Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lincoln Presentation Pitcher To Be Auctioned

For those collectors of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia with unlimited income, the item pictured above is sure to garner much interest when it is sold at auction next week in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is a pitcher (more properly called a ewer) presented to President Lincoln upon his first inauguration.

This ewer is no ordinary pitcher. It's maker was Tiffany and Company in New York. Yes, *that* Tiffany. It is sterling silver with gold wash. Inscribed "To The President Of The United States From His Washington Friends March 4, 1861." Engraved on the body of the ewer is the Great Seal Of The United States complete with 33 stars, one for every state in the Union at the time it was commissioned. Since Kansas was admitted as a state on January 29, 1861, this ewer had to have been made sometime between November 1860 and January 1861.

No one knows just who gave this item to Lincoln. Research has never been able to find who Lincoln's "Washington Friends" were. Records of presidential gifts were not recorded at the time by The White House. Speculation about the presenters has fallen upon potential lobbyists, for example. Another possibility includes job seekers (in those days, the "spoils" system was still in play and every new president was besieged by job seekers). Obviously, the givers were people of means for even in those days, items from Tiffany and Company were something only the wealthiest people could afford.

The ewer has been on loan to The Smithsonian Institution since 1969 by the anonymous Midwestern family who owns it. The family purchased it from a dealer in Boston, who acquired it from a woman to whom it had been willed by a dealer in Russian antiques. It is not known how that particular dealer acquired it and there is no record of the ewer from the time it was presented to Lincoln until the early 20th Century. An interesting story to be sure.

The auction estimate? A cool $300,000 to $400,000! It is being auctioned by Cowan's Historic Americana in Cincinnati on June 6. Cowan's is one of the more prestigious auction houses in the country, especially when it comes to historic items from the nation's history. You can read more about the item on Cowan's website here. There are also better images of the ewer on that site.

It would look fantastic on my sideboard in my dining room. Alas, I believe someone else will end up with it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Significant Milestone on The Abraham Lincoln Blog!


I am very happy to let all my readers know that The Abraham Lincoln Blog just received it's 100,000th page view or "hit" a few minutes ago. When I started writing this blog approximately 18 months ago, I had no idea that so many people would show so much interest in it. I never ceased to be amazed at hearing from people around the world via email and comments left on various postings I've written. I have also been blessed to make new friends through the blog and that is by far the most rewarding aspect of my efforts.

I enjoy sharing my knowledge about Abraham Lincoln with my readers, and in turn learning new things about him as well. Two hundred years after his birth, he continues to influence presidents, politicians, and ordinary people around the world. There is still much we can learn from this complex and great man.

Thank you so much for your comments, your emails, and even your criticisms. Without my readers, there wouldn't be a reason to continue this blog!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reflections - The American Funeral Tour


I'd like to share a personal experience I had today in Columbus, Ohio when I got to visit a mobile exhibit titled "Reflections - The American Funeral Tour." The purpose of the exhibit, according to the official website, is to provide the public with a greater understanding of the history of the American funeral and the associated practices and customs.

The exhibit has been traveling around the United States for many months now, housed completely in a semi-truck trailer. Special stops on the tour have included Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois (the site of Lincoln's burial) and Arlington National Cemetery during the Presidential Inaugural Weekend in January. I'd love to include a photo of the beautiful mural on the trailer, but I suspect I'd be violating copyright restrictions if I did. There are photos of it on the website link I provided in the first paragraph. Suffice to say, the montage features the Lincoln Memorial and statue; plus scenes from Ronald Reagan's state funeral.

The exhibit itself features a brief history of funerary customs in America over the centuries, including those of ancient Native Americans. Other funeral customs presented include those held for slaves, United States presidents (including FDR, JFK, and Reagan), and those for other famous and even ordinary Americans through today. Numerous photos, and a mix of authentic and reproduced artifacts highlight the exhibit.

Of course, I was most interested in the section which discusses Abraham Lincoln's funerals. Funerals were held for Lincoln in 12 different American cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Columbus, Ohio (the image above is an original photo from the Columbus funeral); and obviously Springfield. An interpretative video about the Lincoln Funeral Train is shown, which is informative and not so long as to lose the viewer's attention. A nicely reproduced route of the Lincoln Funeral Train is presented in order to help the visitor realize the long journey Lincoln's remains took to their final resting place. Also featured is a beautiful scale model of the funeral car which carried Lincoln's casket on the trip. And a mock-up of his casket is on display here, too. I've included images below. I didn't take the pictures with flash, so my apologies for the dark photos.

