Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lincoln at Christmas

Here’s a mixed bag – or stocking, perhaps, given it is Christmas – of Lincoln-related holiday info. Forgive me for not doing the research myself to share more in-depth information on Lincoln’s Christmas. I enjoyed the company of my family, trying to see the joy of the celebration through the eyes of my grandchildren. That, today, seemed more important.

How Lincoln spent Christmas week
The Snellers at Abraham Lincoln Online website have a nice timeline on their website answering the question “How did Lincoln spend Christmas week as President and President-elect?” The timeline covers the holiday week from 1860 through 1864.

Lincoln holiday images
On the Abraham Lincoln Collectibles website, I found some beautiful images of the Lincoln family at Christmas, created annually by the late Lloyd Ostendorf for more than 20 years. I’ve not done the digging to know for sure how realistic the scenes portrayed in each image are, but they’re quite attractive nonetheless. Many of the images are for sale as prints or postcards via the website.

Nurturing a budding scholar
My six-year-old grandson wanted a biography of Lincoln which had a picture of him with a beard. On a Christmas Eve shopping blitz, I found Abraham Lincoln from the History Maker Bios Series. It’s written by Jane A. Schott and illustrated by Tim Parlin. It looks as if it’s written so that it will hold his young attention, yet provide him with the basics of Lincoln scholarship. It’s nice to know we’re starting our own Lincoln legacy here. Kunhardts we’ll never be, but you have to start somewhere.

Starting a new old tradition
On our trip to the holiday reception at the David Davis Mansion, my granddaughter and I learned of a tradition observed in the Davis home which has roots nearly 130 years ago. David Davis was a Bloomington (Ill.) attorney who rode the Eighth Judicial Circuit with Lincoln, was the primary force in helping him win the 1860 election, served on the Supreme Court in Lincoln’s administration and served as a father figure to Robert Todd Lincoln after the President’s death.

In the gift shop and on the dining room table at the mansion, we saw Peppermint Pigs. We learned this was a Victorian holiday tradition. Those at the holiday dinner passed the Peppermint Pig, shielded in a festive red pouch, around the table. Each guest shared something good from the past year, then hit the pouch with a small hammer to break the pink candy pig into pieces. Once it had been around the table, the pouch was opened, the pig was shared, and it was to bring health and good luck in the New Year.

Both young and old at our table first shared something they were thankful for. The pig wasn’t broken as much as we desired, so we passed it again making a wish for the New Year. Those youngsters amaze me. They get it. Their thanks and their wishes were from the heart and not selfish. I’m pretty proud of and thankful for them. They’re good kids.

Even if you don’t have a Peppermint Pig this year, may you reflect on good things from 2008 and be blessed with good health and good luck in 2009. Thanks for spending time learning about Lincoln with me. Ann

© Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lincoln inaugural Bible to serve Obama, too

More exciting Lincoln news on the Obama front today. Most mainline news networks and even many obscure ones have picked up the news that President-elect Barack Obama will take his oath of office using the Bible Abraham Lincoln used at his 1861 inauguration.

Obama - One of Lincoln's greatest cheerleaders
Boy, with all the work my friends at the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and Illinois Lincoln Bicentennial Commission have done, they couldn't have asked for better public relations for our 16th president than the great PR he's getting from Obama - and they don't have any marketing expense for this great press!

Thank you, Mr. President-elect, for embracing and promoting the legacy of Lincoln. You're renewing an interest in Lincoln at an opportune time - his bicentennial year. Let's hope we can keep the momentum moving and have the greatest year for Lincoln scholarship ever!

Read about and see the Bible
Although you can find articles in many newspapers and online news sources, my friends at The State Journal-Register in Lincoln's longtime home, Springfield, had a good article today about Obama and the Bible, with some very nice photos. Be sure to check it out.

You'll also want to see the image of the back inside flaps of the Bible from the Library of Congress website. Be sure to click on the image to enlarge it. You can actually read much of the handwriting inside it.

Happy holidays from the Land of Lincoln
I won't be blogging for a day or two so I can devote time to spending the holiday with my family. May you find this season a time to create warm memories with your loved ones, too.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. Ann

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thanks, Kunhardts, for building on a legacy

Recently, I was looking for an audio book about Lincoln to “read” on my commute to work. The first one I ran across in a nearby library was Lincoln: A Biography by Philip B Kunhardt, Jr., Philip B Kunhardt III and Peter W. Kunhardt. Nearly as soon as I began listening to it, I knew it was going to be time well spent.

Just the beginning
Even in this abridged 1992 audiotape, the Kunhardts’ coverage of Lincoln’s evolving views of slavery and African-Americans proved to be very comprehensive. And, considering this subject was to be one of the questions on an exam in the Lincoln course I was taking, the authors held me captive – so much so that I went back and also checked out the large-format unabridged hardcover, Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography.

As I spent two weekends and several evenings documenting the topic for the exam and future reference, I was amazed at how much depth this book had on slavery and a number of other facets of Lincoln’s life. I was just as amazed at how beautifully the volume was illustrated. I took advantage of the library’s liberal renewal policy to keep the book longer and to spend time savoring the photographs. I learned the book was printed as a companion piece to the trio’s four-part ABC mini-series on Lincoln.

Delving into the Kunhardt story

These guys and their work were impressive. I stepped away from Lincoln for a bit and began to research the Kunhardts, their books and their documentaries. I was excited to find there was much more to learn than just a tale of three guys who decided to write a book about Lincoln. There was a legacy here – a powerful one spanning five generations – from Frederick Hill Meserve (grandfather of Philip, Jr.) who was born the year Lincoln died, through Frederick’s daughter Dorothy (Mother of Philip Jr. and author of Pat the Bunny), then Philip, Jr., his sons Philip III and Peter, and Peter’s son Peter, Jr.

The legacy started when Meserve purchased the glass photographic negatives of Lincoln/ Civil War era photographer Matthew Brady. Thanks to Meserve’s wise investment, the rest of us can linger over these photos today and see back into Lincoln’s time with a clarity which wouldn’t have been possible without this man’s wisdom and foresight.

Sharing the treasures

Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and her son, Philip, Jr., started the tradition of sharing these magnificent images in the book, Twenty Days: A Narrative in Text and Pictures of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Twenty Days and Nights That Followed--The Nation in Mourning, the Long Trip Home to Springfield. If I’m not mistaken, this volume was first published in 1965 on the centennial of Lincoln’s mournful trip home to Springfield.

Philip Jr. and his sons built on the tradition with the illustrated 1992 biography I stumbled upon. I was troubled to learn that Philip Jr. passed away in 2006, but delighted to learn that the next project, now hot off the press, is the work of his two sons and his grandson, Peter, Jr.

The latest Kunhardt work

I had the opportunity recently to hear Philip III talk about the new book, Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon, with Daniel Weinberg of The Abraham Lincoln Book Shop on Virtual Book Signing.* This book, too, draws from the family’s collection of images and draws upon each of the co-author’s unique gifts – Philip III’s gifts as a writer and his brother and son’s talents with the images and design work.

The book continues the Lincoln story, taking the reader from the assassination through the life of Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln. It, too, is a companion book, to an upcoming PBS documentary, but based on tradition, I’m sure it will stand well on its own. The legacy of the Kunhardts, like the legacy of Lincoln, is one which will remain strong for years to come.

