Saturday, December 5, 2009
If you've got time at noon Central Time today, Saturday, Dec. 5, log on to watch the interview with Dave Powell, author of The Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, Including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 - September 23, 1863. Now that's a title!
Information on the Virtual Book Signing Web site says The Maps of Chickamauga is the third in a new series of campaign studies that take a different approach toward military history. The book explores this largely misunderstood battle through the use of 126 full-color maps, graphically illustrating the complex tangle of combat's ebb and flow that makes the titanic bloodshed of Chickamauga one of the most confusing actions of the American Civil War.
One of the really cool things about watching the book signing live is that you can submit questions for the author. I've done it before, and, when time allows, they really do answer them - right while you're watching. It's pretty neat. But, if you are just too busy holiday shopping or decorating to watch the book signing live today, don't despair. After a few days, the signings are archived. You can watch many past book signings with numerous Lincoln, presidential and Civil War authors.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Right now, I'm catching up on things I missed during my two-week Amazing Abe Adventure - things like raking leaves, going grocery shopping, paying bills and reading a book for which I've promised a book review. The leaves are raked, the pantry is stocked, this month's financial obligations are met. Just one major obligation remains to be fulfilled, and I'm about 50 pages from the end of the book. So, it won't be long and I'll be back.
In the meantime, are you reading Lincoln? In the sidebars to my blog, you'll find lots of suggestions of books by my favorite Lincoln authors and of blogs and research sites where you can read more about Lincoln or, in some cases, read his own words. So, don't set Lincoln aside in my absence. Keep on keepin' on with your own Amazing Abe Adventure in this bicentennial year. Remember, books are adventures, too.
Till next time....
Sunday, November 22, 2009
What will my next Amazing Abe Adventures be? Trips, books, speeches? Yes, I want to. Yes, I plan to. Yes, I'm hoping.
During the Washington, D.C. stint of our trip, I realized there is much more there I need to see and do, including using my new Library of Congress reader card. Having one and "getting the taste a bit" convinces me I've not seen the last of the manuscript room.
The Lincoln Forum Symposium was all I'd hoped it would be and more. It won't be my last. And, now that I know of the other interesting commemorative activities Gettysburg hosts each year, I am convinced I'll want to return there as well.
I'm also looking forward to visiting Lincoln's haunts in Kentucky and Indiana, including making time to see the Library of Congress Lincoln exhibit when Indiana hosts it.
And then there's the blog, Twitter, book reviews, scholarly papers, my planned Lincoln books - three or four, at least - and giving speeches about Lincoln again.
Yep, my next Abe adventures have just begun. Sometimes, as on my recent trip, I'll meet myself coming and going. If, however, I can continue to live my mission of spreading enthusiasm about the life and legacy of Lincoln, it will all be worth it.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Why is it, do you suppose, that on the days we turn out to commemorate our veterans or war dead, the sun seems to shut its eyelids and release its tears? It happened last Wednesday at Arlington and again today at Gettysburg. The drizzle didn't stop the ceremony, though, and Gettysburg did it up right. I tweeted during the event, so you can get a flavor of it there. I'll write more in a future blog post.
Thanks to the rain, I had to do a little "hair repair" before going to my next event - the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania's luncheon at Gettysburg College. Talk about doing something right - this event was so jam-packed and enjoyable that I was nearly an hour late meeting my hubby and didn't even realize how much time had passed. Met some very interesting, very talented, very promising and very well-loved folks. Can't wait to tell you about them, but I'll have to save these stories, too, for another day.
I spent my afternoon in downtown Gettysburg, visiting the newly restored Wills House, the train station and a yummy restaurant the townies choose. We closed our day at the historic Majestic Theatre, where we heard a world-class world premiere of a musical production, a very inspirational talk by author Jeff Shaara, a very, very funny acceptance speech by young author Nick Taylor, recipient of the Michael Shaara award for Civil War Fiction, and a speech by Michael Burlingame that entertains no matter now many times I've heard parts of it. And, Michael, you've got another feather in your hat. You just may have hooked my hubby on Lincoln!
The Amazing Abe Adventure is winding down and I'm starting to feel like an unwound wind-up toy. It's been a long couple weeks, but a time I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Hope you felt a little of my excitement along the way and share even more of my enthusiasm for Lincoln. If so, the late nights and early mornings were worth it. Come back to visit the blog again. I'll try to tell you more about many of the people I met, talks I heard, things I experienced.
I'll be leaving Gettysburg, but I don't think it will ever leave me. I won't even try to put into words the power of this place. I just don't think it can be done.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The Lincoln Forum was magnificent. Everyone who loves history, Lincoln, the Civil War or being among friends should go. Fair warning, though – it’s like a popular brand of potato chips. You won’t be able to stop at just one.
Author Fred Kaplan started this last day with “Lincoln’s Genius with Language” and showed his own genius as well.
Harold Holzer moderated a panel where Catherine Clinton, Jason Emerson and Charles Lachman disussed Lincoln “Family Matters.” From their ancestors to Lincoln’s grandchildren, it was obvious family did matter to Lincoln.
We had free time in the afternoon to explore Gettysburg, starting with the Wills House. I didn’t get my Wills tour in today, though. I had some Lincoln business to attend to in a couple downtown shops.
Our evening speaker was to be Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, but since her husband passed away last week, Richard Dreyfuss filled in as the dinner speaker. His reading of the Second Inaugural Address would have made Lincoln proud. Our sympathy to Justice O’Connor and family.
I’m close to using up my word count and tired to boot, so I’ll be back with more on The Amazing Abe Adventure another day. In the meantime, keep the Lincoln legacy alive in your world.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Lincoln Forum XIV
I'm at the 14th Annual Lincoln Forum Symposium in Gettysburg, my first. If you follow me on Twitter, you may already have a pretty good idea of today's activities. If you don't, I'll let you in a little on the fun.
I never get tired of learning new things about Lincoln, and today was no exception. I couldn't have asked for a more engaging lineup:
- Eileen Mackevich filled us in on the accomplishments of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and, believe me, they're impressive.
- John Marszaleck reported on the U.S. Grant Papers. After hearing him speak, I know they're in good hands.
- Ron White used Lincoln's eloquence himself in his presentation, "Abraham Lincoln 2009: Wisdom for Today."
- Vernon Burton was as enthusiastic as always as he shared his "Age of Lincoln" talk.
- Catherine Clinton's "Mary Lincoln Reconsidered" entertained as only Clinton can. She's one spunky historian - and one of too few women writing about history.
- Lewis Lehrman hit the mark with his talk about the Peoria speech. "Lincoln at the Turning Point: From Peoria to the Presidency" even attracted a question from one of my Twitter followers.
- Daniel Weinberg led a great panel on Lincoln collecting, with Lewis Lehrman, Frank J. Williams, Norman Boaz and Don McCue
- English Lincoln scholar Richard Carwardine rounded out the evening with "Just Laughter: The Moral Springs of Lincoln's Humor."
I'll try to come back to some of these in more depth later, but I think I'll turn the baby in tonight and get some shuteye myself. Follow me on Twitter tomorrow. Tomorrow night's speaker is sure to be a crowd pleaser - one of my favorties and one who has brought joy to many others through the years. Tomorrow is another Amazing Abe Adventure. Hope you'll join me.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I just had one of the coolest experiences of my life. I sat down and poured it all out in a blog post sharing why I've just had a dream come true, and lost everything I wrote when my hotel Internet connection cut off. Guess that will teach me to write them in Word first instead of typing directly into the blog publishing tool. And, on top of that, it's my 200th post!
So what's the dream?
I am in Gettysburg, Pa. at the Lincoln Forum Symposium with nearly 300 other Lincoln enthusiasts and/or scholars celebrating the life and legacy of our 16th President. I've wanted to come to a Lincoln Forum Symposium ever since 2005. You can read why in my tribute to the late David Herbert Donald. I took the advice he, Harold Holzer and Matt Pinsker gave me when the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened - and I'm not disappointed.
