Friday, January 30, 2009

Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission Signature Events


I've mentioned the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission more than a few times in the Abraham Lincoln Blog. The Commission, co-chaired by Harold Holzer and Ray LaHood, is the official organizer of the major celebrations honoring the 200th birthday of Mr. Lincoln. The Commission will be holding national events in Washington, D.C. on February 12th, 2009.

The day's events will kick off at 8:00 a.m. at the Lincoln Memorial for a birthday tribute and wreath-laying ceremony. President Obama has been invited to make a few appropriate remarks. In addition, acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni will recite a new work for the occasion. Grammy-nominated singer Michael Feinstein will perform. The Gettysburg Address will be recited by retired Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Frank J. Williams, who also happens to be a member of the Commission.

Immediately after the ceremony, a commemorative breakfast, open to the public, will be held in heated tents next to the memorial. Mr. Feinstein will continue to perform for the breakfast attendees. The price per person of $125.00 will benefit the Commission and its continued programs.

At 1:30 that afternoon, a "National Teach-In" will occur. The leaders of the teach-in will be Mr. Holzer, Lincoln scholar Matthew Pinkser, and the author Doris Kearns Goodwin, who of course wrote the book "Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln."

For detailed information about the ceremony, breakfast, and teach-in, it may be found here at the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission's website. I heard earlier today from a staffer at the Commission, asking me if I'd provide some publicity for the events. I'm happy to oblige. I would absolutely LOVE to attend the ceremony at the memorial and the breakfast, but I'm not sure I'll have the time to do so. I can imagine how moving the ceremonies will be.

Other events that day will take place in Hodgenville, Kentucky which of course is close to Lincoln's birthplace. And certainly events will be occurring in Springfield, Illinois. More on those next week.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Inaugural Hat and Lincoln


Last week's inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President Of The United States Of America was memorable in many ways. Of course Obama is our nation's first African-American president. The sea of people, approximately 1.4 million in all, made it one of the most heavily attended of presidential inaugurations. Chief Justice Roberts' error in reciting the Presidential Oath was another reason this inaugural will be remembered more than most. But for me, at least, I will remember President Obama's inaugural for one reason: The Inaugural Hat.

Aretha Franklin was chosen to sing "My Country Tis Of Thee" for the inaugural ceremony. When she first stepped out on the platform that sunny morning, I was in disbelief as I saw the hat that the "Queen of Soul" was wearing. I didn't know whether to laugh or to be stunned by the downright weirdness of it. Of course, I'm not a fashion critic or fashionista, so perhaps the hat is trend-setting. It's become a hot topic on talk shows, such as Ellen, and I've read that the designer has been besieged by callers wanting to know where they can find a similar hat. Perhaps so. But it was at the very least distracting, which maybe is a good thing considering how shockingly bad her vocal performance was that day.

So what does this have to do with Abraham Lincoln? In a word, nothing. Nothing, that is, until my good friend Christy shared a photo with me today. Seems that nothing is sacred to Photoshop aficionados. I hope Abe will forgive me. He had an excellent sense of humor, so I hope he's not TOO offended by the below photo. I think he wears it quite well. Enjoy!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

'The Greatest' and Abe


I admit that the famous boxer Muhammad Ali doesn't have many links to Abraham Lincoln (other than both were born in Kentucky), but I found this picture via the Associated Press and find it to be very moving.

"The Greatest" was given this bust of Lincoln at the first Bluegrass Inaugural Ball on January 19, 2009 in Washington. Ali is sadly silenced these days by Parkinson's disease (and no doubt too many fights), but he still is a symbol of power and grace for humanity. My statement might be controversial for some, but I am an unabashed fan of Ali and am old enough to have watched his matches.

Since this is my blog, I can post about a cool photo featuring two of my favorite people of all time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lincoln Behind The Myths - The "House Divided" Speech

American History magazine is kicking off a year-long series in which it will attempt to "humanize" Abraham Lincoln. Titled "The Lincoln Chronicles," the series of six articles will attempt to spotlight six crucial episodes in Lincoln's life; episodes which "tested, revealed and enlarged Lincoln's character and made him the towering figure he became." The author of the series is University of Texas historian H.W. Brands, probably best known for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin and his more recent Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times.

The first article in this ambitious series from American History recounts the events leading up to Lincoln's famous "House Divided" speech he gave in Springfield, Illinois on June 16, 1858. In that speech, of course, Lincoln made the radical statement that in his view the United States could not continue being half free and half slave. He believed (and was of course correct) that it would become all one thing or all the other.

