A recent news item reminded me of an ominous episode of political theater that took place some 153 years and twelve days ago. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not my intent in this post to compare or contrast the two occasions, or the people involved. I’ll leave that to you.
By the way, the event I recalled isn’t the one that happened on April 14, 1865. My mind is too complex to travel somewhere that easy.
Today is the 160th anniversary of the caning of Senator Charles Sumner. It’s not far-fetched to imagine that kind of thing happening today.
Lincoln’s law partner, Herndon, described episodes when he’d find Lincoln sitting in a catatonic state from which he couldn’t be aroused. Often there’d be a book of poetry in his lap.
No one has any idea of what went on in Lincoln’s head during those episodes. He never talked about them.
One possibility is that were flashbacks of an earlier trauma that his body was defending himself against. That happens to people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Lincoln suffered several traumatic moments early on. At 7 he almost drowned, at 9 he suffered a life-threatening head injury, and months later helped bury his mother, at 10 his father left him and his sister to weather a brutal winter unattended and on the brink of starvation, as a teenager his father beat him often and when he was just past 20 his first love died. Lincoln’s emotional responses to these and other events are explored in Lincoln Raw-a biographical novel.
Maybe his psyche just went into overload from processing flashbacks of too many traumas at once.
Would we let someone with that much emotional baggage be President today?
We shortchange ourselves when we study history as discreet events, dislodged from the context of what happens around them. That’s especially true when we divorce those incidents from the personal circumstances of those who put historical events in motion. (more…)
Discovering Lincoln’s Cottage at the edge of Washington DC was one of the highlights of last fall’s roadtrip. The cottage served as a summer refuge for the Lincoln family during the tribulations of the Civil War and little Willie’s death. There is probably no other place where you can connect so intimately with the Lincoln family. For us, that connection was in no small measure enhanced by our terrific tour guide, Robert Gotffredi.
Here’s his smiling face.
And here he is on the back porch of the cottage, giving us the low-down.
During the summers of 1862-1864, Lincoln rode by horseback between the cottage (where he slept) and the White House (where he worked). A prominent feature on the cottage grounds is the statue of Lincoln and his mount.
On most days, those round trips included three rituals. An exchange of nods with the poet Walt Whitman who lived along the route, a stop at the “contraband camps” where Lincoln joined escaped slaves in singing spirituals, and solitary walks among the graves of fallen Union soldiers. We can only imagine the thoughts that consumed him on such occasions.
Inside the cottage (where photography isn’t allowed) Robert shared stories about late night visitors who woke the nightgown and slipper clad, bed-headed President from naps. They usually came for business, sometimes out of curiosity, and often were entertained with stories and jokes until late into the night.
The cottage is not only a repository of unique information about the Lincolns’ year in Washington, it is also available as a venue for a variety of educational, business and social events. Needless to say, the Lincoln Cottage was one of the great discoveries of our adventure.
My research assistant and I recently set out to trace some of Lincoln’s footsteps during his years in the White House. This post covers highlights of our visits to Richmond VA and Washington DC.
Here’s the entrance to the Confederate Whitehouse (Jefferson Davis’ home). When young Tad Lincoln stepped across the threshold, it’s likely he sneered at the relatively compact size of the Davis home compared to the spacious Executive Mansion in the nation’s capital.
The picture I really wanted was Davis’ desk where Lincoln’s son Tad sat during Lincoln’s triumphant visit, but “no photography please.”
Speaking of pictures, I noticed a portrait of George Washington hanging over Jeff Davis’ mantel and asked if he would have hung it there. The guide replied that both sides of the war revered Washington.
Next we braved a rain storm to make our way to the American Civil War Center. This museum adds an interesting twist. Not only does it give equal treatment to the Northern and Southern perspectives, it gives the same weight to the African point of view (again photography was not allowed).
Sunday morning we drove down to City Point at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers. Gen. US Grant set up his headquarters here during the final weeks of the war.
This is the spot where Lincoln’s boat, the River Queen, docked when the president stayed at the front for two of the war’s three final weeks. One night while sleeping aboard the boat, he dreamt that he had been fatally shot.
The massive Union Army presence at City Point must have greatly bolstered Lincoln’s optimism that the war’s end was at hand.
On Monday morning we headed to Washington DC for a visit to Lincoln’s Cottage at the Old Soldiers Home where the Lincoln family stayed during the summer months while he was President.
I’m standing outside the gate.
Here we met our tour guide Rob. He’s one on the best guides we’ve encountered, and were treated to a treasure trove of insights into Lincoln’s personality. (We also opened the possibility of selling copies of Lincoln Raw in the bookstore there, and Rob agreed to consult with me on scenes in my sequel to Lincoln Raw).
The ‘cottage’ was bigger than the Davis residence in Richmond.
A statue reminds us that during summer months, Lincoln often made daily round trips (3 miles each way) on horseback without military escorts. Sometimes he stopped at camps of runaway slaves and joined them in singing spirituals, he always gave poet Walt Whitman a nod as he rode past his home, often he stopped at a military cemetery and wandered alone among the graves.
I suppose it’s only fitting that we should pay a visit to the home where Lincoln died (across the street from Ford Theater).
Why do women prefer to hate Teresa Armato, rather than face the fact that she needs help?
Is it that they don’t want to admit that women like Armato exist? Is it that she doesn’t fit a stereotype? Are they afraid of her?
Today, April 15, 2015, marks one of the most significant and saddest days in American history. One hundred and fifty years ago today executive power in our government was transferred by an act of violence for the first time. It was also the day we lost a great poet who continues to inspire and mesmerize us with his words. He was our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. Pause a moment to reflect on his legacy.
History is a collection of stories designed to teach and motivate societies toward common goals and values. These historical narratives can be different from the contemporary narratives that society’s leaders employ to call people to action. Nonetheless, by narrowing or broadening the perspective from which historical events are viewed a dominant group within society can create the perception that their current agenda is rooted in treasured traditions.