If you're not a Lincoln buff, but you like sports, imagine what it would be like to get all the top athletes into one room at same time - but leave the ego behind. The Lincoln scholars I've met are the most supportive, humble people I know, and the Lincoln buffs here are just as enthusiastic as I am. It's a great place to be.
McPherson on Lincoln
I got to hear James McPherson speak tonight and there are lots more great speakers to come in the next two days. McPherson's talk on "Lincoln and the West" was a fine reminder that the West in Lincoln's day and before was much further east than the West of which we often are reminded. He also spoke on one of my pet Lincoln projects - Lincoln and the railroad. You can bet this talk will be one of my sources as I move forward with my research.
I got to meet Dr. McPherson last night, and told him I'd reviewed one of his books. Unfortunately, that late at night at the end of a very long week and the start of another, I couldn't remember which one I'd reviewed. I looked at the three in front of me and wondered, "Which one did I review, and why don't I have it here?" I later realized it was his neat little 79-page volume, and I didn't have it with me because I'd read a library copy. Guess I'd better get my own before the next time I see him! It's a true gem - a short, easy and delightful read. Here's what I had to say about it.
Don't forget - I tweet, too
I'll try to share the enthusiasm as I can. I won't be blogging during the day, but I will tweet when possible. If you are a Lincoln buff and you want to know what we're up to out here in Gettysburg, follow me on Twitter, too. I'm also LincolnBuff2 on there. I'm almost at 600 Twitter followers. Wouldn't it be cool if we could hit that milestone during the Forum?
Watch out, though. I'll be in the clouds the next few days. Reading this blog and my tweets may elevate your Lincoln enthusiasm to new levels, too.
*Revised Nov. 17, 2009 to add further detail on McPherson talk and my review of his book
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The last time I was at Mount Vernon was forty years ago this past June. My, has it changed since I was there. I don't remember all the parking lots, the brick paths, the restaurant and food court and the marvelous interpretive center and museum. Everything is done so nicely.
As I complemented one of the interpreters - a gentleman who had the privilege of speaking in Washington's library - on his work and Mount Vernon, I mentioned my interest in Lincoln. He commented on polls done from time to time on the greatest president. It was obvious we weren't going to have the same view, so without putting it into words, we seemed to politely agree to disagree. His argument was rather powerful though, as he said, "Without Washington, Lincoln wouldn't have had a nation to save."
Watch my future blog posts for a bit more on Mount Vernon and a Lincoln connection I found there. I'll also have a little to share with you about Alexandria, Va., the beautiful, bustling place where we spent a few hours this evening.
Enough of the first George W.
My visit to Mount Vernon was delightful, but this is The Amazing Abe Adventure, and I'm a Lincoln Buff. Tomorrow I move on to the next phase of my adventure.
The Lincoln Bicentennial has been one of the most exciting times of my life. I've met scores of fellow Lincoln buffs and many Lincoln scholars. I've visited Lincoln sites and attended Lincoln events. I've even been at two events where the president was the keynote speaker. I've seen more dreams come true in this past year than many do in lifetime. And, tomorrow, I'm off to fulfill the next one. Please come back to join me on the blog as my Lincoln adventure takes a new twist tomorrow.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
We started our day in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History with the Lincoln exhibit there. After lunch, I went to see the Lincoln exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery, the presidential portrait gallery and stood in the Great Hall. Each and every one of these experiences was extremely powerful, so please watch for more on them in future blog posts.
My evening was spent with an OnBoard tour of several historic sites, including the Lincoln Memorial. That in itself is an experience I'll remember all my life.
It's very late in D.C., and this old grannie is getting tired. Watch for the next Amazing Abe Adventure soon. In the meantime, check out my Lincoln adventure tweets.
Friday, November 13, 2009
One of my Lincoln buff friends had invited us over to talk Lincoln and have lunch. The visit was delightful, as was his wife and pooch. With some people, you feel as if you've always been friends. This was one of those times. Even the non-Lincoln buffs in the group hit it off.
We wound through Embassy Row on our way to the National Cathedral and realized we all need to take International Flags 101 all over again. It was embarrassing how few we could identify.
The National Cathedral was as magnificent as we expected and even more so. Can't wait to share some of the pics I took and the things I learned.
We wound through a very vibrant Georgetown on our trip back to the Potomac. All I kept thinking was, "Where do all these people come from?"
We ended our day with a visit to a really cool microbrewery where I found a beverage just to my liking and the happy hour appetizer prices were a pleasant surprise.
Correction - we almost ended our day at the microbrewery. Actually, when I came back to the room, I decided I should catch up a bit on laundry. Why is it that motel dryers cost an arm and a leg and don't even get your clothes dry?
We may have another adventure tomorrow - if the jeans finish drying, that is. Until then, find your own Lincoln adventure, learning about his connection to your locale, reading a book or visiting one of the many Lincoln websites listed at the left.
Be sure to return to Lincoln Buff 2 again. I'll be telling you more about all these exciting adventures as time allows. Catch ya later, fellow Lincoln buffs. Don't forget. You can follow me on Twitter, too, and experience the adventure as it happens.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Watch future blog posts to hear about my experiences learning the nuances of the Metro and believing, "I can do this!"
Learn my feelings upon my first visit to the U.S. Capitol, which included stops at the House and Senate galleries. In an upcoming post, I'll tell you how to get tickets and gallery passes, all about the cool people we met there and how to get to the Library of Congress without having to go out and get wet in a D.C. rain that won't end.
Hear all about my visit to the Library of Congress and my excitement at getting to register as a researcher there so I can do Lincoln research.
Let me tell you about at great restaurant we found in Shirlington, Va., and the good time we had with old friends there.
The D.C. adventure continues. Thanks to all who made today one I'll never forget. Come back to read in detail how you all made it so.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
My Vietnam vet has wanted for some time now to go to Arlington National Cemetery for the Veterans Day ceremony. We got 'er done today - and in a big way. Didn't know ahead of time we'd get to see President Barack Obama speak.
Also didn't know we'd sit it the rain for several hours to honor the veterans and active duty military who serve our country. It was a small sacrifice, though, compared to that of our veterans and soldiers stationed around the world today. How can we ever thank them enough?
You may have seen some of my tweets from the ceremony. It was neat to be able to share history as it happened. I also shot some video I'm hoping I can use for YouTube. I'll let you know if I upload any when I have a little more time. It's late in D.C. now and I had a long day.
Watch also for blog posts about a restaurant we discovered in Arlington, Va. - Hard Times - and our first visit to Kennedy Center. More adventures to come, too, so come back to hear firsthand impressions of a Midwestern granny Lincoln Buff's trip to Washington, D.C.
Just one more thing, though. A question for D.C. folks: How in the heck do you find your way around? We've even got our poor GPS confused. To compensate for the frustration we've put her through, we've named her Martha. We had as much trouble getting back and forth across the Potomac as that other Martha who's hubby, George, was also an American vet and the first President of this great land. Oh, by the way, that guy has all kinds of things named after him. Maybe Martha misses him and that's why she kept taking us on his roadway.
Don't forget, you can also follow Lincoln Buff 2 on Twitter for history as it happens on The Amazing Abe Adventure.
To America's military and veterans, Thank you!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The Amazing Abe Adventure
I'm calling this trip The Amazing Abe Adventure. We arrived this morning, heading straight to 10th Street for our Ford's Theatre visit. We were fortunate to find valet parking in the garage next to the theatre. It was lunchtime, so our valet suggested Lincoln's Waffle Shop across the streeet. You'll hear more about it and the parking garage in a future blog post.
Today was another first for me - my first YouTube video. I actually shot two, but the first one just wasn't good enough to publish. I have a ways to go before I'll be offered a job by any film producers. My first video, of the exterior of Ford's Theatre was just too rough - lame dialogue, poor camera work and people walking in front of me as I shot. The second, however, was a little better, so you'll have to check out "Lincoln Buff 2 visits the Peterson House."
