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.


Lincolnphotog said...

At the recent Lincoln Forum, the Kunhardt's previewed the new Lincoln film, based on their new book, at the November 2008 Lincolm Forum.

WNET New Your PBS is presenting the film on February 11, 2009.

In conjuction with the new film WNET is going to have website with related materials. I am providing them 50 Lincoln statue photos and short descriptions for an interactive Google map website.

The short trailer we saw in November was good and I expect the film be very good.

Roger Norton said...

Dear Ann,

I am writing to tell you that your blog on the Kunhardts really struck a chord with me. I purchased "Twenty Days" in 1967, and it blew me away. That book changed my life forever.

I think you are doing an outstanding job through your blog. Keep up the great work.

I wish you and yours a wonderful Holiday Season.

Roger Norton

Lincoln Buff 2 said...

Roger and Dave,

Thanks for your comments on the Kunhardt piece and for faithfully reading the blog.

Dave, I appreciate the news on the PBS film and related materials, including your photos. Keep up the good work capturing the statue images.

Roger, the more I look at your Abraham Lincoln Research Site, the more I discover. So see, the Kunhardt legacy touches people in ways they could never have imagined. For other readers, here's a link to Roger's site.

Best wishes to all,

ENNYMAN said...

Thanks for the lead on a good audio book. I will have to look for it on CD for my own commuting.

Best to you

Lincoln Buff 2 said...


I've discovered about a half dozen more audio books recently which I want to share in my blog. I'll try to remember to drop you a note when I write about them. I think you'd like most of them.

Thanks for the comment.

Best wishes,