Sunday, May 31, 2009

Read my interview on Ennyman's Territory

I recently posted a comment in response to another blogger's article about the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Surprisingly, he asked me for an interview about my interest in Lincoln. The interview is posted today, so here's a link if you want to know more about what drives me to this Lincoln-mania.

The blogger, Ed Newman, who writes Ennyman's Territory, is quite the gifted artist, poet and writer himself. I think this will not be the last you've heard of him, as he, too, may be the subject of one of my blog posts someday.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

McPherson succinctly packages the Lincoln story

If there is one thing Pulitzer Prize winning author James M. McPherson has learned from his studies of Abraham Lincoln, it’s economy of words. While Lincoln said more in two minutes than his fellow speaker at Gettysburg did in two hours, McPherson’s 79-page biography, Abraham Lincoln, captures the essence of the sixteenth president’s life and legacy in a manner equal to that of scores of other books with 10 or 20 times more pages.

Of course, this author can’t paint an full-scale mural of the multi-faceted Lincoln in less than one hundred pages. But that’s okay.

Many who’ve written 500-700 pages haven’t been able to do that either. That’s why you’ll find so many books which cover only one aspect, or sometimes even just one year, of Lincoln’s life.

However, McPherson does hit upon the key personal events and covers the most important aspects of Lincoln’s political and presidential careers. He condenses a very complex life into a Reader’s Digest version - and it actually works.

As the book will surely whet the appetite for Lincoln in many readers, McPherson has helpfully added a few pages at the end pointing folks to the most crucial Lincoln reference works and a number of other fine biographies.

I found only one small error – one which neither McPherson nor his publisher may have known before the book went to print. When he mentions new books in celebration of the 2009 bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, the author writes of Michael Burlingame’s “three-volume” work. Burlingame’s Abraham Lincoln: A Life ended up being a two-volume set instead.

In the past, when I wanted to share my love of Lincoln with friends or colleagues, I’d give them a compact little volume called The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. Though I still think it’s an appropriate piece for those who aren’t familiar with the railsplitter’s storytelling ability and powerful use of words, McPherson’s book serves a far more valuable purpose. It paints a beautiful diorama of Lincoln’s life in a miniature thimble. Now, when I want to spark the Lincoln fire in others who don’t read much or aren’t Lincoln buffs, I’ll likely light the match with this great new little volume.

There is one question I hear often these days. Friend and strangers alike say, “I want to learn more about Lincoln. What book should I read?” From now on, my answer will be, “I think the best way to get your feet wet is McPherson. Sprinkle yourself with Lincoln with this book, and you’ll be begging for full immersion in no time at all.”

Congratulations, Dr. McPherson. You’ve shown us you can use as many words as it takes to write an award-winning tale of the Civil War, or pare them down as a 200th birthday present for our greatest president. Sometimes the greatest gifts come in the smallest packages.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The great Lincoln mystery - a speech lost

I thought I knew a lot about Abraham Lincoln - that was until I moved to McLean County, Illinois, often lauded as Lincoln's home away from home. His ties to the Bloomington area are far stronger than the casual Lincoln enthusiast could ever imagine. Though I can't share them all in this article, I can tell you that today is the anniversary of Lincoln's most infamous - and most curious - Bloomington connection, his "Lost Speech."

Lincoln delivered a speech at Major's Hall in Bloomington on May 29, 1856 at a gathering in which the Illinois Republican party was formed. Legend has it the speech was so mesmerizing those there to report upon it set their writing instruments aside and forgot to record what may have been one of history's most powerful speeches. That may be true. The great orator surely spoke of slavery that day, and many contend Lincoln likely echoed many of the same sentiments a week or so later in a speech at Peoria, Illinois.

Or could it be, as one of my Lincoln friends speculates, that it was intentionally "lost," so as to avoid leaking the "trade secrets" of the new party?

Learn more
To read more about the Lost Speech, see:

The power of the written word
If you come to Bloomington today, you won't be able to stand in Major's Hall, where Lincoln delivered the speech. That building is long gone, and in its place is a parking garage. You'll find a plaque to mark the spot, though - a simple, but powerful, reminder of the importance of the written word in keeping moments in history from slipping into oblivion.

Coincidentally, Lincoln himself spoke of the power of the written word in "Discoveries and Inventions," a speech he presented just two years later a couple of blocks from Major's Hall. The site of that speech still stands, and Rhoda and Lowell Sneller have made the text of the speech available to all through their Abraham Lincoln Online website. In that speech, Lincoln said, "Writing -- the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye -- is the great invention of the world."

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Don’t miss Lincoln as he meets the press

On Friday, June 5, 2009 you won’t want to miss Virtual Book Signing live online at 6 p.m. Central Time. Lincoln presenter George Buss will discuss Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency with several members of the media.

Those joining Buss are:
  • Eric Zorn, editorial columnist
  • Patrick Reardon and John Patterson, political reporters
  • Kane Farabauh, radio journalist

The event, sponsored by Abraham Lincoln Book Shop and the Abraham Lincoln Association, will be moderated by Bob Lenz and will last an hour or until the journalists and online viewers are out of questions.