We had a special look at the theatre, spent time absorbing the magnificent displays in the new Ford's Theatre Museum and visited the Peterson House. It's been a long day and I don't want to short any of them, so watch for more on this adventure another day.
We also made a quick trip to the National Archives. We didn't plan nearly enough time for this depository of our nation's treasured documents. Watch for more on this, too, in the future. I've got pictures of today's adventures, but can more easily load them from my home computer. I'll be sure to include them in future blog posts.
For now, this tired Lincoln buff is going to cut the blog short to do some tweeting and catch up on email. Tomorrow The Amazing Abe Adventure takes us to Arlington Cemetery for Veterans Day ceremonies and to the National Mall. I'll get to see the Lincoln Memorial up close and personal. Can't wait.
To all the kind people I met today - at the waffle house, the Fords and the National Archives - thanks for your warm welcome. I'll be writing more about you later, so please come back.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Bursting with Lincoln lore
When I started this blog, it was because I was learning so much about Lincoln that I just knew I'd explode if I couldn't share all of this great knowledge. I also wanted to help spread enthusiasm about the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln in celebration of the bicentennial of his birth.
As I took a Lincoln course at Heartland College, attended lectures at the McLean County Museum of History, the Lincoln Colloquium at Knox College, Bicentennial events in Springfield and the Illinois History Symposium in Jacksonville, I shared stories about the things I learned and the people I met who knew so much more about Lincoln than I do.
I also wrote about Lincoln books, Lincoln productions and Lincoln sites. Watch for more of the same.
Fun stuff to come
I'll soon be sharing stories about Washington, D.C. sites with connections to Lincoln, helping you to experience just a little of the enthusiasm I feel as I visit these sites. Later, I'll also have more for you as I share what I learn at scholarly events.
Tweeting bits of Lincoln every day
Until I can get some blog posts written, please look for me on Twitter. I watch for and retweet things others are posting about Lincoln, the Civil War and our nation's history during the 19th century. I also tweet links to articles I find about Lincoln events or new Lincoln books and I try to let you know of as many Virtual Book Signings at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago as I can.
On Twitter, you'll also find a little of me - my strong belief in lifelong learning and a positive attitude. You'll see an occassional tweet about a few musician patriots I follow, like the Oak Ridge Boys and Lee Greenwood. Once in a while, I'll retweet a tweet about communication or social media, because I believe so strongly these are keys to keeping history alive for a new generation of learners and mature learners who love being connected as much as I do. And besides, Lincoln was the great communicator, wasn't he?
For the most part, my tweets are about Lincoln, but once in a while, I just may have to retweet something that has nothing to do with Abe, but which will make you smile. I don't think the storyteller who charmed the prairie would mind at all, do you?
Watch for Lincoln Buff 2 on YouTube
One of my favorite non-Lincoln-related tweeters is Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications. Thanks to a cool little video clip he did recently, I bought myself a flip camera, with which I'm supposed to be able to easily film and upload videos to YouTube. I've built my YouTube channel and have lots of ideas. As I see sites, when I can, I'll try to capture a few minutes of the experience so you'll feel as if you've been there, too. Keep your fingers crossed and please overlook crooked camera angles. We'll see how this next venture goes.
In the meantime, try to learn something new about Lincoln everyday. Check out my left-hand sidebars for lots of ways you can do that. And, whenever you can, spread a little of this Lincoln enthusiasm yourself. You'd be surprised how often people really do want to learn more about Lincoln, but just haven't taken time to do it themselves. With a little prompting, you can get many people to pick up a Lincoln book or watch a piece about Lincoln online.
Thanks for visiting. Come back often.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Here's the scoop
It's Thursday, November 5, at 6:00 pm CST. Featured authors are Joan Waugh, author of U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth. and Peri Arnold, author of Remaking the Presidency: Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson 1901-1916.
The VBS website says, "U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Legend is an insightful blend of biography and cultural history, Joan Waugh traces Grant's shifting national and international reputation, illuminating the role of memory in our understanding of American history."
This is the first comparative study of the three Progressive Era presidents, examining the context in which they served, the evolving institutional role of the presidency, and the personal characteristics of each man.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC), state and local commissions, communities, colleges, universities and more continue to celebrate the legacy of our 16th commander-in-chief.
Check out this information the ALBC shared with me about a Nov. 1 event in Miami, Fla.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alonzo Mourning join the celebration
As Miami joins in the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission is proud to host a Lincoln Town Hall exploring the theme of “Lincoln, Miami and the American Dream.”
The Nov. 1 Town Hall will be led by Channel 4 anchorman Antonio Mora. Respected panelists, including Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and the Knight Foundation’s Alberto Ibarguen, among others, will weigh in on the impact that Lincoln’s life and words have on the Miami of today.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the W.E.B. Dubois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, will also join the dialogue and discuss his new book, Lincoln on Race & Slavery.
In addition, attendees will be treated to the musical works of the Ambassador Chorale of Florida Memorial University and the orchestra of the New World School of Arts, as well as an excerpt from the work “Lincoln’s Portrait”, narrated by former Miami Heat player Alonzo Mourning.
All events are free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required for the Town Hall. Please visit http://www.hmsf.org/lincoln/events.html for more information on event times and locations, and to find out how to RSVP. Like always, you can connect with us and join the discussion today through:
Now Lincoln buffs have a reason to go there, too. Check out this information from the college's website about a Lincoln event today:
Lincoln events planned for Iowa Wesleyan College
Author Burrus Carnahan will speak about his book Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War on Thursday, October 22, at 11:00 a.m. at Iowa Wesleyan College.
The program will be held in the Chapel Auditorium as part of the Forum series. The Friends of the Harlan-Lincoln House at Iowa Wesleyan College are sponsoring the event.
Act of Justice examines how President Abraham Lincoln came to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Carnahan explains that Lincoln did not think he had the authority as President, under the Constitution, to free the slaves. However, he came to understand that he had authority as commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces to free the slaves in the territory that was in rebellion against the Federal Government. He believed that freeing the slaves was in the military interest of saving the Union.
The book is available now in the Iowa Wesleyan College Bookstore and will be available at the College Chapel the day of the presentation. Following the presentation, the author will sign copies of the book.
The Iowa Lincoln Bicentennial Commission has included this event on their calendar of events for this fall. The Bicentennial Commission and Iowa State Historical Society will bring their new traveling exhibit History on the Move: Abraham Lincoln and Iowa to Iowa Wesleyan that day. Mount Pleasant 5th grade classes will tour at specified times, and the exhibit will be open to the public immediately following Carnahan’s presentation until 1:45 p.m. The exhibit will be parked on the driveway northwest of the College Chapel, off of Broad Street.
The Harlan-Lincoln House on the Iowa Wesleyan campus will be open for tours following the presentation until 2:00 p.m. Brochures that detail Harlan and Lincoln sites in Mount Pleasant will be available for anyone who wants to take a self-guided driving tour of these sites. There is no charge for any of these activities.
Burrus Carnahan is a foreign affairs officer in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the U.S. Department of State. Previously, he was a private sector consultant on international arms control issues and served for 20 years as a lawyer in the U.S. Air Force, where he specialized in the law of war. He has participated in several international negotiations on arms control and the law of war and is author of numerous articles on those subjects. Carnahan is also a lecturer at George Washington University Law School.
Carnahan has local connections; both of his parents attended Iowa Wesleyan, and Carnahan Road is named after his ancestors.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tinsley's - A Springfield treasure
My journalist friend, Pete Sherman, of The State Journal-Register wrote about Tinsley's Dry Goods, a quaint little shop next to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. The store has been in Springfield almost since Lincoln first came to the prairie community. It was established in 1840.
Granted, today's owners haven't been there that long, but Dana and Ron Homann are sure to make you feel at home, answer your questions and share their pride in the legacy of the 16th President.
Be sure to read Pete's article. You'll not only learn about Tinsley's but also about how the Homanns are giving back some of the blessings they're reaping during the bicentennial year.