The article, titled "Dangerous Ambition," begins by telling us how Lincoln was somewhat "adrift" in the summer of 1858. It had been over a decade since his sole term in Congress. While he was making a handsome living as a lawyer, his ambition wouldn't permit him to be content in that profession forever. The recently-formed Republican Party gave Lincoln an opportunity to once again step into politics. When the party began searching for a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1858, Lincoln was nominated by the Illinois Republican Party.

Up to that point, Lincoln had been a fairly moderate politician. His only term in the House of Representatives in Washington was unremarkable, save for a speech in which he challenged the legality of the Mexican War. While he was principally against slavery, he was far less "radical" about it than most abolitionists were at that time. So when Lincoln rose to give his speech that June day in 1858, no one could have seen what was coming.

After a few opening remarks, Lincoln declared: "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe that this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and have free." According to Dr. Brands, this was "explosive language, and Lincoln knew it." Lincoln continued: "I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall. But I do expect it was cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South."

The words stunned the listeners as Lincoln had obviously taken the words of the radicals and made them his own. Again according to Brands, the "slaveholder plot must be resisted, Lincoln said, and it would be defeated." Lincoln closed by saying: "We shall not fail...The victory is sure to come."

The rest of the article deals with the aftermath of this speech, which is considered the equal in eloquence of The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. The national press reprinted it, and Lincoln soared onto the national stage. The Lincoln-Douglas debates would occur later in the fall of 1858, causing Lincoln's star to shine at supernova brilliance. Though he would lose the Senate election to Stephen Douglas, his prominence didn't falter.

Dr. Brands closes by writing that Lincoln never backtracked from his claim that slavery must be ended, but points out that Lincoln never addressed the issue in such stark and bold words. In other words, a Senate candidate may speak much more sharply than a candidate for the nation's highest office, which Lincoln became in 1860.

The issue of American History that is the basis of this post is still available at newsstands and bookstores. It also contains a letter from the publisher which explains the attempt to "humanize" Abraham Lincoln. If you've never read an issue of this magazine, I would encourage you to do so. Published 6 times per year, it always contains fascinating stories about the history of our nation.

The Inaugural Luncheon and Lincoln


I stayed home today in order to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President Of The United States Of America. In addition to being an Abraham Lincoln buff, I also love U.S. Presidential history in general. I could not pass up the opportunity to watch today's history in the making. I'm happy I did, because I got to learn something about Lincoln in the process.

I posted a couple of weeks ago how President Obama and company were going to be presented a menu of dishes that Lincoln loved at today's Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. During the opening of the luncheon today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), the chairperson of the Inaugural Committee, directed attention to the painting of California's Yosemite Valley hanging behind the head table. The painting was created by Thomas Hill, one of the most famous landscape painters of the American West. It's on loan from the New York Historical Society.

So how does this relate to Lincoln? Well, President Lincoln in 1864 signed a land grant which permitted California to establish the Yosemite Valley as a state park. It then became a National Park in 1890. Through foresight and leadership, Lincoln thus enabled millions of people to appreciate the sheer beauty and breathtaking vistas of Yosemite.

Senator Feinstein related today to the luncheon crowd that today's featured menu was by far the most visited page on the official Inaugural website. I can attest to that based on recent hits on this blog. The daily traffic has doubled in the past few weeks, mostly due to people searching for Lincoln's favorite foods or for today's menu. I think it's wonderful that people are willing to learn more about Mr. Lincoln as a person, instead of as the myth he has become to so many. It helps us humanize Lincoln and to gain further understanding of our nation's greatest president.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Gettysburg Address For Orchestra And Narrator


A Connecticut composer and conductor has recently written "The Gettysburg Address" for orchestra and narrator. Mr. Richard Chiarappa sent me a nice email informing me about this musical piece, which will also feature narration of the complete text of Lincoln's famous address. The work is scheduled to be debuted in Connecticut sometime in March or October of this year, according to Mr. Chiarappa. He generously included a link to the orchestral music for this work, but narration will be added later this month. I've listened to the music and it is quite moving, incorporating portions of "Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic." I can't wait to hear it along with the narration.


Mr. Chiarappa is also the creator of a musical called "LINCOLN & BOOTH" which sets the conspiracy and assassination story to song. On the above link I provided, you can hear a duet ("Just Ourselves" sung by "Lincoln" and "Mary" before their departure to Ford's Theater the night of the assassination). Other characters in the musical feature Booth's co-conspirators, including Mary Surratt. This website shows scenes from the musical, and provides more background about the songs, etc. It's obvious that Mr. Chiarappa has done an extensive amount of research on the history of the assassination.