What to expect
Buss will join the journalists in a roundtable discussion, answering questions from the media and those received by email from the audience watching live from home. There’s one hitch though – all questions have to be directed not at Buss, but at his alter ego, President Lincoln, and not just at any time in his life but on that fateful day, April 14, 1865. So, as the Virtual Book Signing folks, who just happen to be from Chicago, warn it’s no fair asking if the Cubs are going to win the World Series.

I can tell you with no reservations you’re in for a good time. Buss is quite the Lincoln. He knows his subject and has a wit not unlike that of the sixteenth president. He’s stood in Lincoln’s shoes – and under his hat – for a number of years now. In 2008, he was joined by Tim Connors, who played Stephen A. Douglas to Buss’s Lincoln as the pair commemorated the sesquicentennial of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates in the same cities where the prairie orators faced off 150 years earlier.

I had the opportunity to hear Buss and Connor more than once last year, and I heard Buss and Lenz do a similar presentation with media in Peoria. I often found myself thinking I really was in the presence of the President and, more than once, I had a good laugh.

Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Join the Abraham Lincoln Association

Not a member of the Abraham Lincoln Association? Can you think of a better way to honor his legacy and celebrate the bicentennial of his birth? It’s as easy as clicking this link and following the instructions on the Abraham Lincoln Association website.

It’s a great organization with fine people who are also committed to keeping the Lincoln legacy alive, and events like this one are just one of the ways they do so.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Burlingame answers call to teach in Springfield

There's excitement in the air in Springfield today. Michael Burlingame is coming to town, and not just to do research at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) this time. He's coming to live and teach and, okay, to do research, too. After all, he's Michael Burlingame. He's the guy with the mantra, "Get down and dirty in that primary source material." He's the guy who lives the mantra. His new two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life is proof positive those primary sources still hold plenty of unmined treasures.

Since 2007, the University of Illinois (UIS) has been without a Lincoln scholar. Philip Shaw Paludan held the university's Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies until his death that year. Burlingame will fill the post well. He feels fortunate for the opportunity. I've walked into the ALPLM library before and spotted Burlingame sitting at a table doing research. He looks so natural there. And, you can be assured he'll spend plenty of time at those tables, as well as in many other repostitories large and small across the prairie state where newpapers, letters and more hold Lincoln stories yet untold.

Burlingame's not the only one who is lucky. We are, too. For decades, many of the leading Lincoln scholars were on the east coast, including Burlingame. We've been blessed with the brilliant Rodney Davis and Doug Wilson in the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, Vernon Burton at the University of Illinois until his recent retirement, and others here and there in the Midwest from time and time, but it seemed a shame that the town where Lincoln spent more years than any other didn't have a scholar of this caliber in recent years. Now, we do. And, this Lincoln buff for one is pretty excited about it. Hope you are, too.

Please join me in congratulating Michael Burlingame on this wonderful new opportunity - and UIS on their wisdom in bringing him here. As Steven Covey would say, it's a win-win. What a birthday present to Abraham Lincoln in his bicentennial year!

Learn more
Please read Pete Sherman's story in today's State Journal-Register to learn more about Burlingame's new opportunity. To learn more about Burlingame and his work, visit his website, too.
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lincoln Buff 2 on Twitter, too - Check it out

When I started this blog, my mission was to share my passion for the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln and to help readers learn more about Lincoln as I do. Sometimes, this has become a daunting task. There are hundreds of Lincoln events this year. It's difficult to share them all.

In addition, real life has this way of getting in the way - and sometimes I can't ignore the things I have to do to do the things I want to do.

What I really want to do is develop real blog posts - articles with my own voice which tell the Lincoln story or point you to books, events, article and even more bits of Lincoln lore. It seems you enjoy this, as many of you come back often to my Lincoln Buff 2 blog. I don't want to let you down, so I'll still do that when I can. When I can't, there's another way to learn more about Lincoln - follow me on Twitter.

I take a little time each day to share all the cool Lincoln things I've run across on Twitter. Whether it's an article I've found, an event that's coming up or an interesting picture someone's shared of a Lincoln site, I'll tweet or re-tweet so you can enjoy it, too.

I'm sorry I've been lax at blogging lately. One reason was because I was studying for a continuing education exam for my real job. That's done and I feel a true sense of accomplishment as I earned an industry designation in the process - my sixth. I'm also a bit busy with family obligations right now, so can't blog as regularly as I'd like. Please do visit both my blog and Twitter often, though. I'll Tweet almost daily and blog as I can.

In the meantime, don't stop looking for Lincoln yourselves. You'll be surprised where he turns up in this bicentennial year.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thank you, Dr. Donald

Imagine you’re in a room with a hundred or so other people – many of them leading Lincoln scholars – and you have in front of you a panel of three of the top. One has written nearly 30 books to date and isn’t even close to stopping, another is a young academic and author in the early years of his career, but already far more knowledgeable about the subject at hand than others who are much older, and the third is the patriarch of living Lincoln scholars.

