Laura Keene, the star of that night's play, "Our American Cousin." Keene cradled Lincoln's head in her lap for a few minutes in an attempt to at least provide him with some comfort. But then the doctors wanted Lincoln laid flat on the floor of the box so they could examine his wound. This is where the Lincoln Flag comes into the story.

It seems that a gentleman named Thomas Gourlay, an actor with the theater and a part-time stage manager reached over the presidential box, grabbed one of the American flags, and placed it under Lincoln's head. After Lincoln was moved to the Petersen House across the street, where he died the next morning at 7:22 a.m., Gourlay kept the flag until his death in the 1880's. He passed it on to his daughter, who in turn passed it on to her son, who finally donated it to the Pike County Historical Society in 1954.

The flag was basically unknown to the "outside" world until the 1960's when famous Lincoln scholar Edward Steers (author of "Blood On The Moon" among many other books about Lincoln) happened to stop at the museum and learned about the legend of the flag. He in turn wrote an article about it and the flag became famous, at least within the Lincoln community.

Scientific research done in 1996 seemingly confirmed the authenticity of the flag. The red dye is natural, not synthetic, for example. Synthetic dyes were not invented until the 20th century. The blood stain still visible on the flag is in a pattern of coming into contact with a bleeding human. If it had been forged, the forger most likely would've splattered blood on it.

The reader may click on the link in the opening paragraph of this posting to read more about the history of this flag. An additional article here talks about how interest in the flag is increasing with the approaching bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. The Lincoln Flag is still on display at the museum.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which occurred April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King had been in Memphis leading marches of sanitation workers who had been on strike in Memphis for weeks. He was there to give hope, strength, and courage to the workers, who were mostly African-American. As everyone knows by now, Dr. King was the primary leader of the Civil Rights movement in our country, originally coming on to the scene in the 1950's during the Selma, Alabama protests and boycott of that city's bus system for requiring people to ride the back of the bus (or stand), simply based on the color of their skin.

While Dr. King of course has no direct ties to Abraham Lincoln, he served as a guiding force and conscience to President Lyndon Johnson on the question of Civil Rights as Frederick Douglass did for Lincoln on the question of slavery. Just as Lincoln was slow and deliberate in coming around to the total abolition of slavery, President Johnson moved slowly towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without Dr. King's ideas and moral force demanding justice for his people, the Act may have never come to pass.

Dr. King is primarily known today for his spell-binding "I Have A Dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. I am too young to remember his speech, but I never cease to get chills every time I watch it. You may find it here in its entirety of nearly 18 minutes.

On the night of King's assassination, Robert F. Kennedy gave one of the most brilliant speeches in American history in Indianapolis, Indiana at what was to be a campaign appearance. Speaking entirely without notes, Kennedy eulogized Dr. King, but also appealed to every American to avoid violence and continue to work for Dr. King's dream. This speech may be found here. I would urge my readers to watch it.

Our nation has come a long way since that fateful day in Memphis. Who would've guessed that 40 years to the day after King's death that the leading candidate for the Democrat nomination for president would be an African-American? Yet, there is still much to be done. There remains much discrimination in this country based on nothing more than skin color, or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Conservatives disparage liberals and vice versa. The rich grow wealthier every day while our senior citizens must choose between medicine, food, and heat. Jobs disappear to other countries while the companies which send them abroad get tax breaks for destroying the lives of Americans.

But I feel there is still hope. If we keep Dr. King's dream alive and remember Abraham Lincoln's words, trusting in the "better angels of our nature," we can truly bring liberty and justice to all. We need to hope. We need to believe. We all need to say "I Have A Dream."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Update - Lincoln Letter On Slavery Fetches $3.4 Million!

Back on March 13, 2008 I reported the story about the letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to schoolchildren in Massachusetts in response to their petition for him to end slavery. The letter is beautiful, eloquent, and moving as so much of his writing was. The pre-auction estimate was between 3 and 5 million dollars.

The auction was held today at Sotheby's in New York and fetched an incredible $3.4 million. As usual with these special pieces of history, the bidder remains anonymous, unless of course he or she chooses to reveal his or her identity at some point. One would hope that the new owner will consider putting it on display at some point or even consider donating it to a museum, so everyone can enjoy it.

Also auctioned today was the only known autograph of Abraham Lincoln signed on the day of the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, November 19, 1863. That autograph sold for an amazing $937,000 to a first time bidder at Sotheby's.

There were other documents signed by Lincoln and other presidents such as Thomas Jefferson which failed to sell. That of course means that the reserve price or opening price was not met.

Abraham Lincoln and eBay

One of my favorite activities (my wife would call it an addiction) is to head to the land of eBay and seek out Abraham Lincoln collectibles. I've been an eBay member since its earliest days, before it was even called "eBay" (it was then known as "Auction Web"), beginning in the summer of 1997. I've had transactions with fellow members from around the world and I love the thrill of the hunt, so to speak. Now that Brian Birck has regrettably halted his outstanding "A. Lincoln Blog" I suppose it will be OK if I take over for him and occasionally post links to fun Lincoln items I spot on eBay. I always enjoyed those postings of his titled "Abe on eBay."

