Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The day Lincoln got canned

Think you’re about to read a story about Abraham Lincoln getting fired from a job? Think again. That title was just a hook to draw you in so you’d read about a fun project, which will also put food in the bellies of those who need it in Central Illinois.

Read all about a construction project featuring three Lincoln-related sculptures made of cans – and if you’re in Springfield, stop by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum by May 3, 2009 to see the Canstruction.

Build your own Illinois building
And, while you’re at it, don’t miss this story about an Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and Old State Capitol project where you can print kits to build your favorite Lincoln-related buildings – something as simple as one of the Lincoln-Berry store at New Salem, requiring only two pieces of card stock, or as elaborate as the Old State Capitol, with 41 pieces of card stock in all.

As for me, I’ll be printing and building Knox College’s Old Main so I can display it below my William Gray watercolor print of the site of the 1858 Galesburg Lincoln-Douglas Debate. A plaque on that building inspired Carl Sandburg to write about Lincoln, culminating with his six-volume biography. The story, the historic edifice and the print have inspired me for more than 25 years in my studies of Lincoln and Sandburg.

May you, too, always find inspiration to follow your dreams.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Don' t miss Virtual Book Signing

Our friends at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop are busy getting ready for another Virtual Book Signing - today, Saturday, April 25, at 12 noon Central Time.

Be sure to watch as Daniel Weinberg visits with :

Virtual Book signings are free, live and available again later online at no charge. They're a great way to hear an author talk about the book, the subject and the writing and research process. Weinberg's a great interviewer and you can even submit questions online for authors to answer while you're watching. If you're in Chicagoland, you can even drop in the shop to watch the taping. Check it out!

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Thank you, Governor Quinn

Lincoln buffs and others who are passionate about keeping the history of Illinois alive join together in a big round of applause for Illinois governor Pat Quinn, who has reopened our historic sites, closed by our last governor in what seemed to be a short-sited attempt to ease a budget crunch. Never mind that it was the Lincoln Bicentennial year. That other guy just didn't care!

This Lincoln buff is thrilled about all the site reopenings, but particularly excited about the opportunity for people to again see the birthplace of my favorite Illinois bard, Carl Sandburg. I was born a mile or less from the home, my uncles have owned a grocery store just down the block for more than 50 years and I write for a living today as a direct result of attending a Sandburg Days writers workshop in the late 90s. Oh, and did I mention I won the Sandburg Days trivia contest two years in a row?

You can read all about the site reopening in the Galesburg Register-Mail, not hailed as Lincoln's Friend like its sister paper, The State Journal-Register, but a pretty fine publication, nonetheless.

Birthplace website and Sandburg Days
Be sure to visit the Carl Sandburg Historic Site website to learn about the place where the prairie poet breathed his first breath and where his ashes rest. (As of this writing, the website has not been updated, though, with news of the reopening.)

And, if you're looking for something to do this weekend, head to the Burg for Sandburg Days. I'll be there, excited that my mentor and friend, John E. Hallwas, will again offer his writers workshop. He'll also give a presentation about his latest book, Dime Novel Desperadoes, at my favorite book haven, the Galesburg Public Library. And those are just some of the events!

You oughta join us.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You never know who you’re going to meet

In recent blog posts, I’ve written about the sessions and lectures I attended at the 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois: 1830-1861,” held from March 26 - 28.

This post is about one of the most interesting people I met during the entire symposium, his work on Lincoln and the mark he’s leaving across the globe.

In the future, I’ll tell you about:
  • Ron Solberg’s fun session, “Whizbangs on the Prairie: A History of the Traveling Salesman in Illinois,” and
  • a visit to a site on the Underground Railroad, Woodlawn Farm, near Jacksonville, (Ill.)

Floating across campus
I was still on a cloud as I walked across the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville on Friday evening, March 27, 2009. After all, I’d just met Richard Dreyfuss, reconnected with my Lincoln friend Harold Holzer and met Holzer’s lovely wife, Edith.

And, if that wasn’t enough, I was now on my way to hear Dreyfuss and Holzer present “Lincoln Seen and Heard.” As I took one of the many sidewalks which seem to intersect the rolling campus at all sorts of angles, I met up with a mustachioed man in tie and jacket going the same direction. I asked if he were heading to the presentation, too, and asked, “Shall we head over there together?” He agreed.

When I inquired where he was from, the man answered, “England” and explained that he was there to present a paper on Lincoln and the Blue Mass (mercury). This was exciting. I told him I’d read about the topic, was planning to attend that session and looking forward to it.

We reached our destination, a beautiful chapel on campus, and went our separate ways. I was meeting a friend, and I’m not sure where my walking companion ended up sitting.

My fellow sojourner that evening was Norbert Hirschhorn, M.D. He’s a quiet contemplative man, who seems kind and gentle, yet has an air of mystery about him. That shroud of mystery cloaked a person like few I’ve ever met.

Leaving a legacy
I knew Hirschhorn was a physician, but what I didn’t know until he was introduced before his speech was what a powerful legacy this man is leaving. Let me tell you a bit about it now. Some of it is worth saving for later.

Those of you who grew up in the sixties may remember that some of us thought we could save the world. Yes, I know - some from the sixties remember very little.