They’ve gathered to celebrate the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) – to honor the man whose life and legacy have consumed so much of their own lives and helped to create their own legacies. The three are gathered on a panel moderated by the C-SPAN legend Brian Lamb – a panel brought together to share the perspectives of three generations of Lincoln scholars. The scholars’ names – Harold Holzer, Matthew Pinsker and David Herbert Donald.

Dr. Donald passed away Sunday, May 17, at age 88. I don’t want to believe it, but it must be true. I read it on the New York Times book page.

I can tell you what you’ll read anywhere – that Dr. Donald’s 1995 “Lincoln” was among the most comprehensive single volume Lincoln biographies for years, only to be surpassed by recent works accessing scholarship not available when he did his research.

I can tell you he’s a link in the long chain of Lincoln scholars - that the work of Ida Tarbell, which inspired Donald’s mentor James G. Randall of the University of Illinois, then Donald, lives on today in the lives of those he’s mentored, like Pinsker and Jean H. Baker and others whose names evade me at 5 a.m.

I can tell you he’s a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author.

I can tell you he held a place of honor and respect in a community of brilliant men and women who share a common bond, even when their opinions differ, who support each other through years of research, who just understand the chord that ties them and can with one look across the aisle in a crowded symposium venue say, “Yep, that’s just what I was thinking.”

Even more, though, I can tell you that just thinking of this man and what he’s meant to my life brings tears to my eyes. In 2005, when I attended the opening celebrations of the ALPLM, I was just another Lincoln enthusiast who had long awaited the opening of the museum honoring our most popular president, my state’s favorite son. I’d admired Lincoln as long as I could remember. I knew about as much about him as any other very amateur history enthusiast and a little more than most Illinois residents, but not much. I was seeking something, not sure where it would take me, and I felt deep down that the answer lie in the sixteenth President.

There was a question and answer session at the end of the panel. I had the opportunity to address Holzer, Pinsker and Donald and my question was something like this, “Do you think someone breaking into the Lincoln community at this stage of life can do significant work on Lincoln, and what advice do you have for them?”

Though the generations separated this 80-something scholar and his 50- and 30-something counterparts, they were unanimous in their answers, “Read, attend scholarly events, surround yourselves with others who share your passion.”

I have, and my one regret is that I don’t know if Dr. Donald knew how much it has changed my life. I wrote a thank you note last Thanksgiving, on my favorite Lincoln note cards. I told Dr. Donald about this blog, thanked him for his encouragement and wished him well. But, I didn’t mail it. I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought just having a Lincoln blog wasn’t enough. Maybe I wanted to be able to say, “Dr. Donald, look, I did it. I wrote my own Lincoln biography.”

Someday, I will. And, you can believe you’ll read his name in the acknowledgements.

For now, I say, thank you, Dr. Donald. Your scholarship, your kind gentle ways, and your encouragement to a middle-aged woman in pursuit of her dreams will continue to inspire me until my name, too, is etched on an obituary page.

My sympathy goes out to Dr. Donald’s wife, his son Bruce and family, and his other family – the legion of scholars who’ve lost their Lincoln dad. He will be missed.

Read more
Here are others’ accounts of Dr. Donald’s life and legacy.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Authors talk about Lincoln/Truman books today

Daniel Weinberg of Chicago’s Abraham Lincoln Book Shop invites Matthew Algeo and Larry Tagg to Virtual Book Signing today, May 16 at 12 noon Central Time.

Please join them as they talk about:

Virtual Book Signing is free, it’s online and you can even submit questions for the authors. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do.

If you miss the show online today, check the Virtual Book Signing website periodically. They’ll post in online before long. In fact, right now you can hear Weinberg’s visits with other Lincoln authors, including:

  • Harold Holzer
  • James McPherson
  • Michael Burlingame
  • Philip Kunhardt, III
  • George McGovern
  • Ronald C. White, Jr.
  • Catherine Clinton
  • Daniel Mark Epstein
  • David Leroy
  • Daniel Stowell
  • And more.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hallwas book earns Midland Authors highest bio honor

John E. Hallwas is the quintessential Illinois historian and his latest book, Dime Novel Desperadoes: The Notorius Maxwell Brothers, captures the socio-economic forces at work in Illinois during Lincoln's time. Though the book is not a Lincoln bio, news of the Hallwas volume belongs on these blog, and good news it is.

The Society of Midland Authors has just awarded its highest honor for a biography to Hallwas. The University of Illinois Press, which published this and others among the author's 24 volumes, shared the following information with me today. In a future blog post, I'll share more about the book, the Society and Hallwas.

Please join me in wishing John Hallwas congratulations on this well-deserved honor.