Congratulations, Philip III and Peter
In February, Philip III and Peter will join other Lincoln experts in receiving a special Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial edition of the highest honor awarded by the State of Illinois, The Order of Lincoln. As is the case with the other honorees, this recognition of the brothers' longstanding commitment to Lincoln is well-deserved. Congratulations to both of you from someone who appreciates your work and laments of not discovering it earlier.

More to come
Watch for more information on this interesting family and their contributions to the Lincoln world, including a new numbering system for Lincoln photographs, in future Lincoln Buff 2 blog posts next year. If I told you everything I’ve learned about this talented family, I fear it would take me into the new year.

* Abraham Lincoln Book Shop and Virtual Book Signing: This is really cool! I even got to send a question via email, which Mr. Kunhardt answered on the air. I want to tell you more about the history of this institution and the new legacy they're creating with the virtual book signings. Watch for more on that next year, too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blog topics you may have missed through Dec. 19

The last few weeks have been busy in the Lincoln world, so there's been lots to write about. If you’ve missed some posts since my last "topics you may have missed" piece on Nov. 18, 2008, here’s a hyperlinked list of what we covered. If this is helpful, please check one of the Reaction checkboxes at the end of this article.

In the past few weeks, you might have missed articles:

For earlier articles
For articles between the birth of this blog on Oct. 9, 2008 and Nov. 18, see the Nov. 19 article.

The opportunity of a century
Remember, this time of bicentennial celebration will never be equaled by any in our lifetimes for opportunities to celebrate and learn about Lincoln. You can find a couple of great calendars of bicentennial happenings across the country at these websites:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Congratulations, Mr. Secretary-to-be

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard the term “Team of Rivals” so many times that some of us are beginning to wish Doris Kearns Goodwin had named her Lincoln book something else.

No offense, Ms. Goodwin. It was a great name. It’s just getting worn out as President-elect Obama selects his cabinet and the media runs the phrase into the ground. The freshness is kind of gone, you know.

There’s one “rival” we’re excited to learn about here in Central Illinois, though. Our native son, Congressman Ray LaHood, who recently announced his retirement from his current role, has been named Secretary of Transportation for the Obama administration.

LaHood’s our man
LaHood is dear to us here in the Land of Lincoln, not only because he’s from our neck of the woods – or prairie – but because he’s a co-chair of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

So, it seems appropriate that this Lincoln enthusiast will have a role with our nation’s transportation. After all, as early as the New Salem days, Lincoln was passionate about internal improvements – better waterways, railroads and such. We were already proud of our Representative for his public service and his support of the Lincoln legacy. We’re even prouder now.

Learn more
As usual, the journalists at the Peoria Journal-Star have done a great job of telling the story of Hood’s nomination. Learn more in the following:

Best wishes always
Congressman LaHood, when I wished you well in my Dec. 6 post, I borrowed some words from an old Irish toast. Little did I know the roads will not only rise up to meet you, but you’ll be the “road and sky guy” for our whole country. Wow!

Congratulations – and thanks for continuing to serve the people of the United States of America.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Give the gift of Lincoln

Is your holiday shopping done? Have you planted the seed of Lincoln yet?

It’s not too late to pick up a Lincoln book or two or a few to give to the special people in your life. If you’ve already remembered the people on your gift giving list, consider donating Lincoln titles to schools or local libraries. Can you think of a more fitting way to commemorate the upcoming bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth? A book is a gift that keeps on giving, often teaching and giving joy across generations.

In the Lincoln Buff library are Lincoln titles for all ages, including the first one I purchased in grade school through the paperback book program for less than a dollar. Today, my grandchildren - from the kindergartener to the high school student - can often be found with their noses in the pages of a book about the 16th president. I can’t help but smile when the youngest asks me if I can show him a picture of Lincoln without his whiskers or the oldest begins quizzing me on Lincoln facts for a term paper.

See the bicentennial website for ideas
If you’re looking for Lincoln titles, be sure to check out the Lincoln Bicentennial website, where you’ll find one list for children’s books and another for adult titles.

Season’s greetings
As you begin celebrating the season according to your own special traditions, I wish you health, happiness and a new Lincoln book. My bet is that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve got some on your list – especially with all the new ones coming out this year.

There will be one special title under the Lincoln Buff’s tree this year thanks to the compounded effect of a sale price, member discount, one day sale, free shipping and a holiday gift certificate. I’ll be sure to report on it once I’ve read it. It should be a good one.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be spending more time with my loved ones, so I may not be blogging quite as often. This won’t be my last post before the holidays, though. Please check back in as you have time amidst the hustle and bustle. If you don’t find a new post, know that I’m not forgetting Lincoln or you. I’ve got a huge list of topics and lots of news other Lincoln buffs want me to share. We’ve got a lot to talk about between now and Feb. 12, 2009!

Happy holidays! Ann

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A somber look at Lincoln's time

Recently, I was at a nearby library searching through the audio book section, hoping to find Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. Instead, I found an audio book which gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the Civil War I would have never thought possible. The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward is a sobering first-hand account through the eyes of hundreds of former slaves.

I normally have a rule: My 30-minute commute to and from work is a transition time and I try to listen to things which will make me smile – Hippie Radio or fun country songs like “Chicken Fried” by the Zak Brown Band.

As I listened to narrator Richard Allen read the accounts from Ward’s book, I did anything but smile.

From the mouths of babes

The book includes the first-hand accounts of scores of former slaves, many who were just children during the Civil War and at the time of emancipation. They paint a vivid picture of the horrors of war, the injustice of servitude and the strength of a people who, by circumstances of their skin color, time in history and environs, were subjected to atrocities the like of which I can’t begin to imagine.

As I listened to the 11 audio tapes (14 hours in all), I was moved by the variety of memories the interviewees had and the color with which Allen relayed them. From stories of plantation life and battlefield scenes to memories of seeing President Lincoln at Richmond in 1865 just before the assassination, this resource sheds new light on the most troubling time in our nation’s history.

Slaves’ War draws upon 1930 Works Progress Administration interviews with those who were just children during the war, as well as other oral history. The end result is a resource which will surely hold a prominent place in the libraries of many Lincoln and Civil War scholars. It’s on my list of must haves.

Hearing is believing
I normally don’t recommend listening to a book before reading it, especially nonfiction, but in this case, I’d do it the same way all over again. Hearing Allen bring the dialect to life and “reading” in chunks seemed to be just what I needed with this book.

Now, I just have to get the printed book to keep on my reference shelf. I’ve already found several quotes I’ll want to use in my future scholarly work. Methinks Andrew Ward’s book will become as much a staple in my Lincoln bibliographies as Herndon’s Informants, edited by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis.

Time for kicking down the cobblestones

As I dig deeper into my Lincoln work, I’m finding my commute time is a great time to learn through audio books like this one. But for now, I think I’ll kick back and listen to some fun vibes. After all this heavy stuff, I think it’s time for some really light and funky sounds like “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” by Simon and Garfunkel – for a few days, at least.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Keepin’ on keepin’ up with Lincoln news

It’s no secret to those who know me that I am a relic of the sixties – not Lincoln’s dismal 1860s, but the 1960s – a freaky, funky, frightening time. We had lots of fun phrases back then, and one of my favorites is “Keep on keepin’ on.” I’d like to twist the phrase a bit today.

Lately, there has been so much Lincoln news that it’s hard to “keep on keepin’ up” with it all.

