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.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    The spark that got the fire burning

    Sometime in the not so distant past – in boomer time, where distant becomes more abstract as time goes on – a woman starving for intellectual growth and yearning to complete her college degree stepped into a classroom on Arsenal Island in Rock Island, Ill. The course, offered through Western Illinois University, was Literature of Illinois. The instructor was John E. Hallwas. That class started a fire of passion for the history and literature of Illinois in the boomer which can’t be extinguished. Bet you can’t guess who that student was – this blogger, perhaps? Right.

    Although Hallwas isn’t among the Lincoln scholars you often hear mentioned in the popular press, his name and work is well known in west central Illinois. He’s without a doubt the quintessential scholar of the literature of Illinois and of the forces which mold its communities and help them live on in memory. Lincoln, of course, is one of those forces. And, yes, Hallwas has written of him.

    I’d like to step away from Lincoln for a few minutes to tell you about Hallwas’ latest book. It may not seem like it at first, but there is a Lincoln connection here.

    Dime Novel Desperadoes
    Dime Novel Desperadoes: The Notorious Maxwell Brothers, the latest Hallwas book, published by the University of Illinois Press, is significant to the study of Lincoln because it explores and exposes many of the socioeconomic elements at play in nineteenth century Illinois.

    The book is the true tale of Ed and Lon Maxwell, sons of often-relocating, struggling tenant farmers. The Maxwell boys’ paths went astray and lives went awry, due to a number of circumstances on their life’s journey, one of which most certainly was the hardship on their family when their father left them to serve in the Civil War and returned home in more fragile health than when he left.

    Lincoln buffs among us will find interest in the coverage Hallwas gives to the differences which divided the people of Central Illinois over the Civil War, often leading to unrest and acts of violence. “Some viewed Lincoln – who had visited Macomb twice in 1858 – as a destroyer of the Union and a threat to constitutionally guaranteed rights, while others viewed him as the preserver of the Union and champion of freedom.”

    Hallwas also wrote of a number of Illinois murder trials where the murderer was let off because of the perception the victim “had it coming” – reminiscent, I find, of when Lincoln defended Peachy Quinn Harrison for the murder of Greek Crafton. Harrison got off because Lincoln called the suspect’s grandfather, Methodist circuit rider Peter Cartwright, to testify. Cartwright’s testimony about Crafton’s words from the deathbed played on the sympathy of the jury. In essence, the victim said he’d brought it upon himself. Hallwas writes about how this same frontier justice comes into play in older brother Ed Maxwell’s life, when he receives harsher punishment for stealing a horse than many do for murder.

    "Horse thieves aroused the ire of residents in Illinois and other western states like no other robbers, simply because people were so dependent on horses for work, travel, and emergency situations. And like America’s soon-to-be-mythic cowboys, many homesteaders deeply prized their horses. So, prosecution for assault of some kind, and even murder, often resulted in acquittal or a light sentence, especially in turbulent Fulton County, but horse theft was more dependably and severely punished."

    It was this inequitable treatment of lawbreakers which was to land Ed inside the limestone walls of the penitentiary at Joliet and set in stone his identity as a criminal. From here, the Maxwell brothers continue on a downward spiral which ends…

    No, I won’t tell you how. You need to read the book yourself to see how two farm boys from Illinois get so far off the path that they end up being memorialized as the desperado Williams brothers in dime novels.

    In this, as in all his books, Hallwas uses a creative voice which is second only to that which he uses in his lectures. In his writer’s workshops, Hallwas always teaches his students to read their work out loud. It’s obvious he practices what he preaches, as the color and rhythm in his well-written words will captivate you and keep you coming back for more.

    Other Hallwas books
    So, for more, check out any of the 20-some other books Hallwas has written or edited, including

    Hallwas to speak in Bloomington
    For those of you who live in Central Illinois, you’ll have a chance to hear Hallwas this coming Thursday, Nov. 20. He’ll be at the Bloomington Public Library for a book signing, slide show and lecture about the Maxwells and other Illinois outlaws, sponsored by the Illinois Humanities Council.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Image of the man who suited Lincoln lives on

    The Menard (Ill.) County Historical Society Museum has a new oil painting in its collection, thanks to the descendant of the man who loaned Lincoln $200 for a new suit of clothes as he began serving in the Illinois General Assembly in 1834.