Dime Novel Desperadoes takes top honor
"Dime Novel Desperadoes: The Notorious Maxwell Brothers," by Illinois author John E. Hallwas, received this year's Midland Authors Award for "Best Biography from the Midwest" at an awards banquet in Chicago, at the Congress Plaza Hotel, on May 12.

An exciting account of robbery, gunfights, manhunts, and lynching, "Dime Novel Desperadoes" recovers the long-forgotten story of Ed and Lon Maxwell, outlaw brothers from Illinois who once rivaled Jesse and Frank James in national notoriety. The 300-page narrative, illustrated with more than forty photographs, also delves into the cultural and psychological factors that produced lawbreakers and created a crime wave in the post-Civil War era.

In announcing the award, Robert Remer of the Society of Midland Authors referred to "Dime Novel Desperadoes" as "a great biography, massively researched and powerfully written, that probes deeply into the lives of the outlaws and the violent era in which they lived."

The Society of Midland Authors, established in 1915, has been giving awards for outstanding literary works from the Midwest for more than fifty years. Previous award winners have included such notable Midwestern writers as Gwendolyn Brooks and Dave Etter in poetry, Saul Bellow and Kurt Vonnegut in fiction, and Bruce Catton and Studs Terkel in nonfiction.

Commentators on, and reviewers of, "Dime Novel Desperadoes" have referred to it as "a fascinating true crime story," "extremely well written and . . .massively researched," "a superb narrative," and "a masterwork."

It is the 24th book that Hallwas has written or edited, related to the history or literature of Illinois. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Western Illinois University.

Learn more about the book
I wrote about Dime Novel Desperadoes and Hallwas last fall shortly after the book came out. Learn more about the author, the Lincoln connection and the book by reading my Nov. 16, 2008 article, "The Spark that got the Fire Burning."
© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Follow Lincoln Buff 2 on Twitter

After a failed attempt at tweeting in Springfield the week of the bicentennial, I'm now a bonafide twitterer - or is it tweeter? Nonetheless, I'm doing it! I've now got more than 100 followers on Twitter.

I'm not quite sure how I'll use this valuable communication tool in the long run. I can see so many opportunities to meet my vision - to inspire others by sharing the Lincoln legacy. Recently, I've been re-tweeting other people's Lincoln-related tweets. The tweets may be about an event, or a book, or a Lincoln site they've seen. I rarely re-tweet quotes. So often, quotes are falsely attributed to Lincoln. I just don't have time to verify each and every one. I'll only use one if I've read it in the works of leading Lincoln scholars who do their homework on such matters.

I hope to do more with Twitter - use it to link to news stories, events across the country, to promote Lincoln books. With my schedule right now - other responsibilities and an exam I'm preparing for - re-tweeting will be about it. But, keep watching. Who knows what surprises I'll have for you. Check it out at:

Please keep visiting my blog, too. I've got a couple of really cool stories planned over the next week or so - about others who are as passionate about following their passions as I am about following mine. And, if you read my blog at all, you can't miss my passion. ;-)

To all those mothers out there in Lincoln Buff land, have a Happy Mother's Day! Ann

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

“He’s somebody we can all learn something from”

I just can’t not do it. If you’ve got a passion, you know what I mean. You pursue it because you’re drawn to it, you must do it, you just can’t not do it.

For me that passion is Abraham Lincoln – sharing his story, using it to inspire others, learning from it myself. Fortunately, this blog connects me to people who share that passion. When I can find the time, I like to tell their stories. Sometimes, they tell their own stories so well, I need serve only as the conduit through which the story flows to the rest of you. This is one of those times.

David Wiegers, a Lincoln buff from Gurnee (Ill.), was one of the earliest followers of my blog and one of the first to post a comment. Wiegers has his own passion. He’s crossed the United States photographing Lincoln statues – more than 200 of them. When he was featured recently on WILL television, Wiegers captured the essence of why so many of us are drawn to the Lincoln legacy. He said of the sixteenth President, “He’s somebody we can all learn something from.”

I recently asked Wiegers to tell me a little about his passion, including his plans for a book featuring the Lincoln statues. He did such a fine job telling the story that I see no need to rewrite it. So, Dave, congratulations! You’re the first guest author on Lincoln Buff 2.

A Life Worth Remembering: The Monumental Legacy of Abraham Lincoln
by David Wiegers

“Every statue should tell a story. It should portray a moment in our nation’s history or a man’s life that’s worth remembering.” Sculptor Gutzo Borglum

President Abraham Lincoln certainly lived a life worth remembering. He lives and is remembered by his eloquent words and remarkable life. One of the most important ways we remember Lincoln and the life that he lead is through the monuments and statues we have erected commemorating his life and times.

There are more statues, monuments and memorials dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln that any other American. In the United States there are approximately 225 “major” or “significant” pieces of public and private art erected to honor Lincoln in the United States . Outside America numerous statues honoring the memory of Lincoln stand in many foreign countries. Lincoln is memorialized in Mexico , Russia , Cuba , England , Scotland , Norway and Austria .

