Monday, March 30, 2009

Abe At Chicago O'Hare Airport

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is getting in on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebrations. I came across this photo in today's USA Today, which has a brief description about the impersonator and the half-size replica of the famous statue from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

This news release from the Chicago Airport System tells a little more about the exhibit. The sculptor is Fran Volz. The replica statue measures 10 1/2 feet tall by 9 feet wide and is carved from recyclable material. This photo was taken at Terminal 2 of the airport, but no information was given if the statue is going to remain there or be moved to other locations at the airport. The article also fails to mention the duration of the exhibit.

Chicago of course has a long history of association with the real president Lincoln. It hosted the 1860 Republican convention where Lincoln became the surprise nominee for president. It also hosted one of his funerals, on May 1, 1865.

So if you find yourself at Terminal 2 of O'Hare Airport, be sure to stop and take a look at Abe.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: "The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln" on PBS

These past few weeks have been busy ones for those of us who are endlessly fascinated by all things related to Abraham Lincoln. We of course celebrated the bicentennial of his birth on February 12. Last week saw two major announcements concerning Lincoln artifacts. A possibly "new" photo of Lincoln was discovered in an album which once belonged to General Ulysses S. Grant. And the Smithsonian got around to opening Lincoln's pocket watch, confirming a legend that a jeweler had engraved inside the watch a tiny message about Fort Sumter and the U.S. government.

During the bicentennial week last month, there were three major television specials about Honest Abe. Public Broadcasting System (PBS) ran two of those specials, one about the assassination and one which attempted to find the "real" Lincoln. This post is my review of the assassination documentary.

"The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln" was shown as part of the American Experience series on PBS, one of the longest-running and best on public television (or on television, period). American Experience specials are always entertaining, informative, and for a lack of a better word, "classy." This 90-minute documentary about one of the darkest periods in American history is no different from its predecessors in this respect.

There are some admirable things about this documentary. The best of the best writers, historians, and Lincoln experts are here. The two principal presenters are James L. Swanson, author of "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln's Killer"; and Edward Steers, Jr., author of "Blood On The Moon: The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln" (the definitive study of the assassination). Other famous historians and writers shown on camera are Harold Holzer, James McPherson, Allen Guelzo, Terry Alford, David Blight, and of course, Doris Kearns Goodwin. The narrator of the program is the wonderful actor Chris Cooper.

The documentary is straight forward: we learn about Booth's background; the co-conspirators of Booth; the story of how the conspiracy evolved from a kidnapping plot to one of assassination; the hours leading up to the murder; and the hunting and eventual capture and/or killings of the plotters. It's an absorbing re-telling of a story that probably most Americans know about on a basic level. The re-enactments are kept to a minimum, the cinematography is excellent, and the horror that most Americans felt about Lincoln's death is conveyed to the modern viewer.

I would like to report that this documentary was perfect, especially since I personally find the assassination to be the most fascinating part of the Lincoln story. Unfortunately, this special is lacking for several reasons.

First, just how many Lincoln experts, writers, and historians does a documentary about the assassination require? By my count, there are about 10 people who are interviewed on camera. Why so many people?

There are factual errors, which surprised me greatly. The Lincolns were accompanied to Ford's Theater on the night of April 14, 1865 by Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Miss Clara Harris. Inexplicably, Rathbone is called "Corporal" Rathbone in this documentary. With the over-abundance of experts interviewed for this special about the assassination, to have even a fairly minor fact incorrectly stated is inexcusable. If an "amateur historian" such as myself can spot this, surely this high-caliber cast of experts should have. Also, when the narration is describing the immediate aftermath of the shooting, it's stated that the first doctors on the scene in the presidential box didn't find a bullet wound at first. Then it's mentioned that the bullet wound had been found "by the time Lincoln was taken to the Petersen House." True, but the wound *was* found while Lincoln was still in the box and to imply otherwise is again not accurate.

There were errors of omission which I found to be annoying. The most important fact that no one mentioned in this documentary is that the police guard assigned to Lincoln that night, John F. Parker, abandoned his post for reasons unknown to history. It was mentioned that Booth handed his calling card to Lincoln's valet, but not a word about the missing policeman. And the amazing thing? Parker was never punished for his dereliction of duty! To learn more about this story of the missing policeman, click here.

The story of Lincoln's funerals and the funeral train's journey back to Springfield was barely discussed. Funerals held in Philadelphia and New York City were of course mentioned, but not a single word about his other funerals in Baltimore, Harrisburg (PA), Albany and Buffalo (NY), Cleveland and Columbus (OH), Indianapolis, and Chicago was uttered. It would've taken a minute to mention these other cities and the honors they gave to the memory of Lincoln, especially since casual viewers would not probably know about them. This would have gone even further to convey the sense of grief that Americans felt about Lincoln's tragic death.

I discussed the next point with some of my fellow bloggers, and we all agree: at times it felt to us that we were watching a biography of John Wilkes Booth, rather than a documentary about the assassination. For example, what is important to the story of the assassination about Booth being a great swordsman on stage, or how he had a happy childhood? Does it *really* matter to the story to mention that Booth was "gorgeous"? It's important to try to understand Booth's motivation for this heinous act, certainly, but the "fluff" was both unnecessary and distracting.