While some dropped out, others settled into jobs and families, not too unlike the generation before us, except that we somehow thought we could juggle even more than our parents. In trying to do so, we were often overwhelmed, and our dreams of making a difference seemed to fly out the window.

A very few did follow their hearts – to lands far and wide – and really did help save the world. When the moderator read his introduction, I learned Norbert Hirschhorn is one of those people.

For four decades, Hirschhorn’s had a career in public health, which included award-winning research, teaching, and management of complex, multi-disciplinary projects, both in the United States and abroad. He was a co-developer of the life-saving method of oral rehydration for diarrhea in adults and children, from the bedside to national programs. For this, he was honored with awards from the Dana and Pollin Foundations, and commended by President Clinton as an “American Health Hero.”

As a consultant, Hirschhorn has worked around the world on maternal and child health issues.

Hirschhorn helped establish and guide the USAID-funded Egyptian National Control of Diarrheal Diseases Project, developing research and programmatic strategies in coordination with Egyptian, American, private sector and United Nations agencies. The project reduced childhood mortality from diarrhea by over 60 percent over a decade, saving an estimated 300,000 lives. Since then, worldwide, millions of lives have been saved with this treatment.

After a stint teaching in Minnesota, Hirschhorn directed the Division of Family Health at the Minnesota Department of Health. He says he’s semi-retired now, yet he still helps the World Health Organization research tobacco industry documents and tobacco control and lectures at Yale University School of Public Health – all this while living in London and Beirut.

Gotta have a hobby – or two
In his spare time … (How is it that people like this can fill their time so fully and so productively?) In his spare time, Hirschhorn serves as a medical historian, doing research for publication in academic journals on illnesses of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, Emily Dickinson and Louisa May Alcott.

His work on Lincoln and the blue mass brought him to Jacksonville and provided the fodder for his Saturday symposium session.

In the mid-nineteenth century, blue pills (known as blue mass) were given for any of a number of ailments. These pills contained elemental mercury, and Lincoln took them. Of course, we now know no one should take a substance as toxic as mercury.

Hirschhorn’s research shows the impact the use of mercury and the decision to stop taking it had on Lincoln’s health, his life and, yes, even on the way he ran our country. The best of Hirschhorn’s work is his closing, when he raises yet another Lincoln “what if” question. But I’m not going to spoil it for you. You’ll want to read the paper yourself and you can on his website, http://www.bertzpoet.com/.

A couple of unexpected twists
Okay, now you’re confused, aren’t you? You thought I said this fellow was a doctor, but his website has “poet” in the name.

Yep, this guy is a renaissance man – not only saving the world and searching for answers in the past, but writing powerful poems today. I’ll tell you about some of them and some of Hirschhorn’s other creative work in a future article.

But, for now, there’s just one more little twist which adds to the power of this story. When he was just a child, Norbert Hirschhorn was a Holocaust survivor, escaping with his parents. I think the world is pretty lucky that refugee couple and their young son made it to freedom. This man is leaving his mark, and it's in indelible ink.

Looking back – looking forward
As I told a coworker of my new Lincoln friend and discoveries about how full his life has been, I was once again on a cloud. I knew when I began pursuing my Lincoln passion in earnest that, like those paths on campus, mine would sometimes intersect at crazy angles with people I’d never expected.

I knew I’d meet world-renowned Lincoln scholars, and I have. They’re the greatest, most supportive group of people I’ve ever met. Yet, what I’ve also found is that among the ranks of Lincoln buffs are people like Sacha Newley, Stedman Graham, Richard Dreyfuss and Norbert Hirschhorn with their own special stories. And this Lincoln buff cherishes the privilege of sharing them. Thanks, Bert, for yours.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A great way to spend a rainy day

I’m finally down to chronicling the last day of the 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois: 1830-1861” – just three weeks late. I attended the symposium from Thursday, March 26 through Saturday, March 28.

March 28 was a gloomy rainy day, just the type of day you want to spend inside. My time attending sessions in classrooms at Illinois College couldn't have been better spent.

In this article, I want to tell you about a:

  • morning session with Samuel Paul Wheeler and Raymond Lohne and
  • a brown bag lunch with Eileen McMahon.

In a future article, you’ll be able to read about:

  • lectures by Norbert Hirschhorn, M.D. and Ron Solberg and
  • a visit to Woodlawn Farm.

The symposium was nearly as neat as the bicentennial activities in Springfield the week of Lincoln’s birthday, and I even think I may have learned more in March than I did that week in February. That’s okay, though. The bicentennial was a combination of scholarly and commemorative events, while this was primarily a place for intellectual growth. Mission accomplished on both counts.

Wheeler sets the stage for Lohne
I first discovered Samuel Wheeler last fall. I was taking a course on Abraham Lincoln at Heartland Community College and voraciously pouring over the Internet to learn as much as I could about him. One of the first Lincoln sites I stumbled upon was Lincoln Studies, maintained by a Southern Illinois University graduate student, Wheeler.

Wheeler’s site was super – had lots of great links to other websites, and even a video clip lauding the benefits of Google Books in his research. Social media has a way of creating a familiarity, which can even border on friendship. As I read Wheeler’s blog, I felt a brother/sisterhood of sorts – Lincoln siblings we were. When I read the blog post announcing that he’d been awarded his PhD, I couldn’t have been happier for him or prouder of what he’d accomplished.