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln has arrived and, monuments celebrating the life of the 16th president continue to be dedicated in the United States despite the fact that Lincoln has been dead for 144 years. In the past 24 months alone, new statues commemorating the life of Abraham Lincoln have been erected in:
  • Springfield (Ill.)
  • Sterling (Ill.)
  • Pontiac (Ill.)
  • Jonesboro (Ill.)
  • Hodgenville (Ken.)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Lockport (Ill.)
  • Washington (D.C.)

In 2009 and 2010, new Lincoln works will be dedicated in:

  • Jacksonville (Ill.)
  • Bloomington (Ill.)
  • Shelbyville (Ill.)
  • Metamora (Ill.)
  • Hillsboro (Ill.)
  • Decatur (Ill.)
  • Hillsdale (Mich.)
  • Louisville (Ken.)
  • Springfield (Ken.)
  • Leavenworth (Kans.)
  • Gentryville (Ind.)
  • Gettysburg (Penn.)

Others are surely in the planning stages and not yet announced to the public.

With the Bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth being celebrated in 2009 and 2010, I believe that it is time for an updated, definitive work on the statues of Abraham Lincoln. It has been over 50 years since the last books on this subject were published.

In 1932, the first comprehensive cataloging of the bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln in the United States was done on behalf of the Lincoln National Life Foundation. The book was Heroic Statues in Bronze of Abraham Lincoln, written by Franklin B. Mead and was published by The Lakeside Press. Mead’s work covered only “heroic” or life-sized or larger studies of Lincoln . A good portion of the book was given to a complete telling of the story of a new Lincoln work commissioned by the Lincoln National Life foundation and created by the noted sculptor Paul Manship entitled The Hoosier Youth.

Donald Durman’s book, He Belongs to the Ages – The Statues of Abraham Lincoln, was published in 1951 and F. Lauriston Bullard’s book, Lincoln in Marble and Bronze, came out in 1952. Neither of these books is in now in print.

My book will update the literature on the subject of Lincoln sculpture and make available a complete catalog of all of the “major” public statues of Abraham Lincoln and select private pieces.

The purpose and ultimate goal of my project is to release a book that will update the information collected by Durman and Bullard and include updated information and photographs of the statues of Abraham Lincoln featured in those authors’ books. I will also tell the story of the works created and dedicated since 1952.

In the first sentence of the preface to his 1951 book, Durman said, “For many years there has been a need for a definitive work on the statues of Abraham Lincoln.” I believe that it is once again time for a new definitive work on the statues of Lincoln.

My project to document the statues of Abraham Lincoln will commemorate and celebrate the life of Abraham Lincoln by compiling in one place the 225 or more statues in the United States dedicated to Lincoln’s life, virtues, thoughts and ideals.

Between September of 2004 and April of 2009, I have visited over 30 states and have photographed 200-plus Lincoln statues in parks, public building, museums and private collections.

One thing that I hope comes about as a result of my book is a greater appreciation of these works of art. So many of these marvelous images of Lincoln are in deplorable shape and need cleaning and restoration. Perhaps raising the awareness around the country to the plight of some of these statues may help spur local communities and corporations to step forward with the funds to restore them.

The book, which has been photographed and written by Dave Wiegers, is not complete. I have just started to write the background on the statues I have selected for in-depth treatment. There are still about 15-20 new statues to be dedicated over the next 12 months and it is my intention to include as many of the new Lincoln works being erected around the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial in this work.

I am currently working a book proposal and readying it to send out to prospective publishers. Once a publishing house has agreed to take on this book, it will take approximately a year to get the book to print.

Lincoln Buff 2 says “Thanks”
Dave, I’m sure readers will appreciate as much as I the sharing the story of your passion with us.

Featured photos
The photographs above are of Wiegers and of a Lincoln statue recently dedicated in Springfield (Ken.).

Wiegers says the Kentucky statue is significant for two reasons:
  • The sculptor is a woman from California, Paula Slater (pictured with the new statue.) There aren’t many major Lincoln pieces by women.
  • It commemorates Lincoln’s parent’s marriage and his search for their marriage certificate in Washington County, Ken.

The Morencai Lincoln home is near there, as is the homestead where Nancy Hanks and the Lincolns lived. Weigers says, “It a beautiful area and worth a side trip if you get down towards Hodgenville.”

See where the statues are
In case you're wondering where the existing statues are, there's a really cool interactive map on the PBS website which celebrates the fine documentary, Looking for Lincoln, produced by the Kunhardts. The map links to photographs Wiegers took of the statues.

Know of another new or planned Lincoln statue?
Please share the news with Dave at dbwiegers[at sign]comcast[dot]net. He’s also learned of statues planned in :

  • Joliet (Ill.)
  • Lincoln City (Ind.)
  • Rapid City (S.D.)

*My thanks to Mike Kienzler, aka The Abraham Lincoln Observer, of The State Journal-Register. With his editor's eagle eye, Mike noticed I had the forgotten the "i before e" rule in spelling Dave's name. Dave, I am so sorry. I've fixed it. Ann

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Museum nixes Lincoln request – Is there still hope?