I actually have a calendar of potential blog topics – things I’ve covered briefly and want to share with you more in depth, books I want to tell you about, people I want you to meet. Yet, recently, there seems to be a lot of Lincoln-related news every day – some of which appears on all the news pages and some which is more obscure.

Today, I want to draw your attention to three things – birthday cards for President Lincoln, a gift which may keep the Vandalia Statehouse open and a Bloomington (Ill.) home with Lincoln connections, which will have a new life.

Show your imagination – send a card
Who can forget the fun we had as children creating our own special birthday, Valentine or holiday cards and seeing the delight on another’s face when we presented our hand-crafted offering. Now, you can relive that pleasure by creating your own special handmade card for the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Just think, when will you ever have another chance to give someone a card celebrating their 200th birthday?

The Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission is having a card shower for Lincoln, so join in the fun. For more information see The State Journal-Register’s article.

New hope for Lincoln’s first legislative home
Although the Illinois state capital is now Springfield, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it’s thanks to Lincoln and the other tall Sangamon County men known as the Long Nine that the capital was moved from its earlier home in Vandalia to its current more central location. Those who are familiar with Lincoln lore will most likely remember the Vandalia Statehouse for the tale of Lincoln jumping out the window to try to prevent a quorum.

The Statehouse is one of the historic sites closed under Governor Rod Blagojevich’s regime. Now, thanks to an anonymous donation from a Vandalia resident, pending state approval it appears the site may have a prolonged life. More on this story, too, in The State Journal-Register.

Couple to breathe new life into Lincoln-era home
Those familiar with Lincoln and his Bloomington (Ill.) connections know well his connection with Judge David Davis, but Lincoln’s McLean County acquaintances don’t stop there. If I were to say “speculator, investor, banker, millionaire, old grouch,” would you know which mid-19th century Bloomington resident I was describing? Try Asahel Gridley. The home he moved into on Lincoln’s inauguration day in March 1861 recently sold, and the couple who purchased it plans to rehabilitate the deteriorating building. Read more about the effort, the building and Gridley in The Pantagraph stories.

Watch C-SPAN White House programming
Don’t forget to watch C-SPAN’s superb White House programming this week. We’re trying to watch every night, but if you’re a Lincoln buff and can watch only one night, be sure it’s Thursday, Dec. 18. That’s when the Lincoln White House will be featured.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Best wishes, Chief Justice Williams

An announcement late Thursday afternoon caught the State of Rhode Island and the Lincoln world off guard. Chief Justice Frank J. Williams of Rhode Island Supreme Court announced his retirement from the Court.

The good news is that Williams is still a leading Lincoln scholar and author, a member of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, chair of the Rhode Island Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, founding chair of the Lincoln Forum, member and former leader in many other Lincoln-related groups, and a recipient of a special Lincoln Bicentennial Order of Lincoln honor.

This man has done phenomenal work in the Lincoln world while working full-time. I can’t wait to see where his career as a Lincoln scholar goes from here. It's late on a Sunday night. I know I’m cutting this story way too short tonight, so I’m adding Frank J. Williams to my list of future topics. I promise to tell you more about his books and his work on Lincoln in an upcoming article.

For now, you can read more about the Chief Justice’s career and retirement in The Providence Journal online articles.

Judge Williams, if you’re reading, I wish you all the best. I look forward to seeing you around the Lincoln circuit – Eighth or otherwise. Ann

News in the Lincoln world

Last week and this coming week there's a lot of activity in the Lincoln world and in the Land of Lincoln. Since the Lincoln Buff was away from the computer for a couple days, I’ll give you a high level overview of the things you may have missed – and direct you to other news sites for more information.

Don’t miss the C-SPAN White House features
From Dec. 14-20, C-SPAN is featuring an in-depth look at where Lincoln and other American Presidents lived and worked. The Lincoln Buff family just finished watching the first episode. We learned tons and can’t wait to see the rest. Tonight’s program not only featured clips from President and Mrs. Bush, but also footage from a number of former Presidential families. Several of our well-known Lincoln and presidential historians, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Harold Holzer and Richard Norton Smith provided commentary, as well as people who have day-to-day connections with the White House operations. Please join us in watching the rest of the programming at 9 Eastern, 8 Central each night this week.

Michael Burlingame talks about his new book
I wasn’t near a television during the day today, so I missed the Book TV interview with Michael Burlingame concerning his new two-volume Lincoln biography, which is heralded by most as the next most valuable Lincoln work. Abraham Lincoln: A Life is published by The John Hopkins University Press. I may not get a chance to read it right away myself, but I’ll try to point you to more information on the book as it becomes available. Be sure to see Abraham Lincoln Online website, too, for their interview with Burlingame.

Indiana collection has a home – but not at ALPLM
In case you haven't heard it by now, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum won't be getting the vast collection of Lincoln memorabilia from the recently closed Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana - sad for us in Illinois. Instead, the $20 million collection will go to the State of Indiana and be housed in the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. It will be interesting to hear what Lincoln scholars and collectors have to say about this. Lincoln buff will try to follow this story and share what I read. In the meantime, you can read more in the article.

Hope for Illinois historic sites?
I doubt that anyone reading this blog is immune to the news from Illinois about the arrest of Governor Rod Blagojevich. If this current governor steps down or is impeached, next in line for the office is Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. The good news is that Quinn’s already giving us hope about reopening the recently closed historic sites if he moves into the office. Hurray, Lt. Gov. Quinn! Although we’re watching this whole drama play out on many levels, we Lincoln buffs are especially interested in watching what happens to the sites which have connections to Lincoln. We’re glad to hear you’ll do the right thing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mrs. Lincoln turns 190

Lots of hoopla is planned for the upcoming 200th birthday of the most celebrated President in American history, Abraham Lincoln. But, while we’ve been busy planning a party for Abe, his missus is about to have a birthday of her own. Mary Todd Lincoln turns 190 on Saturday, Dec. 13. Please join me in saying “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Lincoln.”

If you’re in Lexington on Saturday
If you’re going to be in Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, you can join in the celebration at the Mary Todd Lincoln House. See their website for more information.

A shelf full of Mary Lincoln books

If you can’t make it to her party, you can read about Mrs. Lincoln. A number of scholars through the years have written about her - from Ruth Painter Randall and Carl Sandburg’s early works to the eye-opening work of Jason Emerson and James S. Brust. In January, you’ll be able to get yet another view of Mrs. Lincoln’s life when Catherine Clinton’s new book comes out.

In between, a number of other brilliant Lincoln scholars have written about the First Lady and shared their perspectives on her through scholarly articles, symposium presentations and documentary films.

To learn more, check out some of these Mary Lincoln books:

Please join me in using the Lincoln Bicentennial as an opportunity to learn about our 16th President, his family and his legacy. There’s no better time than now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Looking forward – Peering back

This past week was a busy one for the Lincoln buff, with Lincoln activities five out of seven days. Let’s take a peek back at the culmination of my Heartland College Lincoln class and at other Lincoln events I attended in Central Illinois. Let’s also look forward to what the Lincoln buff has planned now that my course is completed.

Never too much Lincoln
I began a whirlwind week on Tuesday, Dec. 2, as one of nine students giving oral presentations of our term papers. To learn more about the class, the students and the paper topics, see my article, Lasting Mark Left by Lincoln Class.