So, when I learned Wheeler was presenting a paper on his dissertation topic, I knew this was one session I wasn’t going to miss. Wheeler borrowed a phrase from one of Lincoln’s poems when he named the session, “Every Spot a Grave: The Poetry of Abraham Lincoln.”

I’ve mentioned Wheeler’s website in my blog and have also added comments sometimes to his, so that “Lincoln family” bond I mentioned earlier was evident when I saw the smile on his face as I introduced myself and Wheeler recognized the moniker on my name tag.

This young man is enthusiastic, engaging and knowledgeable. As he spoke of Lincoln’s poetry, with some early works of verse better known than other of the sixteenth president's pieces, it was with passion for his subject and a gleam in his eyes.

Wheeler’s dissertation is not yet in manuscript form or on the receiving end of an offer from a commercial publisher or university press, but I think it’s only a matter of time. This recent grad/new professor is like so many of us this year – busy trying to keep up with the influx of Lincoln information and activity due to the bicentennial – and, like anyone else beginning a new career, meeting himself coming and going. My bet is that when he’s ready, he’ll have publishers begging to print his book. If they don’t, they’re missing out!

Lincoln addresses an important audience
Raymond Lohne, a Chicago area professor who immigrated from Germany as a child, presented a paper titled, “The Electric Cord in the Declaration of Independence: The Secret Behind the Speech.”

I knew nothing of Lohne ahead of time, and judging by the title of his speech, didn’t think it would be anything in which I’d be very interested. After all, I was going to this session to hear my buddy Wheeler. I knew I’d enjoy listening to him and especially enjoy his topic. I figured I could “tolerate” sitting through Lohne’s lecture and maybe grasp a thing or two.

Lohne told of a time Lincoln was speaking in Chicago. When he learned of a large contingent of German immigrants in the audience, he crafted a speech which would reach these listeners.

Lohne’s presentation touched me much more than I’d expected. My husband, too, immigrated to an ethnic Chicago German neighborhood as a child. Hearing Lohne, who isn’t a product of the Illinois prairie, show his interest in Lincoln was moving, and even more so was hearing him show a connection between Lincoln and an ethnic group close to my own heart.

I guess I never stopped to consider how Lincoln’s appeal touched new Americans even in the mid-1800s, or how important the support of those German-Americans was to his run for the presidency.

I’ll be watching for more of Lohne’s work – and listening spellbound the next time, just as I did this time. “Tolerating” a speech in which I wasn’t interested? Hardly. Instead, I was mesmerized – and I’m sure I would be all over again!

If you want a taste of Lohne’s work, read his books:

Just the information I needed
This blog, my earlier freelance book reviews and my full-time job in communications for a large corporation are all the result of a wrong number provided by directory assistance about 10 or 11 years ago.

I was a few years beyond completing my long-awaited bachelor’s degree and had recently attended a Sandburg Days Writers Workshop in Galesburg (Ill.). My college professor, John E. Hallwas, also the presenter at the workshop, had recently completed his book, The Bootlegger: A Story of Small-Town America.

In appreciation to Hallwas and tribute to his fine work with Bootlegger, I wanted to submit a book review for publication. I thought I’d try a scholarly review to the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. Instead the directory assistance operator gave me the phone number for The State Journal-Register, I did a popular review of the book, and it and other reviews helped me create a portfolio which led to a full-time communications position.

Yet, in the back of my mind, the little voice kept whispering to me, “When are you going to write a piece for the Journal?” I still love doing book reviews, yet my goals have changed some. I love studying Lincoln, and one of the items on my “bucket list” is to do a scholarly piece for the publication.

In a brown bag lunch session, “Writing for the Illinois State Historical Society: How to get your research articles printed in the Journal,” I got all the information I needed. Now, all I need is the time to do it. Thank, you, Eileen McMahon, for a great session. It will be a while yet, but I’ll be sending something your way. I aim to cross that item off my list.

Readers, if you want to know how to submit articles to the Journal, you’ll find submission guidelines on the society website.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Much to be learned on a Jacksonville Saturday

Over the past few weeks, bit by bit, I’ve shared my memories of the 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois: 1830-1861.” I attended the symposium from Thursday, March 26 through Saturday, March 28.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll tell you about some of the Saturday events I attended, including a:

  • breakfast program with Mark Steiner presenting,
  • morning session with Samuel Paul Wheeler and Raymond Lohne,
  • brown bag lunch with Eileen McMahon,
  • lectures by Norbert Hirschhorn, M.D. and Ron Solberg and
  • a visit to Woodlawn Farm.
There’s too much for one article. You’ll have to wait until later blog posts for some of these. I’ve got some pretty cool things to share.

Steiner on Lincoln, the lawyer
One of my fellow Lincoln bloggers, Brian Dirck, has a great book out through the University of Illinois Press, titled Lincoln the Lawyer. I’m not a lawyer or even the least bit knowledgeable about the law, yet Dirck’s book kept me engaged and made it easy to learn about Lincoln’s legal career.

Had I not read his book, I’m not sure I would have been as interested in hearing Mark E. Steiner’s talk. Steiner, a professor of law at Southern Texas College of Law, presented his lecture over breakfast at the beautiful Hamilton’s Banquet Hall in old downtown Jacksonville (Ill.).