I was in the midst of writing a blog post about a doctor’s quest to learn if Abraham Lincoln had a rare cancer. I’d planned to publish the story before a Philadelphia museum board’s decision about allowing testing on an artifact with Lincoln’s blood. The decision was made one day earlier than had been speculated. The answer is no. I’m going to share what I learned anyway. I think it still has relevance.

Here’s my planned article, revised only slightly based on the decision.

A tall, gangly fifty-six-year-old man with sallow complexion, deep-set gray eyes, hollow cheeks and a dark-whiskered jaw suffers from a mysterious medical condition. Try as they might, medical experts can’t seem to put a finger on it. They’ve got suspicions, but it will take further tests to know for sure what ails this famous patient.

Sound like a case for House, M.D.? You're not far off. John Sotos, M.D., is a medical consultant on the popular television series and a cardiologist. Sotos wants to solve a 144-year-old medical mystery. Instead of needing help from a class of medical residents, though, he needed the blessing of a museum in Philadelphia.

Sotos, also author of The Physical Lincoln, wants to test a strip of a pillowcase stained with the sixteenth president’s blood and brain matter for a rare genetic cancer syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN2B).


House - oops, I mean Sotos – tells me it’s about the medicine and the history associated with Abraham Lincoln, not the DNA.

Sotos apparently told the media he’s not giving interviews, so I felt fortunate to get any comment at all from him. I thought I would. This guy once went out of his way to track down information for me about Lincoln and the California missions. Anybody who’ll offer to drive anywhere in California traffic is my hero! I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Because of the doctor’s request, board members of Philadelphia’s Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library were faced with a weighty decision. Should they or shouldn’t they let Sotos test blood from the strip of cloth in their collection? What were the scientific and ethical implications? They were expected to make a decision on the matter at a meeting Tuesday, May 5, 2009. They made it on May 4. They said no.

Gee, this sounds familiar
Though this may be the first time the issue has come up for the museum board, it’s certainly not the first time the issue has been discussed – or that Lincoln’s DNA has been requested of a museum. In fact, a panel formed to look into the issue in the early 1990s seemed to get the ethical issues out of the way back then.

In June 1989, Darwin Prockop, M.D, Ph.D approached the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM), wanting permission to test Lincoln artifacts there for Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition responsible for physical characteristics like Lincoln’s –great height, unusually large limbs, a squint in the eye.

Marfan syndrome first hit the Lincoln radar in 1959 when Dr. Harold Schwartz saw a young patient with the disorder. The youngster just happened to be from a branch of Lincoln’s family tree – and wasn’t the only family member with the disorder.

In looking at Prockop’s request, the need for further investigation into the scientific and ethical aspects seemed clear. By 1991, a conference was held and a panel formed to discuss the issue. A second panel met in 1992.

If I’m reading the accounts correctly, the consensus was that ethically it was okay to proceed, but that scientifically it wasn’t a good idea - then. It was feared the irreplaceable specimens would be damaged or destroyed in testing.

But, as Norbert Hirschhorn, M.D. points out, testing has advanced in the years since. Hirschhorn, a physician specializing in international health, was recognized by President William Jefferson Clinton as an “American Health Hero.” His work with rehydration therapy has saved lives of millions of third world youngsters.

Hirshhorn has researched medical conditions that may have affected famous people from the past, including Lincoln. He recently presented a paper on the effect of elemental mercury on Lincoln. However, Hirschhorn says he wouldn’t test for mercury because so much environmental pollution has taken place since 1865 that he believes any result of testing for mercury would be meaningless.

What would Robert Todd Lincoln say?
Some say this decision would be easier if Lincoln had living descendants. There are none. There is one guy we can ask, though.

In the pool of Lincoln scholarship, Jason Emerson has just begun his swim, but already he’s made a big splash. His first book, The Madness of Mary Lincoln, used previously undiscovered letters to show us a side of Mary Todd Lincoln never before exposed. His latest book is Lincoln the Inventor. And, he’s currently at work on a definitive biography of Robert Todd Lincoln, due out within the next couple years.

I figured Emerson knows Robert Lincoln as well as anyone. He should, after living in the famous son’s world day in and day out. Many have speculated – both in the 1990s and now – what Robert might have thought about this issue.

Emerson also knows Sotos’s book and calls it “the best Lincoln tome I've read in many years.” He said, “if any medical theory about Lincoln is correct, his has convinced me.”

Yet, from his knowledge of Lincoln’s longest living son, the scholar does not believe Robert Lincoln would have agreed to testing - for two reasons. Emerson said, "As he once wrote to William Herndon, the measure of a man was his public work, not his private aspects, and medical testing of DNA Robert would see as an invasion of privacy; secondly, I believe Robert would think it completely irrelevant whether his father did have cancer or Marfan or anything else since it did not affect his job performance before he died."