    Edward Laning Kelly is a descendant of Coleman Smoot, the farmer who lent Lincoln the money. Kelly has donated his oil painting of Smoot and Lincoln to the museum’s collection. To learn more about Smoot, Kelly and the painting see the Ann Gorman’s article in today’s State Journal-Register.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Reading Lincoln

    I’ve had a little R & R these last couple weeks, which has given me an opportunity to catch up on some Lincoln reading I’ve wanted to do.

    Two books I’d used as references for my paper on Lincoln and his mentors caught my interest and seemed worthy of further examination. My first impression of both was correct. Neither disappointed me.

    It will soon be time for me to return them to the respective libraries from whence they came. Before I do, I want to tell you a little more about: Lincoln the Lawyer by Brian Dirck and Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes and Confabulations Associated with our Greatest President by Edward Steers, Jr.

    I’m currently reading Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words by Douglas L. Wilson. Watch for more about that in a future post.

    Lincoln the Lawyer
    Until I began my Heartland college course on Lincoln, I had no idea how long Lincoln’s law career was (25 years) or how many cases he handled (5,000). In my class, I had the privilege of hearing Bloomington, Illinois attorney, Guy Fraker, who likely knows more about Lincoln’s time on the Eighth Judicial Circuit than anyone. Guy and my instructor, Dr. Scott Rager, both helped to create a hunger to learn more about Lincoln’s legal career, especially since it was right here in Central Illinois.

    Brian Dirck’s Lincoln the Lawyer fed that hunger. Dirck, an Anderson University professor, takes his readers from the shock a Sangamon County farmer expressed when he learned Lincoln was studying law to Lincoln’s final days as an attorney in his law office across the street from the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

    That journey took Lincoln through three partnerships – with John Todd Stuart, Stephen T. Logan and William Herndon – through courts in Springfield and the Eighth Judicial Circuit and in front of the Illinois and United States Supreme Courts. By the time Lincoln left for Washington, this self-taught lawyer was one of the most respected in the state. His cases ranged from property disputes and divorces to murders and large railroad cases. Fees he received ranged from $10 or less to the $5,000 fee he received representing the Illinois Central Railroad in their dispute with McLean County over taxes assessed the railroad.

    Dirck is an academic and his book meets all the criteria of a scholarly volume – well researched, indexed, well cited – yet at no time as a reader do you feel as if you’re wading through an academic work that’s way over your head. Dirck’s book is a comfortable, entertaining read. He’s a gifted writer and a scrupulous scholar.

    In my book, Dirck’s is a must read for anyone who really wants to understand those 25 years and the longest career in Lincoln’s life.

    And if you can't wait to get the book to read Dirck's writing, in the meantime, you can get doses of Dirck through his blog, A. Lincoln Blog. It, too, is one of my must reads.

    Lincoln Legends
    As I worked on my recent paper, I realized what a large part legend played in the Lincoln story. It was often difficult to discern what was real and what wasn’t – who I could believe and who I couldn’t. People have been collecting stories about Lincoln and writing about him since shortly after his death – and, through his dying, the stories became glorified. The windows through which many of those people saw him were foggy indeed.

    Although not a university-affiliated academic like many Lincoln scholars, Edward Steers, Jr., author of Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Our Greatest President, writes with all the authority of the best of them. Steers explores 14 of the most powerful Lincoln legends. He provides readers with the truth as he finds it – and, believe me, he digs until he’s left few stones unturned. If you’re curious about anything from who Lincoln’s father was to whether he loved Ann Rutledge or if he was gay, you can read about it in Steers’ book, and come away with a certainty that he’s done his homework and given you the right answer.

    Lincoln Legends is also a comfortable read. I read both his and Dirck’s in front of the fireplace over a long weekend – a cold, rainy one with few interruptions. I’d recommend both of them to anyone wanting to learn more about our sixteenth president. What better way can you think of to celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth than by learning more about him?