Steiner answered the question, “Has the Lawyer Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?” This is a spinoff on a question Lincoln scholar James G. Randall first asked in his 1936 article, “Has the Lincoln Theme Been Exhausted?” in the American Historical Review.

Mark E. Neeley, Jr. addressed the question again in 1979 in his essay, “The Lincoln Theme Since Randall's Call: The Promises and Perils of Professionalism,” in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. And, across the country in classrooms, lecture halls and symposium venues like Hamilton’s, the question is asked and answered again and again.
So what did Steiner have to say that was any different than what we’ve heard over and over? He talked of important advances in Lincoln research, such as the Lincoln Legal Papers and digitization of other crucial documents and records related to Lincoln.

He pointed to books as compact as one of Allen Guelzo’s (unfortunately I can’t remember which title – they’re all good) and as vast as Michael Burlingame’s 2,000 page, two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life.

And the answer, of course, is still, “The topic exhausted? No way.” You can learn more about the lawyer Lincoln and Steiner’s work on the topic by reading his book, “An Honest Calling: The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln,” published by the Northern Illinois University Press.

And, if you’re asking me whether to read Dirck’s or Steiner’s, the answer is “Read both.” Each provides a unique view about Lincoln and his career as a lawyer. I advise reading Dirck’s first. I think it sets the stage, then follow up with Steiner’s.

But don’t stop there. Keep your eyes open for another book about that same prairie lawyer. Guy Fraker, a lawyer himself from Bloomington (Ill.), is working on a book to be published by Southern Illinois University Press – in 2010 or 2011, I believe. Last I knew, the working title was “The Eighth Judicial Circuit: Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency.” I really don’t think anyone knows more about the circuit than Fraker, so this book will be well worth the wait. And, if you hear of a time when Fraker will be speaking, you won’t want to miss it. He’s scheduled at venues throughout Illinois through the Illinois Humanities Council’s Road Scholars Program.

For those of you across the United States, if you ever get the chance to hear Steiner talk, be sure you do. He’s a pretty funny guy. Not, however, as funny as Guelzo, who is a real hoot – and a brilliant scholar, to boot.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Guillory to read Lincoln Poems in Decatur April 19

My Lincoln friend, Dan Guillory, is still hard at work sharing his poems. This weekend you can hear him at the Decatur Public Library. He asked me to let you know.

Even if you've seen Guillory read his Lincoln poems before you won't want to miss this one. I've heard him three times now and he always keeps his presentations fresh and new. Here's what he asked me to share.

Read all about it
Dr. Dan Guillory, Professor Emeritus of English at Millikin University, will present another reading from his recent book, The Lincoln Poems, at 2:00 PM in the Madden Auditorium of the Decatur Public Library on Sunday April 19, 2009. April is National Poetry Month, and Professor Guillory will focus on poems that have not been previously performed at the Library. Copies of his book will be offered for sale after the reading.

The Lincoln Poems was one of only 21 books from across the country chosen for presentation at the National Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Springfield on February 12, 2009. Before the poetry reading, Dr. Guillory will share his impressions of that special day, including the Bicentennial Banquet, where President Obama spoke briefly. Dr. Guillory will also have on display some of the artifacts he collected on the Bicentennial day, including Lincoln “First Day of Issue” stamps and envelopes, a Lincoln coffee mug, the Bicentennial Banquet menu, and other items of interest.

In partnership with Melody Arnold and Brent Wielt of the Macon County Conservation District, Dr. Guillory presented an all-day Lincoln workshop for Macon County schoolteachers on March 21, 2009. The day was very successful, according to the evaluations. The teachers went in three vans on a tour of Lincoln sites in and around Decatur. The workshop will be repeated on Wednesday June 10, 2009.

Dr. Guillory will also be recording The Lincoln Poems during the week of April 13th, and the finished audiobook will be released as a CD by Mayhaven Publishing. Finally, Dr. Guillory has signed another contract with Mayhaven for a new book entitled People and Places in the Land of Lincoln.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First impressions

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If that’s the case, I’m sure I’ve gone down in history as making a complete fool of myself upon meeting one of my favorite actors.


If you had a chance to meet a famous film star, one whose career spanned your entire adult life, who earned an Academy Award for Best Actor and a nomination for another, who won several Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor, what would your first words be? Probably not, “Dreyfuss, you outbid me!”

Well, I met Richard Dreyfuss and, oh my, did I ever blow it! When I should have said, “Mr. Dreyfuss, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I’ve enjoyed following your career. I’m really looking forward to your presentation this evening,” instead I gave him crap - for outbidding me by 15 bucks on a batch of Lincoln books as a silent auction was about to end.

I’m lucky, I guess. That - or Dreyfuss is a good sport.

Instead of saying, “Who do you think you are, and what makes you think you can treat me so disrespectfully?” he struck up a conversation with me about another book on the silent auction block, a biography of poet Edgar Lee Masters, who once was Clarence Darrow’s law partner, and about a print of an early Illinois governor, John Peter Altgeld.

Dreyfuss really just seemed to be enjoying hanging out, being a regular person, looking at the same type of auction items you might see at any central Illinois fundraiser, except perhaps that the Lincoln and Illinois history themes were a bit more prevalent.

Lincoln Seen and Heard – and Dreyfuss honored
I met Dreyfuss at the March 27th silent auction and banquet for the Illinois State Historical Society’s 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois, 1830-1861,” at Illinois College in Jacksonville (Ill.).