Turn the corner - Turn the page
Around the corner from Tinsley's is another Springfield treasure. Stepping through the doors of Prairie Archives Antiquarian Booksellers and past the big friendly dog lying in the doorway is like stepping back in time.
The store is just what an antiquarian bookseller's haunt should be. It's old, a bit musty smelling and full of cozy, tattered chairs where you can sit a spell and immerse yourself in books twice as old as you are. It's one of those places the book lover in you will never want to leave.
Owner John Paul and his staff know that. They'll let you wander aimlessly for hours through the stacks, if that's your book hunting style, or help you in the quest, if you're seeking something special.
You don't have to go to the store to buy their books, as they sell them through Abe Books. If you buy online, though, you'll miss the experience, so next time you're in Springfield check it out. You'll be glad you did.
A kid's kind of place
Caddywampus across the street from the Lincoln Home visitor's center is another little shop you won't want to miss. Mr. Lincoln's Inc. Souvenirs & Gifts is bright and clean and uncluttered. It's the kind of gift shop many of us remember from grade school field trips - the kind of place where a kid can find something to buy no matter how little money he's got in his pocket.
The store meanders through several rooms in the basement of an old home. You'll find t-shirts and top hats, pencils and postcards, statues and souvenir spoons, ball caps and busts (of Lincoln, of course).
But even better, you'll find a friendly face - a gent with a child-heart not unlike Lincoln's - to welcome you warmly and brighten your day. On my first trip to the store, the owner, Tom Rebman, and one of his buddies made me feel as if I'd known them forever. They were interested in my visit to Springfield and my passion for Lincoln and they were both full of vinegar. I had so much fun kidding around with them that I didn't want to leave.
I was planning to return to Springfield the following day, grandkids in tow, for a couple events at Lincoln's Home. When I told Rebman and his buddy, they scored lots of extra brownie points in my book. The two acted as if they couldn't believe I had grandkids and guessed my age at ten years younger than I am. Remember, I said they were full of vinegar, but, hey, a gal has to take a compliment when she can get one. I'll take one like that any time - and I'll stop in that shop any day!
I did stop in again - with four kids in tow, ages six to 14. They all had equal amounts to spend, and it didn't take them long to find exactly what they wanted - all different, all fitting their interests, all within their budgets. Yep, that's just the kind of place I want to take my brood. And Rebman had just as much fun kidding them as he did teasing me.
More Lincoln on the horizon
If you're following my blog regularly, I'm afraid I'll let you down the next couple days. I'll be in Springfield for the Lincoln Legacy Lecture series at University of Illinois - Springfield tomorrow night, at the Illinois State Museum for a Lincoln exhibit open house Friday night and at the Lincoln Colloquium on Saturday. Gotta keep learnin' if I'm gonna keep doin' this blog, ya know, so off I go.
Do me a favor. Learn something new about Lincoln yourself this weekend, okay?
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
My friends at the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission aren’t going to let me slack, though. They’ve got news to share so, by golly, I’ll share it.
Lincoln and education
First, head to the Land of Lincoln in October for a national conference about Lincoln’s role in American higher education.
Here’s what the bicentennial folks have to say:
“Prominent government officials, land-grant college presidents, and respected academics and experts on higher education will come together to discuss ‘Lincoln and the Morrill Act: The Unfinished Work of Public Universities’ on Oct. 23-24 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“This conference will explore the historical significance of the Morrill Act, and how it is applicable to current issues of higher education. Conference speakers will include Jim Leach, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Martha Kanter, U.S. Undersecretary of Education, and Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, among many others. Speakers will discuss the important role land-grant colleges can play in developing the work force of the future and create life-long learners in a global society.
“Through moderated panels and interactive discussions, conference goers will delve into the past and future of higher education, as they never have before.
“This event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required. Please visit http://www.morrillact.illinois.edu/ for more information or to RSVP.”
Lincoln in art and photography
Later in the month, you’ll want to head to Newark, New Jersey for the Lincoln presentation by photographer Deborah Willis. And, in November, that same community will present a town hall panel discussion on race, ethnicity and freedom.
The bicentennial folks say:
“On Oct. 28, respected photographer Deborah Willis will unveil and discuss her new work entitled “Lincoln as Monument, Lincoln as Icon.” Held at the Essex County Historic Courthouse, this event will explore the various depictions of Abraham Lincoln in art and photography. Using examples ranging from the 1870s to the present, Willis will lead the audience in a discussion of this iconic American figure, and how changing artistic depictions of him have impacted public perception.
“In addition to the presentation and discussion, attendees have the unique opportunity to take docent-led tours through the Historic Courthouse, and even take a photo with the Borglum statue of Abraham Lincoln prior to the presentation.
“Deborah Willis’ show is also a wonderful opportunity for attendees and community members to familiarize themselves with Lincoln and his legacy prior to our town hall discussion on Nov.12 at the Newark Museum. A panel of esteemed speakers, including Pedro A. Noguera, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, Jeff Johnson, award-winning journalist, social activist and political commentator, and James O. Horton, Historian Emeritus at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, will lead a stimulating discussion on the topic of “The Humane City: Race, Ethnicity and Freedom in Urban America.”
“Panelists will discuss issues surrounding our urban communities today, and how we can collectively utilize the resources available in those communities to work towards a more successful future. This event seeks to critically examine the current situation in urban America when viewed through the lens of differences in race and ethnicity, while bringing together a group of scholars who are willing to give their recommendations for how communities in urban America can best achieve their collective potential.
“Both events are free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required. Please visit http://lincolnliveson.com/ for more information or to RSVP.
Social media buffs – follow Lincoln at 200
You can also connect with the bicentennial commission and join the discussion through:
Monday, October 12, 2009
Daniel Weinberg and his staff at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop have another interesting Virtual Book Signing planned. They'll be hosting:
- Barton A. Myers, author of Exceuting Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty and Guerrila Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865 and
- historian Ron Elliot and photographer John Snell, authors of Through the Eyes of Lincoln: A Modern Photographic Journey.
Lincoln buffs in the Chicago area can drop by the shop to watch the events firsthand. The rest of us - yes, even Lincoln buffs in Australia, England and Brazil - can watch live online.
Don't fret, though, if you have other plans Saturday. I'll be in Springfield at the Lincoln Colloquium, but I know I can find it in the Virtual Book Signing archives later. If you've missed many other Lincoln and Civil War authors, check out the archives. You'll find some interesting and engaging interviews there.
Friday, October 9, 2009
A year ago today, I set out on a maiden voyage, a trip on uncharted seas, an excursion not unlike Abraham Lincoln's first flatboat trip. I started writing this blog.
In honor of its first birthday, I thought perhaps I owed my readers - the faithful as well as the new and the occasional - a "state of the blog" address. Some of you may not realize where I've been and others may wonder where I'm going with this little adventure.
Like Lincoln, I might not know of the obstacles in my path nor the sights I'll see along the way. Nonetheless, I'll take my best shot at telling you what I've learned on the journey and where I hope to go from here.
Officially, this blog was born on Oct. 9, 2008, as a way to disseminate all the information I was learning about Lincoln in a Heartland Community College class, "The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln."
Really, though, it was born the same day I was, more than 57 years ago, in a hospital room just a block from Knox College's Old Main. Yes, I was born within a stone's throw of a Lincoln-Douglas debate site.
I often kid around and say that the wind blew some Lincoln dust my way the day I was born. I really do believe, though, that growing up in close proximity to places where Lincoln's legacy lives did make me want to learn more about him.
Glancing over my shoulder
Let's look back at this past year. Since the blog was born, I've:
- Been to Springfield, Jacksonville, Galesburg, Peoria, Bloomington and Decatur in search of Lincoln.
- Heard a bunch of Lincoln scholars speak.
- Watched plays about Lincoln and heard musicians pay tribute to him.
- Met and befriended authors I'd never dreamed of seeing.
- Celebrated Lincoln's 200th birthday in the same room as the President of the United States.