At any given time there are roughly 800 to 1,000 Abe Lincoln collectibles on eBay, ranging from cheap trinkets like fridge magnets and postcards to truly astounding items such as authenticated Lincoln autographs, letters, and rare campaign items which bring thousands of dollars. I typically search only for "Abraham Lincoln" because it finds the most items, but some sellers list items as "Abe Lincoln" and those searches return 200-300 items.

Without further adieu, here is the first batch of Lincoln items I'd like to share:

  • An 1860 biography in rough condition. I include this here because it was published as campaign literature prior to the election of 1860. It also includes information about Lincoln's first vice-president, Hannibal Hamlin. It's fairly common. Please note that this is NOT the first Lincoln biography, however. That distinction belongs to the famous "Wigwam Edition" published during the Republican Convention at the Wigwam in Chicago. Lincoln was such an unknown even at that point that the biography is titled "Honorable Abram Lincoln", getting his first name wrong. Those biographies are quite scarce, but you can occasionally find one on eBay, as I did a few years ago. I fortunately won the bid and it is the cornerstone of my Lincoln collection.
  • A lock of Old Abe's hair. The seller states authenticity and it may well be real. I'm not an expert, but I've seen so many supposed locks of hair from Lincoln listed on eBay that if they were ALL authentic, then Lincoln was surely bald-headed when he was buried. I'd be careful.
  • Here's a very nice campaign item featuring Abe and a top hat. Seller says it's an 1864 campaign item, but again, I'd be careful. It very well could be from a later Republican campaign or from the Lincoln centennial in 1909. I've not seen one of these before and I'm watching the auction closely, but will not bid.
  • This signed legal document is in Lincoln's handwriting and dates from 1853. I would trust this item with no hesitation as the seller is extremely reputable. I've purchased from them previously and they have impeccable service. This item is authenticated by a trustworthy outfit as well. Bid is already over $2500, so I don't think I'll be buying it.
  • A nice souvenir of the centennial of his birth is this small medallion. At just $2.58 currently, this is a cool and affordable item.
  • An ashtray showing a representation of the Derringer which shot Lincoln. This is weird.
  • An old print from 1866 titled "The Death Bed Of Lincoln." This looks authentic. I believe it's a Currier and Ives print. The actual room at the house where Lincoln died is much smaller than shown in the print and all of the people couldn't have possibly fit there at once.
  • How about a piece of a brick from Abe's house? These were available after the renovation of Lincoln's home in Springfield.
  • Here is another 1864 campaign item, a good looking photo pin. This I believe to be real.
  • Finally, let's close for now with an original newspaper containing the news of Lincoln's assassination. This item appears to be legitimate, based on the seller's history and the high current price of $660.00. Please be careful when purchasing supposed historical newspapers, especially if you see the famous New York Herald edition of the assassination for sale. The Herald edition of April 15, 1865 is a highly valuable newspaper, but it has been reprinted countless times. You have to know what you're doing so you don't get taken in by one of these reprints. Always buy from a reputable seller! I own a copy of my hometown's paper trumpeting the tragic news. I purchased it from Wes Cowan's "Historic Americana" auctions. He's highly respected and is an expert appraiser on Antiques Roadshow.

Fight Over Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Is Settled

The long-running fight between the state of Illinois and various contractors over cost overruns at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has finally been settled. The total project, including the library, museum, visitors center, parking garage and park took longer to plan and build than did the Civil War and cost a whopping 145 million dollars. An ugly dispute between the state and the contractors began even before the complex opened.

The contractors, including the architect, claimed that Illinois still owed them millions, while Illinois blamed them for huge delays on all phases of the project. To settle the dispute, Illinois will collect 3 million dollars from the contractors and in turn do not owe them a dime.

If you've never been to the Library and Museum, which is by far the most-attended of all the Presidential complexes, I would recommend it highly. I made a "pilgrimage" there a couple of years ago and found it to be informative and entertaining. To be sure, it's a little bit over the top with its "Disney-like" exhibits such as holographic presenters and a "recreation" of Lincoln's boyhood log cabin, but it also provides the casual visitor with accurate and detailed information about Lincoln and his family. When I visited, the Museum had a temporary exhibit about the assassination, titled "Blood On The Moon" and it was fascinating. The Museum gift shop is first rate with an excellent selection of books and other mementos for the more serious Lincoln fan, and the usual t-shirts and such for kids.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Public Comments About Lincoln Museum Wanted

In recent posts, I've been covering the upcoming closure of the famed Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, scheduled for June 30. The museum serves as a repository of priceless Lincoln artifacts, including documents, photos, and literally tens of thousands of reference materials which Lincoln scholars have used for decades in research.

Now a committee made up of members of the Friends Of The Lincoln Museum is seeking comments from the public about the closing. The committee is asking for letters of support and is also soliciting any ideas about how to keep the collection in Fort Wayne. The members of the committee remind anyone that the submitted ideas must be constructive and realistic, considering the position taken by Lincoln Financial, the operator of the museum.

An informal meeting is scheduled to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 10, with its purpose to bring together individuals and groups who are interested in the future of the museum collection.

Comments and letters should be sent to:

Friends of the Lincoln Museum
P.O. Box 7863
Fort Wayne, IN 46801-7863

This information is courtesy of WANE-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

 
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