Dreyfuss was there to do a dramatic reading of “Lincoln Seen and Heard” with Lincoln scholar and U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial co-chair, Harold Holzer.

The production is a powerful work, created by Holzer. It uses images of Lincoln taken before his significant speeches and Lincoln’s words, with Holzer’s narrative to cement the two. Dreyfuss was powerful as he read Lincoln’s speeches, while Holzer’s soft-spoken narrative was as comforting as a favorite teacher lovingly reading a classic children’s book to a room full of fourth-graders in an old brick elementary school.

The evening began with a magnificent concert about which I’ll be sure to tell you later (when I find the program) and ended with Dreyfuss being awarded an honorary doctorate from Illinois College.

I’ve been a proud observer of such moments before – especially, when watching my daughters receive their diplomas - yet watching the excitement Dreyfuss felt as he received his robe, mortarboard and stole was pretty cool, too.

And getting my photo taken with him and Holzer was even cooler. Most of the other people were getting their photos taken with just Dreyfuss, but as I explained to the actor, I’m a Holzer groupie, too. After all, Holzer’s the quintessential Lincoln buff, and one who always inspires me to learn and share more about Lincoln, too.

A fond farewell
My final words to Dreyfuss may have seemed as silly as my first. As I got ready to walk away, I gave him a hug and said, “I’m proud of you.”

Why? Because I know what it feels like to wear that mortar board and toss that tassel late in life. I got my first degree when I was 41 and I’ll never forget looking up as I walked back from the stage and saw the pride in my parents’ faces.

Proud of someone for an honorary degree, you wonder? You bet!

Richard Dreyfuss has spent decades entertaining generations of Americans and today he’s spearheading an organization dedicated to making civics curriculum a mainstay* for American students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. I put a lot of hard work into earning my diploma. His path is different, but his distinction is clear. He’s a star student in my book – however you turn the pages.

* I’ll be writing about this effort in a future blog post. But first, I have to get the information from Dreyfuss. With the enthusiasm he feels for this, I don’t think the task will be too difficult.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Seven score and four

One hundred forty-four years ago this morning, Lincoln breathed his last breath. I'd be remiss if I didn't take this time to remind you to visit Ford's Theatre when you're in Washington, D.C. It just reopened recently after extensive renovations.

Lincoln Buff 2 and friends are going to experience the Ford's for the first time this November as we take our own Lincoln trip in honor of the bicentennial. Though I'm sure it will be a very emotional time being right there where he was shot, I'm looking forward to this, yet another memorable Lincoln experience.

Take time today to stop to remember Lincoln and his life and legacy. I know I will.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Continuing coverage of Jacksonville 2009 - Poets extraordinaire

In recent weeks as I’ve had time, I’ve shared my continuing chronicle of the events of the Illinois State Historical Society’s 2009 Illinois History Symposium, “Abraham Lincoln in Ante-bellum Illinois, 1830-1861.”

When I last wrote, I shared my recollections of the Friday luncheon program featuring Michael Burlingame. Let’s pick up where we left off – but first we need to step back a few decades for the intro, then few weeks earlier for part of the story and a day earlier for the rest.

A poet and you don’t know it
My maternal grandmother was a tiny little lady, never five feet tall and increasingly shorter the older she got. Yet, her small stature held great wisdom. Though she had but an eighth-grade education, she was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known – and I’m hard-pressed to find someone who could remember as many birthdays as well as she could.

Grandma was also known for reaching somewhere deep – maybe into a big pocket on one of the home-sewn calico aprons she always wore – and pulling out witty sayings or pieces of verse. She drew upon one of her favorites whenever someone accidentally said something that rhymed. Grandma would say, without fail, “You’re a poet and don’t know it, but your feet sure show it.”

Now, as wise as Grandma was, that never seemed to make much sense to me. I’d look down at my toes, thinking perhaps the short big toe and longer second one were the mark of a poet. That was the one thing that seemed to differentiate me from all of my friends. Alas, though, my feet let me down. I never was very good at verse. Narrative seemed to be my gift.

Poets and we all know it
On the other hand, the presenters at the afternoon session I attended were poets – no doubt about it.

I first met Dan Guillory a few months earlier at a poetry reading in Bloomington, and again at Springfield he week of the bicentennial. Once again, at Jacksonville, Guillory read from his Lincoln Poems, and once again, he wowed the crowd.

Oh, my goodness, I can hear you, Grandma. I wasn’t trying to rhyme, really I wasn’t!

Please be sure to read my earlier accounts to hear about Guillory’s readings at the McLean County Museum of History and the Vachel Lindsay Home. It will paint a clear picture of the palate of poems we heard at the symposium presentation.

The other poet presenting was someone I’d just met at lunch the day before, when we gravitated to each other around a round banquet table. At first there was a seat between us, but as we strained to talk across the empty seat, it made sense to sit next to each other. I knew immediately this college professor from Washington, D.C., by way of Chicago, was a delightful tablemate, but it would be quite some time before I’d realize what a gifted person she was.

You know how sometimes you meet someone and there’s no “getting acquainted” period? You just feel as if you’ve known the person forever, and you share a friendship – almost magically - from the moment you meet? Martha Vertreace-Doody is that kind of person. We enjoyed each other’s company at lunch, walked to my car to get a notebook and walked across campus to the next event.