- Met Richard Dreyfuss and Stedman Graham.
- Read a bunch of Lincoln books and heard a lot of Lincoln audio books.
- Written more than 180 blog posts and more than 1900 Twitter tweets.
- Stayed up too late, awakened too early and fallen asleep at my keyboard (thus the fun birthday cake image).
My blog has had almost 6800 visits from more than 3900 unique visitors. They've come from 1500 cities in 69 countries and every state in the U.S. I've heard from people in Australia, Brazil and England. I've got followers who are students, teachers, authors, photographers, doctors and more. On Lincoln's 200th birthday, more than 200 people visited the blog.
I've written about many of my Lincoln experiences, shared my opinions on books and told my readers about Lincoln events across the country. My blog posts hit their peak and my sleep suffered the most in February as I tried to keep up with all the bicentennial events surrounding Lincoln's birthday. As the year progressed, my energy began to wane, other duties needed my attention and my posts became less frequent.
My mission remains the same, regardless of the frequency of my articles. I am writing this blog and maintaining a Twitter page to share my passion for the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln and to teach others about him, too.
This year was just the first in the young life of my blog, Lincoln Buff 2. I hope to stay at this for a long time to come, and to eventually begin writing with more frequency than I did the last few months. Once I get caught up on some other obligations, I'll be able to do that.
As much as time allows, I hope to:
- Point you to Lincoln-related events.
- Tell you about Lincoln books - old and new.
- Share stories about Lincoln - both well-known and seldom-told.
- Introduce you to others who have Lincoln connections.
- Chronicle a trip to Washington, D.C. and Gettysburg.
When I started this blog, I wanted each blog post to be my own work, written in my own words and with my own "voice." As time went on, though, I realized that wasn't always possible. Either my time was too short or the events were too many. So, from time to time, the only way I could get the news to you was by sharing someone else's "canned" press releases.
I'll still be doing that some. The U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission has some events coming up they'd like me to share. For the most part, those will come to you in their format.
When I have time to read Lincoln-related books, I'll craft my own book reviews. And, when I attend events, I'll try to give you a first-hand account.
For other articles on my blog, you may see a combination of my voice and someone else's press release. The important thing is that I'm spreading the word about Lincoln and you're reading it.
Please, if you enjoy Lincoln Buff 2, tell your friends, and if you're interested in little bits of Lincoln info, as well as links to other Lincoln news, you'll want to follow me on twitter at http://twitter.com/lincolnbuff2. And, maybe someday, you can read one of the books I plan to write about Lincoln.
Thanks for your loyalty and for giving me a reason to learn and to share. It's been a year I'll never forget. Long live Lincoln's legacy!
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Years ago, the joker, John "Jay" Slaven, left a note in a chair directing the finder to a lead chest with a treasure of gold coins. Here's a follow-up to that tale.
After columnist Dave Bakke's stories about the treasure hunt ran in The State Journal-Register, one of Slaven's descendants came forth with the news that he has the coins described in the letter. They aren't buried after all.
It's a tough break for the finder of the letter and the man whose lot she's digging up, but good deal for the guy who inherited the coins. Check out Bakke's story to learn more.
The owner of the lot does have a bit of buried treasure though - a bunch of old bottles. Gee, maybe he could say, "These bottles belonged to Abraham Lincoln," and cash in on eBay. People have made stranger and more outlandish claims.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Trick or treasure
The story gets better, though. Bakke heard from a former State Journal-Register employee who remembered a practical joker at the State Journal-Register. Former classified ad manager John “Jay” Slaven just happened to use the pen Chauncey Wolcott to sign his practical jokes. Who was the author of the treasure note? You guessed it - none other than good old Chauncey.
As a Lincoln buff, I tend to see stories in relation to Lincoln's legacy and legends. And I'm thinking Clary's Grove boy Jack Armstrong (pictured above) would have been pretty proud of old Jay Slaven for this bit of orneriness. You see, Slaven performed for years in the play "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" His role - Jack Armstrong! Don't you suppose Jack, Jay and Abe are up there snickering at this one?
Thursday, October 1, 2009
ABRAHAM LINCOLN & THE AMERICAN DREAM:
Judge Ruben Castillo on Lincoln’s Leadership for a Multicultural World
Abraham Lincoln likely never envisioned today’s multicultural society. However, even in his day, the United States grappled with the immigration issue. What lessons for today can we find in Lincoln’s steadfast commitment to the ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality of opportunity?
On October 12, at the Chicago History Museum, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois will reflect on Lincoln’s legacy and its impact on immigration policy, human rights, and citizenship in the United States today.
The program is free and begins at 6:30 p.m. A reception precedes the event at 5:30 p.m.
“Abraham Lincoln and the American Dream: Lincoln’s Leadership for a Multicultural World” is a free program sponsored by the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and presented in partnership with the Chicago History Museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Newberry Library. Seating is limited and reservations are encouraged by visiting the CHM’s Web site at http://www.chicagohistory.org/ .
“The legend of Lincoln has withstood the critical test of time,” said Judge Castillo. "Lincoln’s thoughts on issues that cause constant debate in our country, still serve as a great, guiding beacon in the 21st century.”
Judge Castillo was appointed to the Federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. He is the son of a Mexican father and a Puerto Rican mother, and is the first of his family to graduate from college. He earned his bachelor's degree from Loyola University in Chicago, working nights as a clerk at the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County. He earned his law degree from Northwestern University in 1979.
For five years, he was an associate attorney with the firm Jenner & Block, before being appointed an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 1984. In 1988, he became a regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, before returning to private practice with Kirkland & Ellis in 1991. He has served as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission since 1999.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that minorities, which now account for roughly one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become the majority in 2042. By 2050, the Census Bureau projects the nation will be 54 percent minority. Even sooner, by 2023, minorities will comprise more than half of all children.
“The American values of freedom and democracy, which Lincoln so eloquently articulated, are immutable,” said Eileen Mackevich, ALBC executive director, “even as American demographics change rapidly. As we become more and more multicultural, will Lincoln continue to hold the American imagination? The Lincoln Bicentennial has give us the opportunity to explore this issue and we look forward to Judge Castillo’s perspectives.”
WHAT: “Abraham Lincoln and the American Dream: Lincoln’s Leadership for a Multicultural World”
WHO: Ruben Castillo, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois
WHEN: Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 *Reception at 5:30 p.m. *Program at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark Street, Chicago
About the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission & Foundation
Congress established the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to recommend appropriate ways to commemorate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 2009. The Commission is predicated on the premise that it will function as a public-private partnership. Congress appropriates funds for administration. Private funding is necessary, however, to produce programs, events and materials planned for the Bicentennial. To support the public-private partnership, and insure that Lincoln activities continue into the future, the Commission established the ALBC Foundation [a 501(c)(3) based in Washington DC] in 2007. For more information, please visit http://www.abrahamlincoln200.org/.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Sometimes, we pick on or tease one another - in private or online. We're pretty darned supportive of each other and aren't particularly competitive. Today, however, my buddy at The State Journal-Register, Mike Kienzler, who blogs as The Abraham Lincoln Observer (ALO), poked a little fun my way. He found a really bizarre story about an athlete who, believe it or not, had Abraham Lincoln tattooed on his neck. ALO shared it in his blog - with the challenge, "Ann Tracy Mueller, top this.
I didn't know we were having a competition. You be the judges. Here are the cards in our latest hand.
- Lincoln Buff 2 (aka Ann Tracy Mueller): Knox College Lincoln Studies Center gets a National Endowment for the Humanities grant of darned near a million bucks, which will aid Lincoln studies and promote the Lincoln legacy for years to come
- ALO (aka Mike Kienzler): Some overpaid jock spends his money inking his body up. It just so happens the image he chooses is Lincoln. This dude will be washed up in a few years and his body art long forgotten, but Lincoln scholars not yet born will use the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Herndon's Lincoln and other Lincoln Studies research.