I found the exhibit to be very well done and historically accurate, especially regarding the Lincoln funerals. I didn't know what to expect from an exhibit about funerals, but it was very moving and highly interesting. The website link I provided contains much more information, including photos from previous stops, a video gallery, and an upcoming schedule of events. I would HIGHLY recommend it if it comes to your area.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the field managers for this traveling exhibit. Wife and husband team Abigail and Josh Van Gelder were on hand to answer questions, provide interesting historical tidbits, and obviously knew their subject well. For example, I didn't know that the actual funeral car which carried Lincoln's body was destroyed in a catastrophic fire many years ago. Today only pieces of it remain, on display in a museum in Minnesota.

In the interest of full disclosure, Abigail and I have become friends through this blog and through our shared love of Abraham Lincoln and history in general. She contacted me originally as a source of information about the Lincoln funerals and I was happy to point her towards books and other resources for her research, plus answer some general questions for her. Abigail and Josh invited me as their guest to view the exhibit today at the Ohio Funeral Directors Convention in Columbus. Unfortunately, the exhibit is not open to the public during this event for some reason, but it will be at future venues. I want to publicly thank the Van Gelders for their hospitality and warmth with which they welcomed me. Thanks Abs and Josh!





Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lincoln Behind The Myths - Silence While President-Elect


Back in January of this year, I wrote a post about a new series of articles about Abraham Lincoln coming from American History magazine in this, the bicentennial year of his birth. Six articles will be published in the magazine this year in an attempt to get to know the "real" Lincoln and lift the veil of mythology which has obscured him from us since his death. These articles are written by Dr. H.W. Brands, author of 16 books and a professor at the University of Texas.

The first post I wrote explored Lincoln's famous "House Divided" speech of 1858, through which he burst onto the national stage when he claimed that our nation could no longer exist half-free and half-slave.

The March/April 2009 issue of American History contains the second article in this series. In this article, titled "Lincoln's Winter Of Silence," Dr. Brands examines Lincoln's role that he played (or didn't play) in the country after his election as President, but prior to his inauguration. Known as the "Great Secession Winter Of 1860-1861," that four-month period can arguably be called the most tumultuous time in our nation's history.

In those days in American presidential politics, the president-elect didn't take the oath of office until March 4 of the following year. As Brands points out, the nation's founders didn't foresee that such a long period between transitioning from a lame-duck president to the newly-elected president could allow events in the country to spiral so quickly out of control.

Indeed, Lincoln's very election caused a rapid succession of southern states to secede from the Union. South Carolina was first, followed quickly by six other states. By the time Lincoln stood on his inaugural platform on March 4, 1861 the states of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas no longer remained in the Union. Four more states (Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia) would follow shortly thereafter.

When Lincoln was elected to his first term though, none of the states had yet seceded. At first, no one, including Lincoln, really knew for sure if secession would occur. Some felt that the movement to secede was being pushed by a vocal minority instead of by popular opinion. Everyone was unsure how the North would feel if the states did secede. Would it just want the trouble-makers to go away and leave well enough alone? And would any effort really avert civil war? Should Lincoln reach out to southern moderates or not? All monumental questions to say the least.

Dr. Brands points out that at first, Lincoln did nothing as president-elect in the hope that the issues would be resolved. When that didn't work, Lincoln moved to action behind the scenes, writing letters and speaking quietly to others, not wishing to further inflame the secession movement.

For decades, the majority of historians have slammed Lincoln for his perceived inactions and lack of public statements or speeches while the nation was tearing itself asunder. Even the recently deceased David Herbert Donald considered Lincoln to be weak and indecisive in the "Secession Winter." Dr. Brands seems to include himself in this assessment, writing in the article that "Only at his inauguration did he (Lincoln) muster the will to speak boldly and attack the secessionists head on."

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer begs to differ. In his recent book, "Lincoln President-Elect," Mr. Holzer makes the case for Lincoln having shown shrewdness, strong-mindedness, and strong principles in his actions in dealing with the crisis as president-elect. I have not yet read this book, but historians such as James McPherson, David Herbert Donald, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Michael Beschloss have highly praised it as ground-breaking. Ms. Goodwin claims it will take its place in the Lincoln canon.

I don't personally know much about this time in Lincoln's political career, so I can offer no analysis for the reader. I will point out, however, that this era in presidential politics was very different than that of today. It was considered "unseemly" for a candidate to even openly campaign for the highest office in the land, let alone offer public policy pronouncements as our most recent president-elect did this past winter. Criticizing Lincoln too harshly for his lack of public statements during that four-month period overlooks that point in my opinion.