Vertreace-Doody even convinced me that I should attend the Thursday evening event at the Duncan Mansion, where she would be dressed in 19th century period costume. What I didn’t realize was that the mansion event would set the stage for her poetry reading on Friday afternoon.

You see, a few years ago, this 21st century big-city woman became the voice of a 19th century prairie governor’s wife – the one who lived in that mansion. From diaries and letters, Martha Vertreace-Doody began to craft poems chronicling the life of Elizabeth Duncan, the 4’5” tall (or should it be short) wife of the sixth governor of Illinois, Joseph Duncan. (Grandma would have been tall next to Mrs. Duncan!)

Vertreace-Doody is no novice poet. Quite the contrary. She’s got more than a dozen volumes of poetry under her belt. And, though the Duncan poems are not yet in print - in fact not even all written, I’m sure - there’s no doubt they’re bound to make the grade as another brilliant volume by a talented Illinois author. If the various university presses here in Illinois haven’t got this Chicago poet who writes prairie verse on their radar, they should have!

In retrospect, I wish I’d written down a few lines of this beautiful work to share with you, but I can’t recreate specific poems for you. What I can share is that this poet has found the heart and soul of her subject, a woman much different than herself, and she’s pouring it out in verse so moving it draws listeners in and takes them back to that same time and place. Sure, the poet had Duncan’s own words to draw the stories from, but she weaves a fresh tapestry of verse so intricate the readers can't help but get caught up in it, savoring every detail of each magnificent creation.

That Thursday afternoon, I had to choose between three symposium offerings, all great programs, I’m sure. I’m glad I selected the one I did, not only because the presenters were two people I’ve grown to count among my friends, but also because they’ve created their own legacy of Illinois literature, and I was there to hear them share it. Can’t get much more fortunate than that!

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

See new Lincoln Forum website, check out 2Clicks

The Lincoln Forum launched their new website this week. Be sure to stop in to look at it.

Lincoln Forum Symposium
If you're planning to attend the 14th Annual Lincoln Forum Symposium, the website says registration forms will be available online April 15, 2009. Lincoln buffs with active Lincoln Forum memberships likely received theirs in the mail already and, if they're like me, sent them back by return mail.

Be sure to visit the website to see the schedule. Once again, the lineup is a "Who's Who" of Lincoln experts. You won't want to miss it.

And, the symposium is at a new, larger venue this year. When I saw Harold Holzer in Jacksonville recently, he was quite enthusiastic about the new location. I'm sure the folks pulling this event together put a lot of research and hard work into this change. Since this will be my first, and long-awaited, Lincoln Forum event, I have nothing to compare it to. I'll just be thrilled to be there. My friends in the Lincoln world tell me this event is so popular that in the past, due to capacity restraints, some folks had to be turned away. Especially in this bicentennial year, it's nice to know more folks can attend. Thanks, Lincoln Forum board.

Willard wows with website
In an earlier post, I told you about a valuable resource for Lincoln buffs created by Lincoln enthusiast Bob Willard. Willard has created a website (a portal of sorts, in techie terms) to take seekers of all things Lincoln to online sources with just two clicks of the mouse. Willard just keeps making it better and better.

Please stop by to check it out.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wish I'd met this man

This seems to be the day for my favorite journalists to write about my favorite subjects. John Pulliam of the Galesburg Register-Mail penned a tribute today to Cyrus Highlander, a Galesburg (Ill.) High School graduate who spent the later part of his life in the same part of North Carolina where Carl Sandburg settled - the area where he completed his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Highlander, who suggested Flat Rock, N.C. and Galesburg be sister cities, died April 4, 2009 in North Carolina at 82.

Pulliam has written a beautiful piece about Highlander, so I won't spoil it by writing about the same things he's shared. You'll want to read it youself.

I will tell you, though, that if you're a Lincoln buff, you need to step into Sandburg's world, too. Only after you've heard the rhythms of the trains behind his Galesburg birthplace and experienced the tranquility at his later home, Connemara, in the mountains of North Carolina, can you understand the forces which created the rhythm and the lyrical quality in his work.

As you traverse the tree-lined streets he walked and pass the same plaque he passed, the one at Knox College's Old Main commemorating the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate, you'll begin to feel Sandburg's sense of place.

As you stand in the book-filled rooms at Connemara, see Sandburg's green visor and old manual typewriter, and stand on the rocky ledge with its breathtaking view where he went to be alone and write, you'll begin to feel what it must have been like to weave those thousands of words together in tribute to the railsplitter president.

It seems Highlander felt these things, also, and believed these two Sandburg communities needed to build upon that connection. I encourage you to visit both, too. You'll know what I mean.

Here in Illinois, we're optimistic our redeemer governor, Pat Quinn, will save the historic sites from the fate - closure - which our previous chief executive bestowed upon them. Maybe before long, you can once again visit the Carl Sandburg Historic Site.

In North Carolina, plan to spend several hours at Connemara. Go through the home, which is still much as the Sandburgs left it, and be sure to wear comfortable shoes so you can hike the same trails Sandburg hiked.

Unfortunately, Pulliam's tribute was the first time I remember hearing of Highlander. I'm sorry about that. I think we would have had a lot to talk about.