I am always interested in publicizing worthy exhibits, shows, displays, and theatrical performances concerning Abraham Lincoln. If the reader or anyone the reader knows has information which might interest other readers of The Abraham Lincoln Blog, please drop me a line. I can't promise to mention everything, but I'll do my best.

"Lincoln's Road" Art Exhibit At Georgetown University


The Georgetown Law Center in Georgetown, D.C. will host an intriguing exhibit featuring artwork depicting Abraham Lincoln from February 3-28, 2009. The exhibit is called "Lincoln's Road" and features huge paintings and drawings of Lincoln by artist Chuck Levitan.

Copyright restrictions prevent me from sharing any of the images of the artwork, but I can at least say that the art is based on famous photos of Lincoln, including the earliest known photo of him, as well as one of the final photos. Also to be featured will be gigantic banners representing our nation's 16th president.

If you're going to be in the D.C. area next month, be sure to check out Mr. Levitan's art. I was made aware of this exhibition via email and am happy to share the information with my readers.

Click here for more information and images of the works by Mr. Levitan.

Abe's Legal Papers Put Online


A new online tool has been made available for those who wish to learn more information about Abraham Lincoln's career as a lawyer. According to the Daily Chronicle newspaper (Dekalb, Illinois), "The Law Practice Of Abraham Lincoln" has now been put online. Originally published as a set of 3 DVD's in 2000, the online version has been updated to include the latest information.

The legal papers of Lincoln provide a valuable insight into Lincoln's law career. The online tool is available at:

It's searchable by year, case number, subject, etc. Looks like a nice sight for research.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Obama To Eat Like Lincoln on Inauguration Day

Here is yet another example of President-Elect Barack Obama's continued channeling of Honest Abe. After being sworn in as our nation's 44th President, President Obama will be served an inaugural luncheon which will be reminiscent of the foods that Lincoln himself enjoyed.

According to this item from the Political Punch blog at ABC News, every course of the inaugural lunch will be served in memory of Abe. The first course will even be served on replicas of the china which Mary Lincoln picked out herself for the Lincoln White House.

The appetizer will be pastry stuffed with seafood, a nod to Lincoln's love of oysters, both scalloped and stewed. The main course will be duck with winter vegetables, similar to Lincoln's love of the wild game and root vegetables he dined on while growing up on the frontier. The dessert, an apple cinnamon sponge cake, will reflect Lincoln's love of apples and apple cake.

While I'm sure Mr. Obama didn't go out of his way to choose this menu (it's most likely done by the Inaugural Committee), this constant reflection upon Lincoln is beginning to be a bit much even for me. It's all well and good to announce a candidacy in Springfield; read a lot of Lincoln books (hey, who doesn't?); recreate part of Lincoln's train ride to Washington; and use the Lincoln Bible for the swearing-in ceremony. But to eat like Abe did? I think that's taking it a bit too far.

Mr. Obama, PLEASE don't ever accept an invitation to see "Our American Cousin" at the theater. OK?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ford's Theater Disappointment At Lincoln Clothing Display

My apologies for the lack of posts for the past couple of weeks. The holidays combined with being under the weather (thanks to too many late nights during the holiday season) have kept me from posting as often as I would like. On to the topic at hand, that being Mr. Lincoln!

Way back on December 28, 2007 I posted an article about the storage of the clothing Lincoln wore on the night of his assassination at Ford's Theater. The theater was undergoing a massive multi-million dollar renovation at the time, and the clothes, including Lincoln's frock coat, had to be safely stored while the renovation took place. The plan was to put the clothing back on display once the renovation was complete.

Today's Washington Post brings the very disappointing news that Lincoln's coat has now been deemed too fragile and expensive to be placed on permanent display. The coat, made by Brooks Brothers with the words "One Country, One Destiny" embroidered in its lining, is stained with Lincoln's blood and was to have been a centerpiece of the assassination exhibit at the theater.

Unfortunately, the coat has deteriorated over the years and textile conservators have advised against a permanent display. However, in honor of Lincoln's 200th birthday, Ford's Theater will put the coat on temporary exhibit beginning February 12 until April 15, the anniversary of his death. After that date, a replica coat will be displayed. The original will remain in storage, to be displayed only on special occasions.

If the Smithsonian's National Museum Of American History can find a way to permanently display the original Star-Spangled Banner, surely Ford's Theater can come up with some method for displaying Lincoln's coat on a permanent basis. Yes, it is priceless and fragile. But it's also an important artifact from our nation's history and it should be available for everyone to view.

 
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