Wednesday of last week found me joining hundreds of other Central Illinoisans fighting freezing rain on I-55 as I travelled to Springfield to a Public Relations Society of America meeting where Julie Cellini of the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission told us what the commission has done to prepare for the bicentennial, what they’ve accomplished to date and what we have to look forward to. I’ll tell you more in a future article. It’s exciting.

The Lincoln world was well represented at that meeting, with people there from the Bicentennial Commission, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. All have great accomplishments behind them and a great task before them in preparing for Lincoln’s 200th birthday. It should be a celebration to remember.

On Thursday, I was accompanied by my young granddaughter to the volunteer and foundation member reception at the David Davis Mansion. What little girl – or big – wouldn’t be excited about seeing a beautiful 19th century showplace dressed up in all its holiday finery – right down to a teddy bears’ tea party? Watch future posts for more information about this architectural and historic treasure in Bloomington (Ill.), which has strong connections to the Lincoln legacy.

On the two days I didn’t have Lincoln events, I was preparing for one. I spent Saturday and Sunday studying for my final exam. Lest I give the questions away to future students of this class, I won’t give you the topics. Let it suffice to say one involved something which touched Lincoln’s entire life – a heavy, but important topic. I absorbed it, though, and made it through my Monday night final, melancholy that this once-a-week intellectual fix was coming to an end.

During my lunch time on Tuesday, I attended the dedication for the first of a number of Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits in the Bloomington-Normal area. The Bloomington exhibits are just a handful of the more than 200 which will grace sites with connections to Lincoln from one end of the Prairie State to the other by the end of 2009. I’ll tell you more about this ceremony, the wayside exhibits and the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition in future articles.

What’s on the horizon?
Although the class is finished, the Lincoln buff is just beginning. In 2009 and beyond, my schedule is ambitious. My first order of business is to complete an industry designation I’ve started for my real job. I’ll begin study this week and continue it through and beyond Lincoln’s February 12 birthday. So, if there are times when you don’t see a post for a day or two, don’t give up on me. Just realize I may have had to take time to study.

As for Lincoln, I won’t let him down. I plan to continue the blog and, to work toward my goal of growing my knowledge – and yours - of the life and legacy of Lincoln, I’ll be spending much of my vacation time attending Lincoln celebrations and scholarly events, including:

In the coming years, I also plan to:

  • refine and expand my paper on Lincoln and his mentors,
  • continue my work on Lincoln and Sandburg and on Lincoln in Illinois literature, and
  • begin an in-depth study of David Davis and his relationship with Lincoln.

The blog lives on
My original intent was to keep the blog active through 2010 to extend more than a year past the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. However, a very wise Illinois historian recently reminded me the interest in Lincoln will surely intensify and continue as the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War begins in 2011 and extends through 2015. Though that commemoration will likely be somber rather than celebratory like the Lincoln Bicentennial, it will serve as a time to continue to teach and to learn. God willing, I’ll be here and so will the technology so that this forum can continue to share what’s happening, what’s new in Lincoln scholarship and what I’ve learned. I’ll try not to let you down.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bloomington: Don't miss dedication ceremony

Bloomington area residents: Don't miss the dedication ceremony for the Bloomington Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits on Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 12:30 p.m. at the David Davis Mansion. I'm sorry I didn't let you know earlier. Some little matter of a final exam had me preoccupied.

See the press release on the McLean County Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website for more information.

And don't forget to visit the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition website to learn how this neat organization works with communities throughout Illinois to honor our favorite son.

Lasting mark left by Lincoln class

Last fall, I was all ready to sign up for the last course to complete a professional designation for my real job. The course? Liability Claims Practices. The designation? Associate in Claims – my sixth designation in the past 10 years or so. I’d set a goal of completing the designation by the end of 2009. However, those plans went awry one morning as I opened our local newspaper. There on the front page was an article about a college course, “The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln.”

People I work with know of my love of lifelong learning. They don’t understand it – but they know it is part of my essence. They know I’m usually working toward a designation and I can tell them which one I’m doing next. The goals I set normally are no secret.

The secret goal
I set another goal a few years back, though. It was 2002 and the first articles were beginning to hit the press about the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Some courses I’d taken and some of my freelance articles were Lincoln-related. They had lit a fire under me that would likely not be extinguished. I resolved when I saw that article that I would begin to set things in motion so I could be doing Lincoln-related work – of some sort - by the Feb. 12, 2009 bicentennial. Life got busy and the flame smoldered some. And the dream? I didn’t share that one. That goal was secret – known only to a privileged few. It just seemed too far out there. Who would believe in me – or in my dream?

Then came that late summer morning, the front page article in the Pantagraph, Heartland College and Dr. Scott Rager - and the beginning of the realization of my dream. I could begin to move along the continuum from Lincoln enthusiast to Lincoln scholar. The course was to be my first real step.

A bittersweet goodbye
Tonight I said my good-byes for now to academia. I took my final exam. The course is complete, but my life is forever changed. I always take something from every course I take and, from this one, I took so much.

I truly can’t ever remember a time in my life when I wasn’t mesmerized by the Lincoln legacy - from backwoods roots like those of many of my ancestors to the White House – with less than a year of school. Who wouldn’t be impressed by a story like that one? I knew the popular Lincoln, and thanks to a great undergrad teacher who is an Illinois literature expert, I knew the literary Lincoln, but I didn’t know Lincoln the lawyer, the politician or the President.

Guess what I know now? I not only know a whole lot more, but I also know there’s a ton I don’t know. With more than 1600 books about him and hundreds of scholars turning up new information and new theories every day, there is a lot I will never know.

What I do know is that I had an opportunity of a lifetime – and I shared it with some incredible people. The class was open to the public, either for credit or for enrichment. Students ran the gamut from some really cool, really bright traditional college students to a husband and wife team, a mother and daughter, a retiree with several degrees and others in between. Each of them brought their own unique perspective to the class, and I learned from all of them.

All across the board
Just to give you an example of the wide variety of knowledge and varied interests in the class, here are some of the topics selected by the students who completed term papers:
  • Lincoln and Slavery
  • Lincoln and the Constitution
  • Mary Todd Lincoln’s Marriage
  • Lincoln’s Romances
  • Lincoln’s Changing Views on Race and Slavery
  • Lincoln: His Choices, His Public, His Critics
  • Lincoln and His Cabinet
  • Lincoln Assassination Theories
  • Mentoring Lincoln: A Worthwhile Investment

These are some pretty heavy topics for a 200-level course and the students all “nailed it.”

An enriching semester

I guess maybe as a non-traditional student, you come to a course with a different perspective and a greater appreciation. I knew that since this was a new course, Dr. Rager was having even more homework to do than we were. Preparing lectures, lesson plans, seeking enrichment materials – it couldn’t have been easy. Yet, each week he was ready for us. He supplemented his lectures with several of the great documentaries available on Lincoln, arranged a couple field trips and kept us abreast of local Lincoln-related events. We even had guest speakers – three local Lincoln scholars, all known and respected in the Lincoln world:

  • Roger Bridges,
  • Guy Fraker and
  • Stewart Winger.

Watch for more about these brilliant men and their areas of expertise in an upcoming article.

Don’t miss the opportunity
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This bicentennial year is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – or as Julie Cellini of the U.S. and Illinois Bicentennial Commissions says, a once-in-a-century opportunity. If you missed the fall class at Heartland, though, you didn’t miss your chance to take this class. It’s offered again in the spring. Enrollment closes very soon. Don’t miss your chance. Call Heartland College and tell them you want to take History 296.

