Now scrolling: The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Run Silent, Run Slow; 2 Trains, 2700 Miles

During the month of April, two very famous trains made their way through history, one in 1865 and one in 1945. Both were carrying the bodies of presidents who lead the country through wars and both carried the grief of an entire nation.
Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, known as "The Lincoln Special," made a 1700-mile journey from Washington, D.C. back to Springfield, Illinois, from April 21st to May 4, and carried not only Lincoln’s body, but that of his son Willie, who died at age 11 of typhoid.

Mary, who was too distressed to make the trip, insisted that Willie’s body be disinterred and sent along to join his father in Springfield. Robert Todd Lincoln and some 300 other people accompanied the two coffins on board. The train consisted of 9 cars and stopped for 11 national funerals en route to Springfield.

In April, 1945, FDR’s funeral train made a 3-day journey from Friday, April 13th, to Sunday, April 15th over some 1,000 miles from Warm Springs Georgia to Hyde Park. The train needed two locomotives to pull the 11 cars and broke down three times from the sheer weight of hauling some very luxurious Pullmans.

So many wreaths and flowers were given by cities along the stops that soldiers guarding the casket had little room to stand.

In Robert Klara’s book "FDR’s Funeral Train," the atmosphere and secrets of that troubled passage are hauntingly documented, and though he does not spend time making comparisons between Lincoln’s train and FDR’s, he does point out that Eleanor Roosevelt was chillingly aware of the timing of the two trains. Part of her sad journey was on the very day of Lincoln's assassination.

Other than that, the two trains keep separate lives. While Lincoln’s train has achieved phantom status, reportedly making its run every anniversary, so far FDR’s train has had no such repeated sightings.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"No man ever chooses to be a slave"

The Lincoln Traveling Exhibit has reached my local library! Launched in 2009 to coincide with Lincoln’s 200th birthday celebration, the exhibit continues to travel through 2010, bringing a chilling story to the eyes of anyone willing to take the time to look.

"Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation" chronicles Lincoln’s life and career through an illustrated timeline on a series of sturdy, free-standing panels.

In just a short walk, you can see how closely Lincoln’s life paralleled the life of slavery in America. In fact, from his first political speech to his last conscious thought at Ford’s Theater, Lincoln’s life can be told almost solely through the landmark decisions leading up to the abolition of slavery.

But the journey is much more than that. It is about Lincoln’s own growth from someone who was willing to tolerate slavery to keep the Union together, to someone who deeply understood that no Union could survive while any of its citizens were not free. This realization was ultimately Lincoln’s own emancipation. But reaching that conclusion, which seems so obvious to us today, was a hard personal and national struggle.

The most vital quote for me was Lincoln’s response to those who claimed that slavery had some good in it, especially for the slave. Lincoln reminded his listeners that we are creatures who know how to choose good things for ourselves, yet no man has ever voluntarily put himself under the yoke of slavery. His bleak reminder still speaks from the wall of a silent panel in the 21st Century: "No man ever chooses to be a slave."

How wonderful it is to have access to this exhibit now, just as Lincoln’s birthday approaches in 2010. It is a fine reminder not to take for granted what others fought so hard to define – the value of freedom.