    As I read and learn about other Lincoln books, I’ll tell you a little about them. I hope you find some value in my little musings. Please use the Reactions check boxes below to let me know what you think about this article.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Friday, November 14, 2008

    Sowing the seeds of Lincoln scholarship

    It may surprise some of you to know that my excitement about the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial isn’t something which sprouted up overnight. Like anything worthwhile, it took seed, was nurtured and is now coming into its own.

    My growth with Lincoln
    I truly have been interested in Lincoln for as long as I can remember – very early childhood. Part of that comes from growing up in Illinois, some of it comes from the pride of this great state and its famous son instilled by my parents and grandparents, some also grew in the classroom, and the rest of it comes from inheriting a trait with roots stronger than an old milkweed plant on an Illinois prairie – an insatiable curiosity.

    What many of you don’t know is that I earned my college degree much later than most – just a few days before my forty-first birthday. One of the courses I took was a Literature of Illinois class offered through Western Illinois University’s Board of Governors/ BA program (now Board of Trustees/BA). I’d been away from school a long time, and from my studies of Lincoln even longer, but I knew during the first evening of that class that I’d found my true passion. The history and literature of Illinois are so rich, and the legacy of Lincoln even richer. This was something that had a grip on me that would not let go. And – I wasn’t going to let it.

    A few years later, through the encouragement of my professor from that class, I attended a writers’ workshop at the Carl Sandburg Days Festival in Galesburg, Ill. I then began writing freelance book reviews on books by Illinois authors or about Illinois subjects, including Lincoln, for The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill.

    Then in 2002, the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, co-chaired by U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, U.S. Representative Ray LaHood and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, put out a press release announcing its new Web site. It was then that I began to formulate what I called my seven-year plan. I’d hoped that by Lincoln’s 200th birthday on Feb. 12, 2009 I could be making a significant contribution to keeping the legacy of Lincoln alive.

    As often happens in life, my plans went awry, and I’m not making a huge contribution to the Lincoln world. I did, however, get to attend all the events associated with the April 2005 opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, met some brilliant Lincoln scholars and learned a lot. Then this fall I had an opportunity of a lifetime – to take a course on Abraham Lincoln at Heartland, the local community college. Through the course and a number of other Lincoln-related events here in the center of the Land of Lincoln, I’m finally pursuing my interests.

    This blog is one way I hope to plant that Lincoln passion in others. Significant contribution? Maybe not. But a little seed - maybe…

    Heartland Community College course
    The Heartland course, “The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln,” will also be offered in the Spring of 2009, so if you’re from Central Illinois, you may want to check it out.

    And let me tell you about a couple other places where students are learning about Lincoln.

    Galesburg High School Lincoln Seminar
    Galesburg has a rich Lincoln tradition, which is part of the reason I was always so passionate about the sixteenth president. Unfortunately, in the past much of the Galesburg community didn’t latch onto Lincoln with the same enthusiasm that held a grasp on Carl Sandburg and me.

    This year, though, Galesburg High School is offering an interdisciplinary course, Lincoln Seminar. Sixteen young people have already been exposed to many wonderfully rich Lincoln-related experiences, which they’re chronicling on their own blog. I wonder if those young people really understand the magnitude of what this experience can mean to them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of those students – or better yet all of them – were the next generation of Lincoln scholars?

    Loyola University courses
    Through a comments post to another Lincoln blog, I recently learned of an exciting Lincoln class at Loyola University, “Lincoln and Citizen Journalism,” taught by John Slania. See some of the outstanding work of this group on their class Web site.

    According to information on the Loyola Web site and in the Loyola online publication, this is just one of several Lincoln-related courses to be offered at Loyola this year. And, to top it off, they’ll also be hosting Lincoln scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin for a lecture on Feb. 11, 2009.

    Other Lincoln courses?

    Are there other Lincoln courses you’d like people to know about? If so, please let me know. I’ll try to let readers know about them here on Lincoln Buff 2.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Monday, November 3, 2008

    I’ll be back…

    Thanks to all the visitors who’ve stopped at my blog over the past month. I’ve enjoyed doing it. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two and found value or enjoyment here. I’ve got some other obligations coming up at home so I won’t be blogging for the next couple weeks. That doesn’t mean the rest of you should pull away from the Lincoln world, though. And, don’t worry, I will be back!