Oh, and as for me? I’m now beginning that Claims class I put off, my blog continues and my Lincoln studies have just begun…

C-SPAN offers ongoing Lincoln programming

As a partner with the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, C-SPAN is there to document many of the exciting ongoing Lincoln activities.

Don’t miss these December events
Here are just a few you won’t want to miss:
  • Sunday, Dec. 14 – Book TV – 12-1:30 ET - Michael Burlingame talks about his new book, “Abraham Lincoln: A Life,” a 1800 page, 2-volume biography
  • Sunday, Dec. 14-20 – White House Week documentary series on C-SPAN with a number of leading Lincoln scholars, including:
    o Harold Holzer
    o Doris Kearns Goodwin
    o Richard Norton Smith
    o Anthony Pitch
    o And others

Watch for future programs
C-SPAN will air Lincoln 200 Years programming the first Saturday of each month from 8-10 p.m. through April 2009. Future events will:

  • explore Lincoln’s time in Springfield, Illinois, where he spent more than half of his life,
  • offer a view of the recent renovations at the Fords Theatre in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln was shot, and
  • give you a look at Lincoln events throughout the United States.

For more information
Information on C-SPAN Lincoln 200 programs are available on their website. While you’re there, be sure to stay a while. There are hours and hours of previously recorded Lincoln programming which will provide a deeper look into the 16th president and his legacy and introduce you to those who study them. What a wonderful opportunity to grow your knowledge of Lincoln. I go there often and still haven’t watched everything.

Be sure to visit the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC) website as well for an ongoing calendar of Lincoln-related events across the country.

My home state of Illinois has a great Bicentennial Commission, which is doing a great job of sharing the legacy of Lincoln. I’ll tell you more about what they’re doing and what they have planned in a future article. The calendar of events for the week of Lincoln’s birthday is already jam-packed and the Lincoln buff has her week planned. His birthday, Thursday, Feb. 12, will be a particularly busy day – with something to do in Springfield literally every hour. Be sure to see the calendar to start planning your week.

A number of other states also have their own bicentennial commissions. Links to several of them can be found on the left side of my blog through the links titled, “Celebrate Lincoln at 200 - Bicentennial websites.” If you can’t find your state listed there, see the list on the ALBC website.

* Thanks to Betty Anselmo of The Lincoln Forum for an informative email alerting Lincoln buffs to upcoming C-SPAN events.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thanks and best wishes, Congressman LaHood

I can barely remember a time when the name Ray LaHood was not synonymous with Central Illinois politics. As a Lincoln buff, I’ll also never forget the day I heard that Congressman LaHood, Senator Dick Durbin and an author whose Lincoln book I’d reviewed, Harold Holzer, were to co-chair the newly formed Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. It was years before the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, which is now less than two months away.

As LaHood and fellow Lincoln buffs look forward to the celebrations surrounding Lincoln’s Feb. 12 birthday, the Congressman is looking forward to a milestone in his own life – his retirement from public service in early January and, subsequently, more time with his family.

Thousands of touchpoints
LaHood has represented the people of the 18th Congressional District of Illinois in our nation’s capital for seven terms, but his public service started long before. Since the late 1970s, he’s served in a number of public roles, including as:
  • District Administrative Assistant, for Congressman Tom Railsback
  • Member of Illinois House of Representatives
  • Chief of Staff for U.S. House Minority Leader Robert Michel

Even earlier he was serving the people, working for the Rock Island Youth Services Bureau and the Bi-State Planning Commission. Although I didn’t know it until I did my research yesterday, LaHood also served as a junior high school social studies teacher for six years. It’s no wonder he’s been involved in keeping the legacy of Lincoln alive. That teacher gene never leaves, it seems, no matter where life takes one.

Lincoln lovers would be interested to know that in today’s 18th District, LaHood serves most of the same communities Lincoln served in the 7th District from 1847-1849.

Media respect well-earned
The Peoria Journal-Star, which has chronicled LaHood’s story since his early days in politics, has honored the outgoing servant with a tribute today. You can learn more about this man with Lincoln ties and his own personal legacy in these additional pieces:

While you’re at it, you might also want to listen to Q & A on C-SPAN for Brian Lamb’s interview with Congressman LaHood.

LaHood's farewell
Congressman LaHood also wrote his own farewell, which appeared as an op-ed piece on the Journal-Star website late Sunday. I find it interesting that one of the things LaHood mentions is his mentors, Railsback and Michel. He also offers words of wisdom for the Congressman-elect Aaron Schock. Schock will serve us well, I believe, but even better with LaHood passing on his words of wisdom.

Lincoln's growth, too, was enriched through his mentors - in New Salem, in law and in politics. He also made the transition from protege to mentor when he took on Billy Herndon. But, those are stories for another day. (This section added Dec. 8.)

Do you have a LaHood memory?
If so, the Journal-Star would like to hear it. You can email them at and they’ll publish highlights before Jan. 6, his final day in office. If I see that article, I’ll publish a link in my blog for those of you outside of Central Illinois. Wouldn’t it be nice if that next article contained some memories from fellow Lincoln buffs?

Lincoln buff/constituent says thanks
Congressman LaHood, thank you for your service to our country and your dedication to keeping the legacy of Lincoln alive. May the roads ahead rise up to meet you with all the joy and fulfillment you deserve. Ann

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fun Lincoln information coming soon

This is a busy week for the Lincoln Buff - student presentations in the Heartland College Lincoln class, a professional organization meeting with a speaker from the U.S. and Illinois Bicentennial Commissions, a David Davis Mansion Foundation event and preparation for the final exam. Please forgive me if my posts the next few days are short and not quite as frequent.

I promise I've got lots of interesting things coming. Watch for:
  • an overview of the class presentation topics - a wide variety and quite interesting,
  • what the bicentennial commissions are planning and
  • kudos to some folks in the Lincoln world.

My list of topics grows by the days. There are all sorts of Lincoln-related things to share over the coming weeks. Please return to my blog often and stay awhile to read earlier posts.

Thank you for visiting and for sharing news of my blog with your friends. Have a great week. Ann

Monday, December 1, 2008

Troubadour takes Lincoln to the masses

A little pickin’ and some strummin’, a little singin’ and some hummin’ – what better gift could our sixteenth president ask for in celebration of his 200th birthday? After all, such music is steeped in the tradition of the hills of Kentucky where Lincoln was born and was a way to pass the evenings when Lincoln travelled the Eighth Judicial Circuit.

Abraham Lincoln in Song
Chris Vallillo, of Macomb (Ill.) is taking his gift of music on the road to honor Lincoln and share the music of his day. Vallillo’s program, Abraham Lincoln in Song, is endorsed by both the U.S. and Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commissions.

Though I’ve not yet had the experience of hearing Chris’s program in person, I have heard his CD by the same name, and the only thing keeping me from the real thing is opportunity. You can bet when the time and place pulls together, I’ll be there near the front of the line. His voice is rich, his picking perfect and his choice of songs a true tribute to the folk tradition of Lincoln’s times. And, if like me, you can't make it to one of his concerts anytime soon, you can order or download the CD via a link from Vallillo's website.

Vallillo’s venture into Lincoln is a natural offshoot of his love for music and his roots in Lincoln’s prairie state. He’s long sung songs which celebrate the nation’s heartland and its musical tradition, performing throughout the Midwest for a variety of groups and festivities.