I don't know, Mike. The tat is cool, but I think my hand trumps yours. Nice try.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!
What is it? It’s the sound of Lincoln scholars around the world celebrating the largest educational grant awarded this year by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to an educational institution. And, it’s going to an entity on the Illinois prairie where the legacy of Abraham Lincoln is alive and well.
Digging into Lincoln
Since the founding of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College in 1998, the center’s co-directors Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson, have been working hard to make Abraham Lincoln primary source material more accessible to the masses. Yet, their collaborative work on Lincoln goes back at least a decade earlier, and their footsteps down the hallowed halls of Old Main tread back nearly four decades to the early 1960s.
Old Main at Knox College is remembered, even revered, as the place where, on Oct. 7, 1858, thousands of people gathered to hear one of the great debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.
Davis and Wilson, both Distinguished Service Professors Emeritus at Knox, first shared their love of history and literature with Knox students in the classrom. Yet, when they retired from teaching, their work didn’t stop. Instead, they dug in even deeper.
Their first major project under the auspices of the Lincoln Studies Center was the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, which includes more than 20,000 documents from Lincoln’s presidential years.
Even before that huge undertaking, the pair had sifted through the work of Lincoln’s law partner, Billy Herndon, to publish previously hard to find and nearly impossible to read documents in one volume, Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln. This 1997 University of Illinois Press publication is invaluable to Lincoln scholars.
Each of the two have done numerous other Lincoln- related works, many of which are award-winning. If you find a Lincoln scholar who tells you their work hasn’t been touched by the Lincoln Studies Center, I’d question the depth of their research.
“We the People” project
The Lincoln Studies grant is awarded through the NEH “We the People” program. “We the People” is designed to encourage and enhance the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles.
The Lincoln Studies Center’s Board of Advisors is comprised of eight accomplished Lincoln scholars, who each serve four-year terms. If you study Lincoln at all, you’ll recognize many familiar names – people who’ve contributed much to the studies of our 16th president and continue to help keep the legacy alive - both on today's board and earlier ones as well.
The current board includes:
- Michael Burlingame
- William C. Harris
- James M. McPherson
- Edna Greene Medford
- Matthew Pinsker
- Gerald J. Prokopowicz
- John R. Sellers
- Ronald C. White, Jr.
- Gabor Boritt
- Collum Davis
- Jennifer Fleishner
- William E. Gienapp
- Allen C. Guelzo
- Harold Holzer
- Robert W. Johannsen
- William Lee Miller
- Lucas E. Morel
- Philip S. Paludan
- Mark E. Neely, Jr.
- Thomas F. Schwartz
- John Y. Simon
- Kenneth J. Winkle
If this is good news to you and if you’ve reaped the benefit of the Lincoln Studies Center’s work in doing your own research, you may want to say “thanks” with your own financial gift. Though $2.5 million is a huge number and it will take some large gifts to make it happen, every little bit helps – not only to match the grant, but to help Lincoln scholars for generations to come.
Even though my work on Lincoln is just beginning, I already see the value of the Lincoln Studies Center and the work they do there. I dropped my check in the mail yesterday. Won’t you join me in helping to meet the match?
The college plans a national fundraising effort, but if you’re like me and you want to say congratulations with your own gift now, here’s a link to the Knox Office of Advancement webpage, where you can find contact information. Just be sure you include a note to indicate you want your funds to go to the Lincoln Studies Center NEH match.
And, you can do two more things:
- Next time you see Rodney Davis or Doug Wilson on the Lincoln circuit, say “Congratulations – and thanks for all you do!”
- Drop a note to the NEH to thank them for their investment in this worthwhile cause and their bicentennial birthday gift to Lincoln.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
My Mary connection
The first time I remember hearing a song by Peter, Paul and Mary was in 1966. I was the oldest of five children riding home from school in a red wood-paneled 1963 Ford Country Squire station wagon, affectionately called Nellybelle.
In the car with us were my friend, Cindy, and her sister, Charlie. At my sister’s insistence, Charlie sang a song for the “little kids.” It was called “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Right there, that day, I was hooked on folk music and shortly thereafter on Peter, Paul and Mary.
Through my high school years, Peter, Paul and Mary’s songs were with me often – “Blowing in the Wind” as I learned to pick a few chords on a guitar, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” as I joined arms, swayed and sang with friends at hootenannies, and the album, “The Best of Peter, Paul and Mary: Ten Years Together,” as I went off to college.
In the dorm, I often placed that black vinyl disc on a revolving turntable when I was homesick for dear friends or longed for peace in the turbulence of the times.
As I grew older, had my own family and a van instead of Nellybelle, I listened to Mary’s smooth voice and powerful harmony on a cassette tape.
When CDs came out, one of the first ones I got was – you guessed it – another one of Peter, Paul and Mary.
In the late 80s or early 90s, the group “played Peoria.” Seats at the concert were first come, first serve, so my hubby and I got there plenty early. It paid off. We got within a few rows of the stage. No matter how many times you’ve heard or sung one of their songs, there was just nothing like being there, seeing them a few feet away, hearing them in person and joining in as they said “Sing along.” It truly was one of my most memorable evenings.
While Mary fought cancer these past few years, I prayed for her often. I really did want her to be healthy and happy, but being a little selfish, I guess also just wanted to hear her in concert one more time. I'm sure I was not alone. We'll miss her.
Mary’s Lincoln connection
The same year my parents bought that red wagon, the car in which I learned to drive, Peter, Paul and Mary sang at the Lincoln Memorial when Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. They were there again on the 40th anniversary of the speech in 2003.
Two lines from their civil rights anthem, “Blowing in the Wind” speak to me most strongly tonight.
I’ve often thought that if Mary Travers had lived in Lincoln’s time she would have been another Harriet Beecher Stowe. When I hear, “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” it’s as if I’m transported back to Lincoln’s day.
I listened to Peter, Paul and Mary YouTube videos and read their song lyrics tonight. I thought of our peace-loving Mary, our white dove, when I heard, “How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?”
You sailed for us all, Mary, and as you did you soared into our hearts. We love you. Sleep well, our friend.
To Peter, Paul - and Mary’s beloved family
To Ethan and family and to Mary’s dear friends, Peter Yarrow and Noel “Paul” Stookey, I know my heartache is nothing compared to yours. You’re all in my prayers.
Peter and Paul, your music will always define my past and remain with me in the future. Thank you and God bless.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Yep, it's today, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009 at 5:30 p.m. Central Time.
Lincoln expert and Abraham Linocln Book Shop owner Daniel Weinberg and company will host guests from Chicagoland's Ravinia Festival. Though this is a private event, not open to the public like most book signing events, you're invited to watch the live webcast. Virtual Book Signing events are always entertaining, so you won't want to miss it.
The live panel discussion features artists commissioned by Ravinia commissioned to help North America’s oldest summer music festival celebrate the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial. They include composer Elbio Barilari, composer Lita Grier, composer Ramsey Lewis and choreographer Venetia Stifler. The panel is hosted by Ravinia’s President and CEO Welz Kauffman.
The event will feature some of the magnificent music produced for Ravinia during this Bicentennial commemoration of Lincoln's birth and also a video segment about Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis and his remarkable new composition. Live performances include the Lincoln Trio, soprano Michelle Areyzaga and pianist/speaker Welz Kauffman.
I had the opportunity to hear the Lincoln Trio at Bloomington's David Davis Mansion earlier this year, and their performance alond was a treat. Getting to hear all these artists in a discussion at once should be even more exciting. Hope you can watch it.
The live broadcast is sponsored by Ravinia Festival, Virtual Book Signing and Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Inc. Ravinia Festival gives special thanks to Kartemquin Films and WTTW Chicago.
Ravinia Festival has brought the finest in music and performance to the Chicagoland area since 1904.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Tonight, I found not a new blog post, but breaking news on the home page, reading, "SJ-R metro editor wins senior spelling bee at fair." Now, considering that Kienzler isn't much older than I am, I was hoping it wasn't him. I'm not ready to be called "senior" any more than I have to. I knew, though, that it was surely my ALO buddy. He's the most eagle-eyed editor I've ever known. In fact, he's so good, he can almost find a typo before a reporter's fingers hit the wrong key.