Voices from the past
I checked in with some of the people involved in the early 90s for their reflections on the earlier request. I also asked how they think new knowledge about Lincoln’s health would impact the Lincoln legacy. I spoke with Prockop himself, panel member Dr. Cullom Davis, then senior editor of the Lincoln Legal Papers Project, and Marc Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D, director of the NMHM at the time.

Since his request to test for Marfan syndrome twenty years ago, Prokop has moved on and left his request behind. Yet, along the way, he set up a lab at Tulane University where a much more accurate test can now be done for Marfan. He wonders if, while we’re testing for MEN2B, we might not want to test for Marfan, also.

“Wouldn’t it be interesting, too,” Prokop speculated, “if we could sequence Lincoln’s genome - to look for the seat of his genius – to see what collection of genes makes somebody better – to see what makes a good human being.”

A genome, Prokop explained is the whole collection of genes in an individual or animal.

Prokop sees three things that could come of such testing:

  • Learning what disease(s) Lincoln had
  • Reassuring others who also suffer from Lincoln’s ailment(s)
  • Providing a database of an outstanding individual for all time

Prokop suggests that perhaps it’s time to bring together a new commission to explore the issue. It would be interesting to see who would be chosen to serve on such a commission.

Davis called the earlier panel an interesting combination of experts – pathologists, geneticists, museumologists, a representative of a Marfan organization and a lone historian, Davis, chosen due to his work on Lincoln. He remembers the interesting perspectives each brought to the table.

At one point Davis was asked, “How would Abraham Lincoln react to all this?” He told the committee, “You’ve asked me an impossible question. It can’t be answered with any certainty.” Why is it that people always have “What if” questions about Lincoln?

Davis reminded the panel that Lincoln was open-minded about science and inventions. In fact, one of his early speeches was about “Discoveries and Inventions.”

“Yet, that’s not to say Lincoln would have approved,” Davis said. “If you’d asked him, he wouldn’t have understood. He had a keen interest in science, even held a patent, but this is a question you can’t pose of a man who has been dead 140 years.”

Emerson validated Prockup’s comments when he said, "If Lincoln did have cancer or MEN2B or Marfan or any other chronic degenerative disease, and DNA proves it, it will simply be used to magnify his apotheosis to show that he was even 'greater' than we thought because he fought off a debilitating disease in the midst of his other trials (the same argument for his 'depression" and many other theories), but I don't see how it truly affects his life story and his public works."

So what can we learn if we test Lincoln’s tissue – for this or anything else?

Harold Holzer, co-chair of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and author, co-author or editor of 34 books on Lincoln, said it best, "The scholar—and the general public alike—can’t help but be curious about what science can tell us about history. Anything that encourages the two disciplines to work together in search of knowledge can only be good—no matter how 'bad' the information it might yield. I for one do not think Lincoln’s remains or DNA should be regarded as sacred relics; Lincoln’s memory rests in his words and deeds, and is amply recalled in statues and images, manuscripts and documents, along with authentic relics of both his life and death."

The real question – Is this the right specimen?
The question seems to be less whether tests should be done, but whether the specimen from Philadelphia is the right one to test. Why not go to the NMHM to test the Lincoln relics there? Some of those I interviewed asked this question.

Hirschhorn believes DNA testing should be done where it is certain that the blood is Lincoln's and notes that there is also bone that can act as a control.

Holzer said, "I say do the DNA test on whatever authentic blood and bones we have. However, the key word here is 'authentic.' I am not convinced that the provenance of this particular textile is unimpeachable, nor does anyone know that it has been compromised over the years by reverential (but DNA-spreading) touching and feeling. If someone wants to do a DNA test, once and for all, it should be performed on the bone fragments from Lincoln’s autopsy, still preserved and unmolested at the National Medical Museum. A definitive test deserves to be free from the taint of doubt."

A bigger question – Where, oh where will Lincoln go?
Yet, one authority close to the earlier case says there's another story here. When asked about the earlier commission, Micozzi chose instead to speak of a bigger concern. He’s quick to point out that Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the NMHM resides, is slated to close next year. Don’t you wonder where Lincoln's hair, blood and bone fragments will end up then?

Hopefully, not in a box in a warehouse somewhere.

House, move over. This sounds like a case for Indiana Jones.

I was reminded early one morning by an enthusiastic six-year-old in Spiderman pajamas who popped his head in my library that projects like the one Sotos proposes are about preserving Lincoln’s legacy for future generations. My little buddy quipped, "Grandma, are you writing an email about Lincoln? That's nice that you do that."

What's in the best interest of these little ones and those not yet born? Is it a benefit to them to allow the testing? That’s a question we need to answer.

And, don't we owe it to future generations to make sure the artifacts have a home where they can continue to teach about real heroes - in whatever way that is?

Learn more
For more information on Lincoln’s DNA, read:

A debt of gratitude
Among other sources, information in this article came from the articles listed above and articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 13 and May 4.