Learn more
Here’s more information on:
  • When Vallillo will be performing
  • How you can contact him to bring his program to your area
  • What his songs sound like, or how to buy or download them

To read what other have to say about Vallillo and Abraham Lincoln in Song, see these articles by:

And you can be sure that when I’ve heard Chris myself, you’ll get my firsthand account.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sad days at historic sites

Yesterday, business was as usual – sort of – at Illinois historic sites. Volunteers at Lincoln’s Log Cabin peeled potatoes and answered visitors’ questions, while Carl Sandburg Birthplace held another in its Songbag Concert Series honoring the troubadour/poet who devoted more than 15 years of his life to writing a six-volume biography of Lincoln. Visitors to the David Davis Mansion saw the home all decked out in its holiday finery.

Yet, though the events went on in Charleston and Galesburg in spite of impending closings later today due to budget cuts, sadness was in the air. Surely, a few tears were shed, as I know they would have been had I been there. The feeling in Bloomington, however, was a guarded sort of relief. The Christmas festivities will go on at the David Davis Mansion and the site will remain open – at least through the February bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.

I’ve talked to journalists who have to cover such happenings. It’s never an easy job, yet today several Illinois journalists captured the somber feelings in Charleston and Galesburg and the hopeful feelings in Bloomington.

To read about the human impact of the budget cuts, see the articles about the:

For Lincoln buffs, history nuts and the young people who won’t be able to see these historic sites and be bitten by the history bug, this is a sad time indeed.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gov’s cuts rain on Lincoln’s birthday parade

I hadn’t blogged about the historic site closings in Illinois. I really try to be an optimist and, deep inside, I truly hoped they wouldn’t close. For those of you outside of Illinois, here’s the skinny of it. The State of Illinois is in a horrible budget crunch. One of the ways Governor Blagojevich wants to fix it is by closing several state parks and many historic sites, and reducing hours at others.

This would be a tragedy under any conditions. Many of these sites will no longer be available for visitors, or at reduced hours, and dedicated site employees will lose their jobs. Many of the small communities where these institutions are located depend on tourist revenue for survival. And on top of all this, the closings are especially tragic in light of the upcoming bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Lincoln sites closing
Three of the sites slated to close after November 30 are the Lincoln Log Cabin near Charleston, the Vandalia statehouse, where Lincoln served as a legislator, and the Carl Sandburg Birthplace in Galesburg. The David Davis Mansion in Bloomington was also on the budget chopping block, but thanks to a successful fundraising effort by the mansion’s foundation, private funds raised will keep the mansion open – at least until his birthday. I currently live in the Bloomington area and I’m always proud of our people. They come through – whether it’s a flood or hurricane relief drive, a food pantry effort, a Habitat home raising or maintaining the legacy of the man who helped Lincoln win the Republican bid for the presidency.

Why is Bloomington different, you wonder? Like many communities, we’ve got dedicated volunteers, caring individuals, supportive institutions. Unlike Galesburg, for instance, we still have a financially healthy community. People here are blessed and they share those blessings. Fortunately, the survival of the David Davis Mansion is on the receiving end of this sharing.

Huge hearts – empty wallets
I can’t speak for Vandalia and Charleston, as I’m not familiar with those communities, but I can speak for my hometown for more than 30 years, Galesburg. The hearts of the people of Galesburg are just as huge and the loyal contingent of Lincoln/Sandburg supporters would like nothing more than to see the birthplace remain open. Unfortunately, the money just isn’t there. The Galesburg community is as unhealthy financially as the Bloomington area is healthy. In the past decade, Sandburg’s hometown lost all major manufacturing, the lifeblood of the city and the surrounding area. As a ripple effect, many other businesses have also closed their doors, including the grocery store where, until moving away in 1997, this blogger worked and built cherished relationships for almost half of her adult life.

As the plan stands now, visitors to Illinois in 2009 who hope to see the sites which helped mold the sixteenth president and inspire the son of Swedish immigrants to write about him will miss their chance. The future of these sites looks dismal, especially for the upcoming February bicentennial.

One last hope
At this point in time, until we have an Illinois administration which cares as much as we do about keeping the legacy of Lincoln alive, I see only one hope – outside philanthropists. Maybe, just maybe, there are people out there who love Lincoln so much that they would come forth to these historic site associations or foundations and offer them the funds to keep the sites open. For the Galesburg site, the magic number is $7,833 per month, roughly $94,000 per year. I’m sure Illinois Historic Preservation Agency spokesman David Blanchette would be glad to provide similar numbers for the other sites and put you in touch with individuals at each site who spearhead the foundation or association efforts.

To borrow one of the eloquent speaker Lincoln’s many well crafted phrases, the “last best hope” for the future of these sites lies in the hands of those who love Lincoln and have the wherewithal to keep his legacy alive. Bob Lenz and his fellow Lincoln lovers in the Bloomington area have shown us it can be done and Blanchette has offered to listen to similar offers from other sites. Now, all we need is people who can make it happen. Are you one of them?

For more information

Here are several sources for more information on the closings:

  • Article on the closings by David Mercer as it appeared in today’s Galesburg Register-Mail
  • Pantagraph story by Sharon Wolfe and Kurt Erickson telling how the David Davis Mansion Foundation efforts are keeping the historic site open
  • John Pulliam’s earlier Register-Mail story about the dismal outlook without funding for the Sandburg site
  • Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Happy Thanksgiving – 145 years after Lincoln’s proclamation

    I recently learned that it was 145 years ago (1863) when Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation making Thanksgiving a national holiday.

    It's time to spend time with those who are blessings in my life. Therefore, I’m going to make this blog short and direct you to an article about the proclamation on the website, Abraham Lincoln Online (ALO). It’s a nice piece, which includes the proclamation itself. I’m just beginning to discover all the wonderful things that ALO has to offer.

    The website is a labor of love by Lowell and Rhoda Sneller, who in October were announced among those who will be awarded the special Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial edition of The Order of Lincoln, the highest honor awarded by the State of Illinois. Those chosen will be honored for the lasting and significant ways they have preserved the memory of Abraham Lincoln, and have contributed to Lincoln’s defining influence on the American spirit.

    So, to the Snellers, thanks for your vast, ongoing efforts to share the legacy of Lincoln.

    And, to the readers of my blog – both near and far – thank you for reading. May you continue to grow in your knowledge of Lincoln. I hope my blog helps with that growth – for all of us. Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. Ann

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Grading the president – better done looking back

    As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m not a politician. That’s probably not a very civic-minded way to be. It’s just my reality. Life is complicated and busy, and I just put my energy in things other than trying to understand politics.

    Lincoln – an interdisciplinary subject

    Yet, as I delve into my studies of Abraham Lincoln, I realize politics is a subject in which I must begin to show an interest. If not, I’ll be left behind. Studying Lincoln isn’t just history, it isn’t just literature, it isn’t just military science, it’s not just politics. It’s a blend of all these and likely even more disciplines. Be patient with me, please. I’m still learning.

    With this being an election year, and with so many comparisons being made between President-Elect Barack Obama and Lincoln, I’m thrust into politics no matter what, it seems. Articles which normally would not attract my attention call to me from the printed page or the computer screen – and draw me in.

    Grabbed by hometown news
    One such article jumped out at me today. When I was in Galesburg, my former job sometimes required that I appear before the courts to obtain arrest warrants. One of the judges I often encountered was now-retired Circuit Judge Harry Bulkeley.