Who knows? Maybe he and Sandburg are already sharing stories about their old Illinois and North Carolina stomping grounds - or better yet, maybe they're listening to Lincoln spin yet another of his yarns.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Where is Ann?

For years now, I've faithfully read the work of a talented, insightful, entertaining columnist, Dave Bakke of the State Journal-Register. You'll want to read his column today to hear more about where Lincoln's first love, Ann Rutledge, was once buried in Old Concord Cemetary near Petersburg - and, some folks think, might still be.

Even if Ann isn't buried there, there are plenty of other New Salem residents still resting there, as Bakke points out:

"There is Jack Armstrong, the roughest of the rowdy Clary’s Grove Boys who Lincoln wrestled to a draw. Armstrong’s was the one Harmening most wanted to find.

Here also are members of the Berry family, descendants of William Berry, who owned the New Salem store with Lincoln.

John Clary, leader of the Clary’s Grove Boys and other members of the Clary family; Jacob Short, Lincoln’s friend; Joshua Short, Revolutionary War soldier; and Ann Rutledge’s father, James, one of the founders of New Salem. They are all buried here."

Unfortunately, the cemetery lies off the beaten path in the middle of a farmer's field. Too bad. Two hundred years after Lincoln's birth, there are still plenty of us studying Lincoln and those formative New Salem years. It would be nice to see where those who touched his life were laid to rest, and as Bakke's source, Bill Harmening, former Menard County sheriff’s deputy, pointed out, to stand where Lincoln stood.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Central Illinois Lincoln buffs: See you at the Normal Theatre April 8

Earlier this year, I told you of a great new Lincoln documentary filmed right here in Central Illinois, Prelude to the Presidency. I missed it myself, due to the bicentennial activities in Springfield.

Tomorrow night, Wednesday, April 8, 2009, at 7 p.m., I finally get to see it, and you can, too. COUNTRY Financial is joining in to sponsor a special showing of the film, with special guests, Producer and writer Alison Davis Wood, Director Tim Hartin and Bloomington lawyer and Lincoln expert, my friend Guy Fraker. The free screening is hosted by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of McLean County and the David Davis Mansion Foundation in honor of the Lincoln Bicentennial.

You'll find directions to the Normal and a parking map on the theatre's website.

Won't you join us? I'm sure we're in for a great evening. I can't wait.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Don’t miss Holzer, Waterston Friday night

Do you have plans this Friday night? If not, how about spending it with Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer and actor Sam Waterston?

Okay, not in person, but in front of your TV in a special performance of “Lincoln’s Legacy and Legend” on Bill Moyers Journal. That’s 9 p.m., Friday, April 10, 2009. Be sure to check your local listing for the exact time in your area.

Moyers bills this as a “deeply moving and intimate performance of poetry and prose written by:
  • Walt Whitman,
  • Frederick Douglass,
  • Allen Ginsburg,
  • Langston Hughes,
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe and
  • many other American writers who have struggled to describe perhaps the greatest of American heroes.”

Wait a minute. What’s this “perhaps” stuff?

Why Moyers? Why now?
Moyers invited Holzer, co-chair of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and Waterston, who has played the role of Lincoln, after seeing a private performance of the production in February at New York’s Century Club.

“That was magnificent,” said Moyers. “This should be on television, and I intend to put it on.” When you’re Bill Moyers, it’s not too hard to make dreams like this one come true – and on a Good Friday, yet, which just happens to be when Lincoln became our American martyr.

You won’t want to miss it
Many of you have likely seen Holzer on any one of a number of Lincoln-related programs in recent years or read one of his many books – 33 to date. I’ve had the opportunity to review some of them. They’re good. And, you’ve probably seen Waterston on the stage or screen. If so, I don’t have to tell you you’re in for a real treat.

I’m still waiting for an opportunity to hear Waterston in person, but I did just recently spend a Friday night seeing Holzer live when he presented his program “Lincoln Seen and Heard” at Illinois College with Richard Dreyfuss. Wow!

Keep watching my blog. I hope to find time soon to tell you all about that event and some of the other Illinois History Symposium activities.

An incarnation
I will say this much. You can’t go wrong spending a Friday night with Holzer and his friends like Waterston. It’s almost as if Lincoln is there, too. Just ask Moyers, who shared this memory about one of Waterston’s earlier performances:

Moyers: I saw you some years ago when you were portraying Lincoln at Lincoln Center, as Harold said earlier. And when we left, I was struggling with where when you ceased to exist and Lincoln appeared because--

"Waterston: Bless you.

"Moyers: --he did. He did appear. As I said, it was like an incarnation. How does that happen?”
To hear the answer, watch the show. Friday night, now. Don’t forget.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Jacksonville 2009 continued

We have some unfinished business here. I told you earlier of my first day or so of the 29th Annual Illinois History Symposium at Jacksonville (Ill.), which was held March 26-28, 2009.

An aside from one of my farmer friends: When I told him I'd been to a symposium, he wrote back to ask, "What do you do at a symposium, anyway? I killed a couple posiums once..." I choose friends who make me laugh - and they always come through.

My reply to him was, "No critters killed - possums or otherwise! ;-)"

Lunch with friends and "Strange-rs"
Another of my newer Lincoln buff friends - one who is an old and valued friend to many Lincoln scholars - Michael Burlingame, was the luncheon speaker on Friday, March 27.

