By Harry Welty
Published June 10, 2005
suggested that we drive down to
,Illinois, on Memorial Day and visit the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and
Museum. As a big fan of the rail splitter I was delighted by the idea of taking
a Lincoln Holiday. Back in Junior High when I told my Mom that I was ugly,
rather than disagree with me, she pointed out that Abe was a homely fellow too.
I was flattered by the comparison. If
I hadn’t been a devoteé of the “skin deep” theory of beauty before I
have been one ever since.
prepare for our trip we ordered an eight hour lecture on CDs by an eminent
Lincoln scholar for the drive south. I read “Lincoln
at Cooper Union” a book about the speech which won
the Republican nomination in 1860. It
was the seventh book on Abe that I’ve read to completion. I also read halfway
through the fictionalized account of his Presidency “Lincoln” by Gore Vidal which I had given my Father twenty years earlier. My Dad had
been reluctant to read the book because he was afraid his idealization of the
sixteenth President would be punctured by Vidal’s lethal acerbity. Dad was
relieved to report that instead, Vidal had bolstered his admiration for the
for the same reason that I study Jesus and the early Christian Church. Both
give me worthy role models and both steel me to have patience with their
was fitting that we visited the Museum on Memorial Day.
began honoring the fallen soldiers of the Civil War on this holiday shortly
after war’s end and
was almost the last man to sacrifice his life before the South’s unconditional
was my fourth trip through
Springfield. The first trip took place in 1962, 97 years after
Lincoln’s assassination. When we entered
Lincoln’s Home on that first visit a breathless attendant rushed over to tell us that
Red Skelton (a famous television star of that era) was on his way to visit the
house. I begged my Father to wait half an hour so that I could meet the famous
comedian. When Red failed to materialize we went on to our next scheduled
point-of-interest, Lincoln’s Tomb. As we pulled up to it a woman rushed over to breathlessly tell us
that we had just missed Red Skelton.
this fourth visit I finally got to meet a red headed celebrity. Richard Norton
Smith, the Museum’s Director and one of the stable of historians who
commentate for PBS’s News Hour, was busy chatting up visitors to his museum. I
shook Smith’s hand, complimented his museum, and lobbied him to put one of its
displays, “The Civil War in four minutes,” on the Internet.
our stay Claudia and I lodged in a bed and breakfast north of
Springfield in the hamlet of
Petersburg. Young Abe Lincoln surveyed the town when he lived in New Salem five minutes
down the road. Our B&B stood on the spot of an earlier home whose owner
not to plat a street through his house.
Lincoln obliged so that the current house rests on a small square of land that is
misaligned with the surrounding streets.
has been dead long enough to have become the icon Daniel Chester French
sculpted on the Washington Mall and that Borglum carved onto
Mt. Rushmore. He is no longer remembered as the cartoonists of his time portrayed him – as
an ape. Religiously observant folks revere his faith in God while agnostics
revere his doubt. Republicans revere him as the founder of the GOP and the
Southern Democrats who once revered John Wilkes Booth have now become ardent
Republicans. Even the American Communists, leftists and idealists who
volunteered to fight the fascists in
called themselves the “Lincoln Brigade.” This is not a bad legacy for a
homely man even if the reverence comes with a little historical infidelity.
instance, today’s Republican Party rails against income taxes and champions
regressive taxes which place a greater burden on the poor. Yet
was a long-time champion of “progressive” taxes which fall more heavily on
the rich. Furthermore, he was the first president to institute an income tax.
got a chuckle over this when we returned to
and heard the breaking news that Republican Governor Pawlenty had offered to
adopt a “health impact fee” on cigarettes. Not only would it fall
disproportionately on the poor but calling it a “fee” allowed him to honor
his pledge not to raise taxes. I turned to Claudia and suggested that the
Governor might find it even easier to balance the budget if he announced an
income tax “fee” or a sales tax “fee.” Or a “fee fee” Claudia
but this would not have done at all. No respectable Republican could stomach any
tax that sounded so . . . French! And
would have agreed. Abe was hopping mad when Napoleon III of France invaded
to install the Austrian prince, Maximilian, as its emperor while he was tied
down fighting the Civil War. A Fifi indeed!
is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com