    Even if our paths would not have passed in the courtroom, I think they would have eventually. You see, we share a common passion – an interest in the history of our hometown and of the Lincoln legacy.

    Bulkeley takes his passion even farther than I do, portraying Ulysses S. Grant as a Civil War re-enactor. In fact, the Judge looks so much like the real McCoy that he had the opportunity to play Grant on television. And, he’s chair of the Galesburg Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

    General Grant on President Bush
    Bulkeley is a guest columnist for our hometown newspaper, The Register-Mail. Whether you’re a Lincoln buff, an Obama fan or a Bush supporter, I urge you to read Judge Bulkeley’s column today. He answers the question, “What grade would you give the Bush administration?”

    Within the article, Bulkeley talks about how serving as a wartime president impacts the public’s perception of the person holding our nation’s highest office and of the decisions he makes. You’ll also see how perceptions of an administration or a decision can change over time. As Bulkeley says, “If we’d tried to judge the Civil War in 1864, it would have clearly been a terrible mistake.”

    Check out Judge Bulkeley’s column and see why he gives President George W. Bush a grade of “incomplete.” To read the grades other Galesburgers gave Bush, see the earlier column.

    Lincoln buff grades the President
    If you’re reading, President Bush, this not-so-political blogger agrees with the Judge. The jury’s still out. I won’t jump to a rash conclusion and give you a mark lower than you might earn once the final grade is in. Thank you for your service to our nation in another unparalleled era.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    Tribute to a faithful toiler

    “I have always felt that a woman has the right to treat the subject of her age with ambiguity until, perhaps, she passes into the realm of over ninety. Then it is better she be candid with herself and with the world.” Carl Sandburg

    On Nov. 24, 1918 as Americans fought in the War to End All Wars, the not-yet-Lincoln-biographer Carl Sandburg was away from home as a war correspondent. That Sunday at 6 a.m., his wife, Lillian, whom he called Paula, gave birth to a baby girl, rather than the boy the couple had expected. When Paula wrote to her husband, she described a little girl “as colorful and clamorous as you could wish,” according to the account in Penelope Niven’s Carl Sandburg: A Biography.

    That colorful, clamorous daughter, Helga, a brilliant writer herself, will celebrate her ninetieth birthday tomorrow and she has earned the right to be as ambiguous or as candid about her age as she wishes.

    So why am I writing about Helga Sandburg in my Lincoln blog? I could give you a top ten, with reasons such as “I admire her.” “She inspires me.” “She’s spunky.” Those would all be right, and I’d have no trouble finding many more. The most significant, however, is that I think Lincoln buffs and Lincoln scholars alike can learn from Helga.

    What Helga can teach us

    “Learn what?” you ask. There are several things.

    One of my friends who is a Lincoln scholar is a PK – Preacher’s Kid. There are certain things all preachers’ kids have in common – a bond of sorts, things they’ve lived through. I wonder, as I meet Lincoln scholars and read their work, if there isn’t also a bond for LK – Lincoln Kids – sons and daughters of Lincoln scholars. The bond is in things such as listening to Mom or Dad talk about Lincoln for hours with more passion in their eyes than at almost any other time – or watching as the piles of books and papers grow deeper and deeper in the library – or wondering when the parent will ever pull away from the computer – or having to plan vacations around visits to Lincoln sites, libraries or archives.

    In “…Where Love Begins,” Helga’s autobiographical account of the Sandburg family, Lincoln scholars and their families can see how, even more than eighty years after his first Lincoln volume was published, there are still some constants in what it’s like to be a Lincoln scholar or an LK.

    This book, one of more than a dozen by this soon-to-be nonagenarian, keeps readers engaged anyway, because Helga’s a fun writer and it’s a great read. But for those of us with an interest in Lincoln, she paints a familiar picture of both the beginning and the end of the creative process. "I am four. A flame has lighted my father. The household feels it,” Helga wrote. The time was the summer of 1923 and the flame, of course, was Lincoln.

    She also shares her Uncle Edward Steichen’s account of Carl’s visit after the final review of proofs of Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. Her uncle, the gifted photographer, saw the Lincoln biographer as if through a camera lens, and captured a peace writers have only as one project ends and another is not yet begun:

    “My uncle says, ‘Carl sat at the breakfast table that morning with a serene and relaxed look, a look that brought to mind Gardner’s beautiful photographs the day after the Civil war surrender. This is the only picture of Lincoln in existence which shows a real smile, a tired smile of relief, a smile of infinite warmth and tenderness.’”

    Read all about it

    Have you wondered what it was like for Sandburg to be obsessed with Lincoln for so long, or what it was like to live in the presence of one so obsessed? Do you wonder how Sandburg’s creative and research process was different from your own – or the same? Did you know Helga and her sisters were often “faithful toilers” working in many ways behind the scenes to contribute to his life’s work?

    If so, you must read Helga’s book. And, if you’re so inclined, it might be a really nice time to stop and say, “Thanks, Helga. Have a great birthday!” I’ll be glad to send her any birthday wishes you leave in the comments at the end of this blog.

    Happy birthday, Helga!

    Helga, thanks for writing about your father, telling your own stories and, especially, for your own voice, formed in the echoes of the prairie-town boy and the rhythms of the trains near his boyhood home. You're the youngest 90-year-old I've ever known. Have a wonderful day.

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Ford's theatre spruces up, too

    Last week I told you about some of the Springfield Lincoln sites getting all prettied up for Lincoln's birthday. They're not the only ones. The Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. where Lincoln spent his final evening and was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth is also undergoing renovation - big time.

    The theatre will reopen with a number of special events, just in time for Lincoln's bicentennial birthday on Feb. 12, 2009. Read all about it in the article on

    Film plans to capture why Sandburg still matters

    As I began my studies this morning, I intended to blog on Penelope (Penny) Niven’s Carl Sandburg: A Biography. You’ll hear the reason I was heading down that path another day. You will also have to wait to hear about Penny’s Carl and why the book is of value in the study of Lincoln.

    You see, as I was surfing the Internet searching for a particularly moving quote Penny had once shared, I tripped over the most amazing blog. I just have to share it with you.

    I learned today that an Asheville, North Carolina filmmaker, Paul Bonesteel, who as a child took a poety class on the lawn at Sandburg’s home, Connemara, is committed to doing a documentary about Sandburg. He talks about this painfully long, yet extremely rewarding project in his blog, The Day Carl Sandburg Died.

    Sandburg matters – does his Lincoln?
    Bonesteel has been at work on this project for a number of years, doing interviews, gathering funding, pulling things together in a meaningful way. As his project moved forward, his focus changed somewhat and his current working title was born. It became alarming to him as he began digging into the Sandburg legacy to learn that Sandburg’s voice in American culture seemed to be dying off. Some of Sandburg’s poems are even losing their places in our schools and in the anthologies our students use.

    The mission then became more to delve into why Sandburg does matter. And the time was right when Bonesteel began his project. He captured visits with some pretty impressive people – Studs Terkel, Norman Corwin, Pete Seeger – which makes this even more significant. Timing was crucial. A few years later and he couldn’t have done this project with the breadth and depth with which he could now. Terkel died last month at age 96, Corwin is 98 and Seeger is 89. Two of Sandburg’s three daughters are no longer living. The people who can really tell us about Sandburg are slowly leaving to join him in that place where creative types go to continue the work they started here.