    Don’t let the bicentennial pass you by
    Make the most of your time as a Lincoln buff. There are plenty of new Lincoln books you can get lost in. Lincoln scholars will be doing book signings. Communities will offer Lincoln-related events. You can learn where Lincoln things are happening by visiting Abraham Lincoln Online or the Lincoln Bicentennial website. Remember the celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday only comes once – and we’ve got the opportunity to savor it!

    Lincoln at Gettysburg – and maybe you, too
    If you’re really lucky, you’re already a Lincoln scholar and you’ll be at the 13th Annual Lincoln Forum Symposium in Gettysburg from Nov. 16-18, 2008 and the Town of Gettysburg Remembrance Day Activities on Nov. 19. If, like me, you can’t make it to Gettysburg, you can watch the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission Dedication Day Ceremony on C-SPAN on Nov. 19 (the 145th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address). Check the C-SPAN website or your local program schedule for the time, still to be announced.

    Tell me how you’re learning about Lincoln
    If you enjoy my blog, I’d love to hear from you. And, if you go to Gettysburg for the Forum, I’d love to hear about it. Please use the comments function. If you don’t see yours posted right away, be patient. When I can get time to review them, I’ll post them for the rest of my readers to see. I really do appreciate your feedback.

    Thanks for visiting. Talk to you again soon. Ann

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Oops - the paper isn't always right!

    I must correct an oops in my earlier post. I linked to a Philadelphia newspaper article which named several new Lincoln books and their authors. In doing a little more research on each of these and trying to learn more about the authors I didn't know, I learned the author of Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer is Fred Kaplan, not Eric Kaplan, as the Philly paper, and subsequently I, had earlier reported. My apologies, Dr. Kaplan. As a writer, I truly do look forward to reading your book. I'll be sure to write about it here when I do. Best wishes and my apologies.

    I bet I'll do my homework better next time.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

    A look at some new Lincoln books

    As I work today to finish pulling together my paper on Abraham Lincoln and his mentors, I wasn't going to take the time to write a blog post from scratch myself. I was just going to draw attention to an article by Desmond Ryan in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Ryan's "A. Lincoln turning 200: Books on him keep coming; here's a sampling" provides an overview of nine of the dozens of books on Lincoln coming out within the next year. Of course, as I set out to do that in a few words, I realized I had much to tell you myself about these authors and their books.

    An all star cast
    I've only got first-hand knowledge of one of these books, but I've met or heard several of the other authors speak at some of the Lincoln scholarly events I've been privileged to attend. These scholars/enthusiasts are Harold Holzer, James McPherson, Gary Ecelbarger, Brian Lamb and Ronald C. White, Jr. Each of these gentlemen is committed to keeping the legacy of Lincoln alive, doing so with accuracy and passion, while earning and keeping the respect of their peers. Any of their books will be a welcome addition to your Lincoln library and a great read, I'm sure.

    My lack of familiarity with the other authors in no way negates or diminishes their contributions. It just shows how much work is being done in this area, and how far behind I am in learning all the contributors. Susan Swain, Lamb's co-editor, is also a C-SPAN legend. In her work with the network, she collaborated on The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 series, American Presidents: Life Portraits, and American Writers II: The 20th Century. I can't wait to read Lamb and Swain's anthology of interviews with Lincoln historians.

    Eric Foner's book collecting essays with new perspectives by other brilliant Lincoln scholars will certainly be an interesting read, while Fred Kaplan's study of Lincoln as a writer will focus on what I've always felt was one of Lincoln's greatest gifts and strengths. John Stauffer's book parallels the lives of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and is sure to shed new perspectives on this important relationship.

    Ladies and gentlemen - start your reading
    So, head to your library or your local bookstore, or get your Christmas wish list ready. With all these new Lincoln books on the shelves, there's no excuse not to celebrate the Bicentennial of his birth (Feb. 12. 2009) by learning more.

    © Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.