And, he'd recently advanced through his local and regional contests to reach the state contest. So, it came as no suprise that this wordsmith and editor extraordinaire is a champion tonight. Read the breaking news about his championship and the article on the paper's special state fair blog.
You know what, though? Mike Kienzler is champion every day. We can count on him to keep the legacy of Lincoln alive. That makes him a winner in my book, no matter how well he can spell.
If you follow the ALO blog, too, be sure to drop in and leave a comment to congratulate him. I'm going to leave mine right now.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
When I started this blog, it was to honor the life and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln in celebration of the bicentennial of his birth. That mission hasn’t changed. You may wonder, therefore, why I would use Lincoln Buff 2 as a forum to tell you about a novel that has nothing to do with the 16th president.
Bear with me while I explain. Then, after I do, if you understand, please read about this marvelous book – and the author who so handily crafted the story.
The way I see it, we can make a connection between this novel and Lincoln. They’re just three degrees apart:
- One degree from Abraham Lincoln is his biographer, Carl Sandburg
- Two degrees away is Carl Sandburg biographer, Penelope Niven
- Three degrees away is Jennifer Niven, Penelope’s daughter and author of Velva Jean Learns to Drive
I’d like to use this interconnectedness to justify this blog post, but first let me tell you why.
Two decades ago, I was the front-end manager of a supermarket in Galesburg (Ill.). I’d left college midstream nearly twenty years earlier to get married and raise a family. One evening, sometime around 1990 or so, Penelope Niven was speaking at Carl Sandburg College on the most obvious of subjects, her upcoming Sandburg biography.
If you ever get a chance to meet Penny Niven, you’ll find her, as I did, to be one of the most charming and upbeat people you’ve ever met. You will find it hard to leave the encounter without catching the enthusiasm she radiates.
As I was at a turning point in my life, longing to return to school and share what I learned, either as a teacher or a writer, a number of things about Penny’s speech struck a chord with me that night. The strongest, though, were two comments that originated with Jennifer.
The first was the answer a pre-teen Jennifer gave when asked to share with her class her parents’ occupations. Jennifer’s response went something like this, “My father is a teacher and my mother is obsessed with a dead guy.”
The second happened a few years later. As Penny was lamenting the time it was taking to do her 800-word biography, the writer quipped, “I’ll be fifty before I get this book done!”
Her wise daughter responded, “Mother, you’ll be fifty anyway.”
So why does this matter? Well, maybe because after that talk, I finished college, turned fifty, and am now obsessed with the dead guy with whom Penny’s dead guy was obsessed. Jennifer’s words and her mother’s wisdom in passing them on have motivated me to pursue my dreams. But, I’ll likely be 60 before I get my book done!
The least I can do for Jennifer, though, is tell you about her book. It’s certainly not hard to say good things about Velva Jean.
Jennifer learns to read – and write
Jennifer Niven is a striking young lady – very photogenic. Yet, in spite of all the photos I’ve seen of her, one of my favorites is of her as a little girl with her nose between the pages of a great big book.
I imagine it taken was about the same time Jennifer crafted her own first book. Twelve years ago, I was there when she shared the volume with a Hendersonville, N.C. audience as she and her mother spoke about their careers. The young author’s early effort didn’t look much different than those many of our children designed in their early school days, but my bet is that Jennifer knew who she was as soon as she created it. She was a writer.
I first encountered Jennifer’s work in her non-fiction books about Arctic exhibitions, The Ice Master and Ada Blackjack. Jennifer’s research and storytelling skills are phenomenal. She brought those long gone explorers to life. Both books held me spellbound as I waited on pins and needles to see how things turned out.
Velva Jean is born again
Yet, even before these books, young Jennifer had reached a pinnacle few writers ever do. She was awarded an Emmy for her screenplay of a film titled Velva Jean Learns to Drive, which she wrote in 1995 while still a student at the American Film Institute.
Velva Jean was born on the pages of a short story Penny wrote, resurrected on screen by Jennifer and is born again between the covers of this new book.
What a glorious rebirth it is! Not only is the story reborn but, in the book, the character is reborn through a religious conversion.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If I were to describe the book in one sentence, I’d say this: Velva Jean Learns to Drive is a coming-of-age story about a girl in the 1930s and 40s from the Appalachian hills who dreams of becoming a singer in Nashville.
It’s that and much, much more.
The characters in Jennifer’s book really are so believable you think you’ve known them all your life. They’re people you can love, hate and feel real pity for. She draws you into the story so well that you truly can sense a panther on your heels, feel the exhilaration of a wild ride down the mountain in a bright yellow pickup truck, smell the putrid fumes of a train wreck.
Not your mama’s mountain tale
Some might argue that certain aspects of this book could be stereotypical – a mountain family with an ailing mom, a wandering dad, a big sis who married young and had a brood of kids, a traveling preacher man, a family-owned store and people who’ve never left their small town.
Yet, that’s what makes this book worth reading and significant historically. The scenes Jennifer paints really are the past as it was in the rural south – and not so different from the rest of the country at the same time. We can read her book and climb back into the limbs of our own family trees. In fact, some of the stories spring from the branches of her own.
From that angle, we can see much more. In her characters, we see ourselves and those around us. Families in her book are dysfunctional. Whose aren’t? People in her book have hopes and dreams for themselves or others. They love intensely and hate immensely. They propel each other and hold each other back. They want the best for their community and they want to fight progress. Some have all they’ll ever need or want, while others spend each day dreaming dreams they fear will never come true.
The appeal of Velva Jean is not that Jennifer Niven has blazed a new trail through those mountains of old. It’s that she’s taken the personalities we all know, the experiences we’ve all lived and she’s brought them to life anew. In Velva Jean Learns to Drive, we all see a little of ourselves and our pasts. As Jennifer tells Velva Jean’s tale, our stories, too, are born again.
She’s not done yet
There are few authors who grab me and hole me spellbound, so strongly that I can’t wait for their next book. Penny does, Richard Bach does (I want to soar like Jonathan. What’s wrong with that?) and Jennifer does.
Fortunately, I don’t have to wait long for her next one. The Aqua-Net Diaries, Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, the memoir of her high school days in Richmond (Ind.) is due out soon. The title alone should give you a hint why she could write about Velva Jean so well. Now, Jennifer’s hard at work on her fifth volume.
Who knows? At this rate, Jennifer might just catch up with my friend, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, who’s pounding out his 34th book, And, I’m sure I’ll love every one of her books as much as I do his.
Another Lincoln link
Oh, and that whole Lincoln connection thing? There are two more. Velva Jean’s dad and brother shared the same first name – Lincoln. So, if you decide to do as I did and drop all things Lincoln to read this book, it’s okay. Really, it is.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Do you ever have that feeling still? You cherish every page of a book you’re reading and you don’t want it to end – either because of the story, the characters, or the way the author paints word pictures upon each page and draws you in.
I had that feeling recently.
Before Lincoln’s 200th birthday in February, I began a book, The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, by Daniel Mark Epstein. I was moved by Epstein’s lyrical style and reminded almost immediately of the work of an earlier Lincoln biographer, Carl Sandburg.
Written as only a poet can
Like Sandburg (who, by the way, is from my hometown), Epstein is a poet. Believe me, this poet’s ability to weave words, craft colorful character cameos and draw dramatic dioramas places his presidential portrait on a plane with few others.
Because of this, on one hand, I didn’t want to put the book down from the first day I opened it; yet, on the other, I never wanted to have to stop reading it. Due to other demands on my time, I was lucky to have Epstein’s words with me for a very long time.
Portrait became not my bedtime story, but my lunch time treat. On weekdays when I didn’t have other plans or commitments, I’d go to my van, push the seat back from the steering wheel and spend my lunch hour with the Lincolns, viewing them through Epstein’s eyepiece. I looked forward to the time alone – with the President, Mrs. Lincoln, Epstein and his cast of characters.