    I understand many Lincoln scholars have problems with Sandburg and his work. Today’s post isn’t a place to debate that. Some other time we’ll talk about whether Sandburg’s Lincoln still matters. I think there are reasons it does, and I’ll show you my perspective on that in a future blog post.

    For now, if you’re interested in Bonesteel’s work, please visit his blog. Ill try to follow up on its release and let you know when it’s released on TV.

    I’m sure glad I stubbed my toe on Bonesteel today, I can’t wait to see his film and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Watch for more on Penny, Helga and Carl in future blogs.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Take a moment to remember

    On a battlefield in Gettysburg 145 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech which only lasted about two minutes, but which lives on in infamy as perhaps the most powerful speech of all time.

    Please take a moment to remember and to reflect upon Lincoln’s words. To see images of the speech and learn more, see the Gettysburg exhibit on the Library of Congress website.

    This just in - added Nov. 20
    When I posted this blog entry last night, there were not yet any accounts available online chronicling Wednesday's Dedication Day activities at Gettysburg. This morning, I want to share with you an article by Erin James of the York Daily Record accounting the ceremony, filmwriter Ken Burns' speech and the honoring of the Union Colored Troops who fought and died.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Blog topics you may have missed through Nov. 18

    If you’re like most people, your life is busy. You may have every intention of making regular visits to the websites or blogs you enjoy, but you may not make it as often as you’d like. In the process, you miss some of the blog posts you may have enjoyed.

    I’ve been blogging for several weeks now and have posted more than 20 articles. I thought it might be helpful if every few weeks I do a “topics you may have missed” piece. This covers articles from the birth of the blog through Nov. 18, 2008.

    If you think this is helpful, please check one of the Reaction checkboxes at the end of this article.

    In the meantime, you might have missed articles:

    Remember, this time of bicentennial celebration will never be equaled by any in our lifetimes for opportunities to celebrate and learn about Lincoln. You can find a couple of great calendars of bicentennial happenings across the country at these websites:

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    First Lady, Lincoln’s Rivals, Ford’s Theatre and Abe’s Home make news

    This was a big day in Lincoln news. Plenty of other great scribes penned Lincoln stories today with all kinds of interesting news. Let me direct you to the top four in my book.

    First Lady doesn’t let Kentucky down
    I was so excited last February 12 when the Abraham Bicentennial celebration was to officially begin at Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky. It did get off to a start that day, in spite of a snow storm moving into the area.

    Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer and actor Sam Waterston, who portrays the Cooper Union Lincoln, were there to kick things off. You can watch an interview of the two from that day on C-SPAN’s Lincoln Bicentennial website. Unfortunately, First Lady Laura Bush couldn’t make it then because the blizzard conditions got too severe.

    She kept her commitment to the bicentennial, though, and today, a little more than eight months later, much to the delight of an eight-year-old who got to introduce her, she was there to kick off the "Give a Lincoln For Lincoln" fundraising campaign for six key Lincoln sites. Thank you, Mrs. Bush.

    Be sure to read about her trip to Hodgenville in Bruce Schreiner’s Associated Press article, as featured in the Chicago Tribune.

    Matthew Pinsker cautions using Lincoln’s team as model
    In my blog and in person, I've stayed away from the whole Lincoln-Obama thing. I'm not a politician. Until this fall, when I started the Lincoln class at Heartland College, my knowledge was of the popular Lincoln, the mythological Lincoln and Lincoln in the literature of Illinois. I had a fairly good grasp of them, but his legal career, his political career, his presidency - those where all overwhelming and foreign to me.

    Thanks to the class, my professor, Dr. Scott Rager, David Herbert Donald's book, Lincoln, which we’re using as a text, the scholarly events I'm attending and the independent research I'm doing, those aspects of Lincoln aren’t quite so foreign anymore. Yet still, I leave comments on Barack Obama, Lincoln and politics to those who are more qualified than I am. I know I have miles to go before I'm an authority on those subjects.

    I've read some of the Team of Rivals comparisons, but not yet read the book. Yet, as a Lincoln blogger, I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw your attention – and President-Elect Obama’s - to an opinion column by Lincoln scholar Matthew Pinsker today in the Los Angeles Times.

    Pinsker reminds us that some of the lessons to be learned from Lincoln’s team were pretty tough ones. And, as I would expect from an accomplished scholar like Dr. Donald’s protégé, he uses diary quotes from Lincoln’s day with which the common reader - and likely Obama - may not be familiar, to substantiate his opinion. May the column serve as food for thought for our president-elect and his advisors.

    Ford’s Theatre awarded honors
    First Lady Laura Bush wasn’t the only one honoring Lincoln this week.

    Her husband, President George W. Bush, named the Ford's Theatre Society a 2008 National Medal of Arts recipient. The award was presented in a White House ceremony yesterday. The Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, is one of the sites to be helped by the “Give a Lincoln for Lincoln” campaign.

    And, at the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, the Volk Lincoln Honor was also awarded to the Ford's Theatre yesterday. This award honors the contributions the theatre makes to the Lincoln legacy. Read more about the theatre’s honors in Adam Hetrick’s Playbill article.

    Springfield sites gussy up for company
    Back here in Illinois, we’re making news, too. Several of our Springfield Lincoln sites are getting all fancied up for Lincoln’s upcoming birthday. Read about the redecorating at the Lincoln home and at the nearby James Morse house. Thanks to two of our great State Journal-Register journalists, Bruce Rushton and Mike Kienzler, for sharing these stories.

    Mike is also a blogger. Check out his cool ALO blog, and don’t forget to add it to your list of “must click” Lincoln sites.

    Lincoln’s Home is also a “Give a Lincoln for Lincoln” benefactor.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    Scholars congregate and letter surfaces

    There was plenty of Lincoln news today, and it’s too interesting not to share.

    Lincoln Forum symposium opens
    The Lincoln Forum symposium opened Sunday in Gettysburg. James R. Carroll of the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal made sure the event was chronicled. You’ll want to read his article to hear what these Lincoln buffs have to say:

    • Frank J. Williams, Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice, quintessential Lincoln scholar, chairman of the Lincoln Forum, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission member, author or editor of more than a dozen books, annual cataloguer of Lincolniana and more
    • David Wiegers, an Illinois photographer
    • David Leroy, chair of the Idaho Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
    • Daniel Weinberg, owner of Chicago’s famous Abraham Lincoln Book Shop

    Like many of the scholars attending the symposium, Leroy, Wiegers and Williams are all in the midst of Lincoln book projects. Carroll tells you a little about a couple of them and why the Lincoln legacy continues to captivate people almost 200 years after his birth.

    The Bixby letter (found?)
    Even those who aren’t Lincoln buffs remember the famous Lincoln letter featured in the moving “Saving Private Ryan” – the letter the president wrote to a mother whose five sons all were believed to have perished in battle during the War Between the States.

    The Dallas Historical Society recently found a document in its archives which it hopes is an honest-to-goodness copy of this famous letter. The letter will be appraised to help determine if it is the real deal. Read Jeff Carlton’s Associated Press story as featured in today’s Houston Chronicle to learn more.

    By the way
    Did you know that Steven Spielberg, who brought us Private Ryan, also has a Lincoln project in the works – supposedly in 2010? I’m not spreading any rumors about who’ll be filling the roles, but you can get a little info from the Internet Movie Data Base. In the meantime, if Mr. Spielberg wants to let Lincoln Buff 2 know the real scoop, I’ll be glad to share it with the rest of you.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.