I look forward to reading Holzer's book, as I look forward to reading the next article in Dr. Brands' "Lincoln Chronicles."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: "What Would Lincoln Do?"


Countless books have been written about Abraham Lincoln over the past 150 years, from children's books, to books about his jokes and stories, and of course serious biographies. A book out this year might just be one of the more unique Lincoln books ever written.

"What Would Lincoln Do?" by David Acord, is not a biography nor even a reference book about Lincoln. Instead, it's a self-help or book of advice with that advice coming to the reader from none other than Abraham Lincoln. As the back cover of the dust jacket reads: "How much easier would it be to tackle your everyday problems if you could have Lincoln advising you?" Mr. Accord is not a trained historian. He is a professional editor and journalist, who happens to also be a Lincoln buff.

Through the writings of Lincoln (from letters and speeches), Mr. Acord shows by Lincoln's example how we can deal with difficult co-workers, handle unpleasant situations, inspire people around us, and even how to say no to someone who asks us to borrow money.

The book is organized into two parts: personal interactions and the professional environment. Each part has various chapters, such as responding to rumors, giving advice to a close relative, encouraging and consoling others, and perhaps most difficult of all, admitting when we've made a mistake. The chapters each begin with an example of a speech or letter written by Lincoln. Then Mr. Acord examines the letter and points out how we can use Lincoln's example to help us in our own situation. Acord is careful to give the date of the writing being used in the example and gives context when necessary.

"What Would Lincoln Do?" makes for interesting and, at times, even intriguing reading. Unlike most books of its genre, this advice book doesn't get burdened by psycho-babble and pontificating by the author. At 166 pages, it's long enough to be of substance, yet brief enough to hold the reader's interest.

I was impressed by the writing style of the book. I checked some of the dates provided in the examples of Lincoln's writings and was happy to see that they are accurate. A minor nitpick is that Acord might have included a few words about the source(s) he used for the Lincoln writings. That would have been helpful to any reader who would like to read more about what Lincoln wrote.

After I finished "What Would Lincoln Do?", I had an even better appreciation for the wisdom and maturity that Lincoln showed in dealing with difficult situations. Acord does a very commendable job of explaining Lincoln's motives, reactions, and words. I was skeptical as to whether or not I'd enjoy this book. I typically don't like books of this type. But I found it to be so interesting (and helpful) that I read it in just one evening. I can and will recommend this book to others.

Disclaimer: I was contacted directly by the author, David Acord, who inquired of my interest in the book and willingness to blog about it. I received a copy of the book for my review, but have in no way been otherwise compensated. I am not related to the author, nor am I associated with the publisher. You may purchase a copy of the book here.

Remembering David Herbert Donald

The community of Lincoln scholars has lost a titan. The news that David Herbert Donald passed away Sunday (May 17, 2009) at the age of 88 saddens all of us Lincoln buffs, whether we are professionals or amateurs in our pursuit of all things related to Abraham Lincoln.

Dr. Donald was, of course, the author of "Lincoln" (1995), arguably the best single-volume biography on the man. The book was praised by many for its balance between the "hero worship" found in many other works about Lincoln and the blatant attacks on Lincoln found in books written by revisionist historians. Donald strove to present a balanced history of Lincoln in his biography, and succeeded brilliantly. He was also the author of other Lincoln books, including "Lincoln's Herndon" (a study of Lincoln's law partner William Herndon) and "We Are Lincoln Men: Abraham Lincoln And His Friends".

Donald was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, but surprisingly not for his "Lincoln" biography. In 1960, he won for "Charles Sumner And The Coming Of The Civil War", about the senator from Massachusetts who was a noted abolitionist and Radical Republican. Donald won his second Pulitzer in 1988 for a biography on the writer Thomas Wolfe.

He was a long time professor at Harvard University, and also served in that capacity at Princeton and Johns Hopkins universities.

Rest in peace, Dr. Donald, and thank you for educating the rest of us so well.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life Happens

My apologies for the lack of posting in recent weeks. I've been taking care of my mom, who was hospitalized for a week and then had a flare-up of her Multiple Sclerosis as a result of being weakened. Since I'm an only child and my dad is deceased, the only person available for her grocery shopping, doctor appointments, and outpatient treatments is me. This has been going on since March 31.

Fortunately, she's a lot better now, which is the most important thing. I can also begin to ease back into my own life, which means that I'll be able to resume fairly frequent postings here on the blog.

Thanks for your patience and continued support.

 
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