I finished the tome today, and I hope what I have to share will inspire you to take a look at this tale, too.
Why this book stands alone
The story Epstein tells is the same one we’ve heard time and again. Lincoln meets Mary, dumps Mary, marries Mary. They have two sons, one dies. They have two more, another dies – this time in the White House. Lincoln the lawyer becomes Lincoln the legislator, then Lincoln the President. They move to the White House, where Mary overspends on her wardrobe and “flub dubs for that damned old house,” while Union soldiers do without the essentials they need. The South surrenders and days later John Wilkes Booth snuffs out the light of the Great Emancipator.
Same old story, right? Why would it be different this time than the many other times we’ve read it? I like to think one reason is because, with a poet’s insight and sensitivity, Epstein shows us a different Abraham and Mary.
He shows us Abraham as a father who has a love for his country and compassion for its people as powerful as for his tag-a-log buddy, Tad. Epstein also shows us the Mary others fail to, a woman who loved her husband, loved her children and suffered in ways few can understand – and he does it with a caring and compassion unparalleled in other works.
Many historians have taken Mary for face value – focusing on all the obvious faults manifested through her mental state and the difficulty it caused in her relationships. Others have painted her a victim, nearly glorifying her. Yet with Epstein, it’s almost as if he’s on the inside looking out, feeling her pain, sensing her rage and understanding her love. I like to think the portrait he paints is more balanced, homing in on the good, but not dusting away the bad as if it never happened.
He shows us a marriage that endured – through it all, until death came between them. Appropriately enough, Epstein’s story stops there.
A taste of the poet’s imagery
Throughout the book, Epstein’s words worked together to pull me in and keep me coming back, but I have to share just a couple of my favorite lines to give you a taste, too.
You may be familiar with James Shields, the man Lincoln was set to duel in the early days of his relationship with Mary. Epstein’s introduction of Shields in the book will always be one of my favorite passages.
James Shields was a short man, with a square jaw, jutting chin, and deep-set eyes under a broad brow. Nevertheless, he got one’s attention when he walked into a room, limping slightly, pressing on as if against a headwind on the deck of a ship.
Epstein’s work will endure
In this volume, just like in those familiar bedtime stories, I knew the characters, I was touched by the beginning, and the ending was as sad this time as it was the first time I heard it.
Yet, Epstein’s portrait of the Lincoln marriage is crafted so that it sheds light on those corners of the image where the sun rarely reaches. You know how Thomas Kinkade can make a painting look as if the light is glowing right through the canvas? Epstein gets this effect with his words. In so doing, we see the marriage, the President and Mrs. Lincoln as never before.
The Lincolns’ marriage may have been cut short on that fateful day in 1865, but Epstein’s panorama of it will bond to the walls of his readers’ memory long after the last page is turned, allowing the legacy to live on.
As for me, I’m thinking it may be a very long time before another luncheon dessert satisfies me like this one.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
First, let me apologize. I know many of you have come to look forward to the little morsels I find about Abraham Lincoln or Lincoln books and events. I, in turn, look forward to sharing.
Last October, while I was taking a community college course about Lincoln, I began this blog. As I was learning, I was sharing. It just seemed selfish not to. I love learning and I love “teaching.”
Writing, I believe, is a form of teaching. The writer’s classroom consists not of desks in a room or seats in a lecture hall, but words on a page, a computer monitor or, now, even the screen of a mobile device. It’s amazing how this classroom has grown.
So, don’t worry. This isn’t a last blog post. What it is, however, is a window into the past and a lens looking toward the future.
Bringing dreams to life
“Out there, somewhere, there’s a dream. You just have to catch it.”
In my life, I’ve chased and caught many of the same dreams most people pursue – someone to share my life with, a home of our own, children, a career.
Along the way, I’ve seen lots of our shared dreams come true, and I’ve pursued some individual ones as well. Here are just a few of my own:
- As I pursued my other dreams, I’d set my college education aside midstream. I got back on board and finished it when I was 41 and a brand-new grandmother.
- I wanted to write for a newspaper. In 1998, that dream came true when I had my first freelance book review published in The State Journal-Register, the paper Lincoln called his friend.
- As I learned of the plans for a Springfield (Ill.) library and museum honoring the 16th President, I looked forward to it for years. I was the seventh person in line on the day it opened to the public and wrote of the experience for two central Illinois newspapers.
- I started a seven-year plan in 2002, when I first learned of the celebrations planned for the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. I wrote, “I want to be doing significant Lincoln-related work by his 200th birthday.” I had to set this plan aside for awhile, and worried it was a dream that wouldn’t come true. Yet, as dreams often do, when things began to fall into place – the Lincoln course, the blog, the opportunity to attend many Lincoln-related events – it was better than I’d ever imagined possible.
The next dream – even bigger than the rest
With other dreams behind me, I’m now ready to move on to the next – and it’s a big one!
I’ll soon begin work on my own Lincoln books. I know it will be a lot of long days, short nights and painful battles making words work together just so. It will also require research beyond anything I’ve ever done in the past – making sure no stone is unturned, perusing hundreds of existing works on Lincoln and my proposed related subjects, spending long hours pouring over primary sources, trying to find some truth in all the myth and everything mythic that surrounds this subject who is gargantuan.
Before I begin
Before I begin, however, I must make sure conditions are right. I can think of endless imagery to describe what I’m going through right now, but two come to mind most strongly – a thicket and a nest. Let me tell you why.
Those of you who know me know I’m not a person who has just one thing going on at a time. I’ve never just gone to work, come home at night and settled into the nest. I’ve nearly always had another job or obligation, including but not limited to, apartments, school, and outside interests.
I’m also one of those people who buys magazines boasting, “Organize your life,” on the front cover, but then adds that volume to the stack in the box in the closet. It’s topped by two other boxes before the next “Conquer clutter” volume finds its way into the house. Creating order has always taken a back burner to all the other things I wanted to or had to do. And, I’ve always saved all those things I “might need for a story some day.” Never mind that I couldn’t have found them anyway. Just knowing they were there somewhere was comforting – sort of.
What wasn’t comforting was realizing I couldn’t move forward without clearing the way. I knew I had to clear the thicket before I could truly forge my Lincoln path. So, folks, that’s why I’ve been absent from cyberspace. I’m sorting and purging and organizing the things I’ve gathered in the past.
The image accompanying this blog post is a thicket behind the lean-to on a barn at New Salem. As I looked at it, I remembered some of the stories I’d read in John Hallwas’s Western Illinois University course, Literature of Illinois.
When early settlers came to Illinois, they often encountered such scenes and had to forge through the thickets and bramble bushes to get to the beautiful virgin prairie lying on the other side. I imagined what it must have been like for Lincoln and his family as they moved westward. And, then, the thicket became a symbol for me. Clear the path, Ann, and you can start your journey. You can write your book.
So, I’m currently working to get all those things I “might need someday” well organized so I can find them when I do. And, as I do, I’m building the nest where my books will be germinated, incubated and hatched.
Still learnin’ and comin’ back
While I’m spending evenings and weekends on this other project, I haven’t set my quest for new Lincoln knowledge aside, though. I’m listening to books on tape on my commute to work and reading the latest Lincoln books over lunch and when I can steal a few minutes here and there. You’ll hear all about them eventually.
So, please, come back. I will. In the meantime, if you haven’t read all my previous posts, please do. I’ve written more than 170 articles about Lincoln since last October. Though a few are time-sensitive, most are not. Please scroll down on the left-side of the blog to the Labels area or the Blog Archive, or just use the Search at the top left to seek a Lincoln topic in which you’re interested. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find something you’ll enjoy reading.
And, don’t worry. I’m not leaving you. I will be blogging again soon, even as I begin research on my books. Until then, please, continue your quest to learn more about Lincoln. I’m continuing mine.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.