Finally, the special at the end devolves into "The Hunt For John Wilkes Booth" which I suppose is not surprising considering that James L. Swanson is one of the two major "talking heads" in the documentary. Mr. Swanson's "Manhunt" is an excellent book in every way and it's an essential part of anyone's Lincoln library. However, there is too much detail presented about Booth's 12 days of hiding out, e.g. his rowing incorrectly across the river, hiding in the pine woods, etc. Once again, are we watching a history of the assassination and its aftermath, or are we watching a biography of John Wilkes Booth?




SUMMARY

While "The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln" is well-crafted, looks wonderful, and tells a fascinating story ably, I found it to be ultimately disappointing. The errors were surprising. The lack of emphasis on some aspects of the story and the overemphasis on others I found to be annoying. I've come to expect better efforts from PBS and American Experience. My rating:



3.0 out of 5.0 Log Cabins

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

American Experience On PBS


One of the longest-running and best features on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is American Experience, the history series produced by station WGBH out of Boston. Last month's featured program was The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln, a fairly good re-telling of one of the darkest periods in American history.

I received an email yesterday from a senior project manager at PBS Engage, a relatively recent attempt by PBS to use "new media" in the hopes of being more interactive with PBS viewers. From the Engage website: "We think social media provides PBS with a great opportunity to let viewers and Web users get involved in new ways—commenting on programs, discussing the issues they raise, speaking directly to producers and stations, rating what’s on the air and online, forming fan groups, and doing other things we haven’t thought of yet. " She asked me to share this information with my readers, and I'm happy to oblige.

Part of this process is something called "Five Good Questions" in which viewers can submit questions to various PBS producers, personalities, etc. about the shows. Each week the five best questions are selected and are answered by the person or persons in question.

This week, the person answering the questions is Mr. Mark Samels, the Executive Producer of American Experience. If you have ever had any questions about Experience, here is your opportunity to ask them. One thing I'd like to know is how are the various topics selected? Click here to submit any question(s) you might have for him.

American Experience is, in my opinion, one of the best series on PBS. I'm pleased that someone from the series would notice The Abraham Lincoln Blog. Speaking of Honest Abe, I'll be posting a review of the assassination special within a few days.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Abraham Lincoln On The Smithsonian Channel

I posted last month about my visit to various museums of the Smithsonian Institute in order to view special exhibitions about Abraham Lincoln. As a result of these posts, I heard recently from the kind folks at The Smithsonian Channel (TM) informing me about special programs it's been running recently about Mr. Lincoln.

  • Here is a link to a fun little quiz about Lincoln plus a film clip from a special it ran about him

  • Here's a first-person blog entry about the portrait of Abe and President Obama done entirely in cupcakes. I also posted about that here.

  • This entry is another first-person account of the re-opening of Ford's Theater

I admit to not previously having heard of The Smithsonian Channel. (It's not surprising since my cable provider, Time Warner, does not carry the channel. It does, however, carry at least 5 or 6 home shopping channels and other lame channels like Game Show Network. Thanks, Time Warner, for the GREAT customer service.) This channel from Smithsonian is in High Definition and is gradually becoming more available since its inception in 2007.

The Smithsonian Channel blog, which contains all sorts of interesting information about widely varied topics, may be found here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A New Lincoln Photo Discovered?

Could the man in this image be holding a previously unknown photo of Abraham Lincoln? According to the Associated Press (article from The Hartford Courant), this newly discovered photo just might be a rare "new" photo of Lincoln. Most intriguingly of all, it also could be the very last photo of Abraham Lincoln ever taken.

In this AP exclusive article, the story of the photo discovery is told. The photo comes from an album previously owned by none other than President Ulysses S. Grant, who was of course the commanding general of the Union Army in 1865. The album is owned today by a great-great grandson of Grant, Ulysses S. Grant VI, who contacted a leading collector of Lincoln photography, Keya Morgan. Upon inspecting the photo, which shows a tall figure in the background, Morgan convinced Grant to remove the photo from the album. Much to everyone's surprise, written with pencil on the back are the words "Lincoln in front of the White House."

If the photo can be authenticated, it would become the only known image of Lincoln in front of the White House. Also included on the back of the photo is the date (1865) , a government tax stamp from the time 1864-1866, and the seal of Henry F. Warren, known to have photographed the "current" last photo of Lincoln.

The collector, Morgan, is the person holding up the photo in the image I've included here. The article states that a computer scan and enlargement of the 2.5" by 3.5" photo shows a very tall figure with a beard in the picture. If it can be authenticated, it will be the first such photo of Lincoln to be so proven in decades. (Historians are still debating whether the "new" photo of "Lincoln" at Gettysburg is authenticate or not).

Keya Morgan is a believer. He paid Grant's great-great grandson $50,000 for this small photo, which is now part of Morgan's $25 million collection of Lincoln memorabilia and photos. The former curator of the National Portrait Gallery's photo department, Will Stapp, is "quite satisfied" that the figure in this photo is Lincoln.


See for yourself in the photo enlargement below. If true, what a find.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Abe In Etch A Sketch(R) Portrait

Here is an incredible piece of art featuring Mr. Lincoln and President Obama, done entirely with an "Etch A Sketch"(R) toy. This was done by an artist in honor of Black History Month, celebrated in February of every year. I can't find any information about just who created this masterpiece.

Etch A Sketch(R) has been a longtime favorite toy produced by Ohio Art. The name is registered.

I just wanted to share this with my readers. I don't about you, but I can't create even a straight line with these things, let alone something amazing like this.

 
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