I had the pleasure at that luncheon to have among my tablemates another of my newer Lincoln buff friends, Martha Vertreace-Doody, about whom you'll hear more later, and two of my old Galesburg "friends," Dr. Owen Muelder, and his wife, Laurie.

I had an interesting visit with the Muelders about the rich history of Galesburg, Muelder's encounters as a child with Carl Sandburg and others on the occasion of the Oct. 7, 1958 centennial of the Galesburg Lincoln-Douglas debate, the hope we have for a resurrected Galesburg and the nine-way race for mayor there.

Owen Muelder, of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center at Galesburg's Knox College, was to be presenting at one of the afternoon sessions. Laurie was a long-time teacher in Galesburg's District 205, and though both of us were struggling to remember for sure at the luncheon, I learned later she did have at least one of my daughters in her class at Churchill Junior High School.

Unfortunately, I didn't make it to Muelder's session, as I'd already planned to hear Vertreace-Moody and my friend, Dan Guillory, read in a poetry session at the same time. I'm optimistic, though, that our paths will cross again and I'll get to hear Muelder in a future event.

Congratulations on a well-deserved award
So back to Burlingame, friend and Strange-r. One of the most exciting things about the luncheon was learning that Burlingame was the recipient of the Russell P. Strange Book Award - the third annual, if I'm not mistaken.

According to the release for the 2007 award, the first annual, it's named for Colonel Russell P. Strange, a former vice president of the Society and a lifelong student of history. Col. Strange had an illustrious career as head of the University of Illinois's Air Force ROTC unit and chair of Eastern Illinois University's political science department, his position at the time of his death in 1966.

The award was established by Priscilla J. Matthews, daughter of Colonel Strange. At the time of the 2007 award, Matthews was a Senior Cataloging Librarian at Milner Library and a member of the library faculty at Illinois State University. As far as I can tell, it appears she probably still is.

Burlingame's talk was, as always, entertaining, engaging and humorous - and, even though I heard Burlingame present similar speeches twice on Lincoln's birthday, it never gets old listening to him.

In fact, I was so engaged and so excited about his talk that I had an absent-minded moment once it was over. In my rush to have him sign my copy of his two-volume, 2000-page book, Abaham Lincoln: A Life, I left my camera on the luncheon table. Fortunately, an honest student-worker or catering staff member found it and turned it in to the Illinois Historical Society staff, and Mary Lou Johnsrud, symposium coordinator extraordinaire, kept it safe until I realized it was missing and was able to retrieve it.

He ain't heavy
I'm not surprised I left my camera behind. My backpack, you see, was so full I could barely zip it, primarily due to the magisterial nature of the Burlingame book. It's been a few years since I've carried such a bulging book bag across campus. As I walked to my morning event, stepping back in time and memory to the years of 1970-72, when I traipsed the campus of nearby Quincy College, now Quincy University, I was also reminded of the 1969 song lyrics, "He ain't heavy. He's my brother," and the much earlier Boy's Town theme along the same lines.

All I could think was, "I'll make it across campus with these books. There's no place else I'd rather be right now than with my Lincoln buff brothers and sisters. I can carry Burlingame around. He's not heavy. He's my Lincoln brother."

I got to visit with Burlingame. I got his autograph, and I'm looking forward to the next time we meet on the Lincoln circuit. If my little birdies are correct, I may have that chance later this year in Bloomington. I hope so. I'd love to have my novice Lincoln buff friends and coworkers get to meet and hear him.

But, wait ... there's more
Come back to my blog again soon. I've still got lots to share about the rest of the symposium and other happenings in the Lincoln world.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hear Lincoln scholars in Central Illinois

Lincoln Buff 2 is excited that today is the long-awaited lecture by Lincoln scholar James Oakes at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington (Ill.) Oakes was first scheduled to come a few months ago, on what turned out to be a horrific airline backup day. He couldn't make it out of New York to get here.

Oakes's talk, "Measure Him by the Sentiment of His Country: Fredrick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Anti-Slavery Politics," will be this evening, Thursday, April 2, 2009, from 7-8 p.m. I can't wait to meet him or to read his book, "The Radical and the Republican: Fredrick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Anti-Slavery Politics", which was awarded a Lincoln Prize in 2008.

Besides, my Lincoln friend, Lincoln Bicentennial co-chair Harold Holzer told me last year, "You'll like Oakes. He's fun." Holzers's stamp of approval is all any Lincoln scholar needs in my book. The event is free and open to the public.

On Monday, April 13, 2009, from 7-8 p.m., a British Lincoln scholar I met and got to visit with will be at the museum. Richard Carwardine, Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University. Dr. Carwardine will be presenting a lecture entitled "Abraham Lincoln, God and the American Civil War" in the historic gov Fifer Courtroom of the Museum. Carwardine is a delightful speaker who spent as much time asking me about my Lincoln interests as I did trying to learn more about him. I'll be sharing more about him in a future blog post, once I complete some coursework I'm taking for my job.

Hope to see some fellow Lincoln buffs here in McLean County for the Lincoln events. This county, where Lincoln spent so much time, continues to spark interest and educate about the 16th president's time and this area's important role in his life and legacy.

Both events are sponsored by the McLean County Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.