I also owe a great debt of thanks to: Jason Emerson, Collum Davis, Norbert Hirschhorn, Harold Holzer, Marc Miccozi, Darwin Prockup and John Sotos. Each of these men helped me by guiding me to primary or secondary sources, answering my questions or granting interviews. Thank you, gentlemen.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Philadelphia board rejects request to test Lincoln artifact

I've been following the story of a request by John Sotos, M.D. to test a blood-stained pillowcase to determine if Abraham Lincoln had a rare cancer. In fact, I'm pulling together the last of a fairly comprehensive story about the issue. I had some super interviews with some pretty cool people. I thought the museum board was meeting to make their decision tomorrow night, May 5, 2009. I was trying to bet their announcement.

I just ran across a story posted in the Philadelphia Inquirer shortly before 9 p.m. Central Time today, May 4. The request has been denied - for now. Read all about it here.

But, come back to my blog later. I'm still going to wrap up this story. These people had some interesting perspectives. They were willing to share them and I still intend to do it.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Salem times seven

President Lincoln, thank Governor Pat Quinn and the General Assembly for the supplemental appropriations bill that will allow visitors to see your old stomping grounds seven days a week.

Yep, that’s right folks. New Salem will be open every day beginning May 15, 2009 – and with additional seasonal staff. They’re going to make your visit memorable in this bicentennial year, so head on down there and step back into the world of Lincoln, Ann Rutledge, Mentor Graham and the Clary’s Grove Boys. (As of today, the website does not yet reflect the new hours.)

To learn more about New Salem:

  • And the expanded hours, see Ann Gorman’s article in today’s State Journal-Register.
  • Read an engaging little book, Lincoln’s New Salem, written by Benjamin Thomas. His single volume, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography, is still among the best after more than 50 years. Guess Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame must think so, too, as he edited the most recent edition of that one.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Learn about Lincoln's funeral train in Bloomington May 3

If you're in Central Illinois Sunday, you'll want to see a great exhibit commemorating Lincoln's funeral train. My friend, Jeff Woodard, of the McLean County Museum of History asked me to pass this information along to you, but I was busy with a couple non-blog Lincoln stories and didn't get it done until now. My apologies for the late notice.

Here's the info from Jeff's press release, and I've added a bonus at the end - places where you can learn more about Lincoln's trip back home to Illinois.

Reflections: The American Funeral
During Abraham Lincoln’s historic funeral train journey to Springfield, IL, in 1865, it passed through Bloomington, IL. To commemorate this event more then 140 years later to the day, the McLean County Museum of History is bringing Reflections: The American Funeral to the community on Sunday, May 3.

This mobile museum depicts Lincoln’s final farewell and features sections honoring other U.S. Presidents, fallen public safety officers and military veterans as it traces the history of funeral customs in America. The exhibit is sponsored by Calvert & Metzler Memorials Homes.

From the cross-country funeral procession for Abraham Lincoln to the national outpouring of grief for Elvis Presley, America has a rich history of mourning the dead.

Reflections: The American Funeral explores these traditions, beginning with Native American burial mounds and ending with the diverse rituals practiced across the country today. Produced by Michigan-based MRA, it’s earning high praise from visitors who sign the Guest Book: “Awesome!” “Great educational tool!” “Amazing! Brings out a lot of things we don’t think about.” “Very, very moving.”

The Bloomington stop
The McLean County Museum of History will host Reflections on May 3rd at the Jefferson St entrance, located at 200 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL. The exhibit is open to the public, free and handicap-accessible. Hours are 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 3, with special presentations beginning at 1:00 PM.

Please join us to honor one of our greatest presidents; there will be presentations on the Funeral Train and Period Morning Quilts beginning at 1:00 pm. The Mourning Quilts talk will be presented by Kyle Ciani an Associate Professor in the History Department and affiliated faculty for Women and Gender Studies at Illinois State University.

The exhibits
Spread out across 1,000 sq. ft., thoughtful display areas reveal how we mourn the dead.
  • The Lincoln exhibit features a reproduction of Lincoln’s casket and traces the near 3-week funeral procession.
  • “Arlington National Cemetery” honors our country’s veterans and the more than three million Americans buried in our national cemeteries.
  • “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” showcases President John F. Kennedy’s rider-less horse – empty boots reversed in the saddle – trotting briskly in his funeral procession and Rosa Parks, who was the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda.
  • “The Lord is My Shepherd” is a poignant tribute to fallen public safety officers killed in the line of duty. “
  • The Final Curtain” pays homage to celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Dale Earnhardt, and Elvis.

Reflections: The American Funeral has been touring across the United States since summer 2008, stopping at state capitols, universities, veteran events, and mortuary schools, funeral homes and industry conventions. During January Inauguration celebrations, both Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, MD, hosted it. February saw it displayed at Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery to commemorate the Lincoln Bicentennial.

Learn more

For more on the funeral train:

Please, will you help tell the story?
I may not make it to the exhibit, due to other obligations, and I'm bummed! If you see it and wish to share your observations of the Bloomington event, please send it as a comment to my blog. I'd be glad to share it.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.