Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

17 02 2010

The way I heard the story, in response to complaints of baseball purists that actor Ray Liotta’s portrayal of baseball legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson batting right and throwing left was in contrast to the fact that he batted left and threw right, Field of Dreams director Ron Shelton quipped, “Did they notice he is currently dead?  I guess that’s another mistake we made.”  Or words to that effect.

I had to remind myself of that story frequently while reading Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  This book requires the suspension of a whole lot of disbelief.  After the vampire-induced death of his mother, Abe devotes himself to the eradication of the creatures from the country.  Abe’s father’s inability to repay a debt to his vampire loan shark (the senior Lincoln’s many faults were frequently referred to, as were the positive traits he passed on to his son) is what led to Nancy Hanks’ murder.  It turns out that vampires were the movers and shakers, the money-lenders, the men behind the men in 19th century America, though they stretched back all the way to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke settlement.  They also played a role in the institution of slavery, striking deals with human slaveholders for prey.

Abe was a self-taught vampire hunter at first, but early on was trained by a friendly bloodsucker.  He hunted with crossbow and knives, but his weapon of choice was his trusty axe.  Over the years, he enlisted the help of first Jack Armstrong of  Clary’s Grove, then friend Joshua Speed, and later Ward Hill Lamon.  But none of them could help Abe during what would be his last confrontation with the undead in Ford’s Theater in April, 1865.  Or was it his last?

Throughout, Grahame-Smith weaves Abe’s nocturnal hunts in with the “known” history.  As you’d expect, much of that “known” history has some unknown facets: was Ann Rutledge the victim of a vampire?  Take a wild guess.  But here’s where the book disappointed me.  Not just the fact that there were inaccuracies, but that the miscues would have been easy enough to correct without affecting the story one iota.  For the record, I reviewed an advance reading copy (aka bound galley aka uncorrected proof).  The following may be corrected in the book when it is released next week:

  1. The military career of Edgar Allan Poe is discussed.  Grahame-Smith states that when Poe was transferred to Ft. Moultrie in South Carolina, he was not near a town.  Ft. Moultrie is hard-by Charleston.
  2. Grahame-Smith describes Lincoln’s cabinet in the spring of 1861, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.  Simon Cameron, not Stanton, was Lincoln’s first Secretary of War.
  3. Robert E. Lee is said to have been a friend of Lincoln’s before the war.  The two were not acquainted, though Lee’s opponent George McCellan appears to have had numerous dealings with Lincoln in the 1850s, and they established a friendship of sorts.
  4. Grahame-Smith writes that Our American Cousin was a new play in 1865.  It was written in 1858.

There are other hiccups – these just happened to stick with me.  But guess what?  Vampire’s aren’t real (at least, I think they aren’t).  Unless you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, that shouldn’t come as any surprise to you.  If you can overlook that minor detail, I think these little mistakes shouldn’t concern you much.

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Abe Kicks Undead Ass

2 02 2010

 

Today’s mail brought a package I’ve been eagerly anticipating.  About a week ago, Miriam Parker of the Hachette Book Group sent me a note asking if I’d like to review their upcoming (March 2, 2010) release by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  (I think the titles are self-explanatory, but if you don’t get it these books are based on the classic works and written in Jane Austen’s style, with macabre twists.)  Ms. Parker tried to sell me on the book by telling me that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is supporting the book with author events (see their press release), but I couldn’t say “YES!” to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter fast enough.  The collection of essays on Thomas Jefferson’s founding of West Point that I’m currently reading is so dry it would make Gordon Ramsay use the F word, so this is a welcome break.  From the inside front cover of my uncorrected proof:

When Abraham Lincoln was nine years old, his mother died from an ailment called the “milk sickness.”  Only later did he learn that his mother’s affliction was actually caused by a local vampire, seeking to collect on Abe’s father’s unfortunate debts.

When the truth became known to the young Abraham Lincoln, he wrote in his journal, “Henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion.  I shall become learned in all things—a master of mind and body.  And this mastery shall have but one purpose.”

That purpose?  Elimination of all vampires.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for reuniting the North and the South and abolishing slavery in our country, no one has ever understood his valiant fight for what it really was.  That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than one hundred and forty years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true story of our greatest president for the first time—while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

Were Jack Armstrong and the Clary’s Grove Boys actually a coven of blood suckers?  Was the pathological sluggishness of George McClellan attributable to the fact that he only came out at night?  Did Jefferson Davis sleep in a casket (OK, that one’s obvious – just look at the guy!)?  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

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Springfield, IL: Part VI – Lincoln Tomb and Miscellaneous Statuary

2 01 2010

On October 9-12 this year my family and I visited Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  On the 11th, we visited The Lincoln Tomb in Springfield’s Oak Hill Cemetery.  Unfortunately, the tomb (run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency) was not open – budget constraints again.  And even the exterior was not fully accessible: the second level of the exterior was closed for repairs.  It was an overcast day to begin with, and I was losing what little light I had.  Here are some images of the tomb and the statuary on and in front of it.  The nose of the Gutzon Borglum bust is shiny from the rubbing hands of thousands of visitors.  The four Larkin Mead tableaux around the obelisk depict the cavalry, navy, artillery, and infantry.  Click on the thumbs for larger images, and click the images for larger ones still:

          

Here is a view of the tomb from the rear, and also of the stained glass window that allows light into the interior:

 

At the bottom of the hill behind the tomb is the crypt in which Lincoln’s body resided initially and, halfway up the hill, a marker to another vault to which his body was subsequently removed prior to completion of the tomb:

     

Across from the crypt at the bottom of the hill is a chime tower, inlaid with the slab on which Lincoln’s body first rested:

 

We stayed our first night (10/9-10) a little outside town near the power plant at the Crowne Plaza hotel, in the lobby of which is this grouping of Lincoln and some children On the Road to Greatness:

This grouping (Springfield’s Lincoln, 2004 by Larry Anderson) sits on the Adams St. mall between the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices and the Old State Capitol.

    

 There are two sculptures outside the Springfield Union StationVisitor Center, across the street from the ALPLM.  The first shows Abe clutching his coat against a cold prairie wind (A Greater Task, 2006 by John McClarey); the second is an interactive photo-op (Lincoln, 2006 by Mark Lundeen).

       

Inside the Visitor Center is this cool model of Lincoln’s funeral train:

       

On Monday the 12th, before driving back to St. Louis to catch our flight home, the boy and I drove over to the current Illinois State Capitol, on the grounds of which are two fine statues of Lincoln (Lincoln of the Farewell Address, 1918 by Andrew O’Connor) and Stephen Douglas (1918 by Gilbert Riswold).

     

I really enjoyed our trip to Springfield, even if it was a little chilly.  I consider that a small price to play for smaller crowds and shorter lines.  Springfield is a must visit for all Lincoln, Civil War, Presidential, and American history enthusiasts.  I hope to return some day to catch the other sites I missed this time around.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

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Springfield, IL: Part V – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential (Library and) Museum

15 12 2009

On Sunday, Oct. 11 this year my family and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  The ALPLM complex is located only a few blocks from our hotel, and comes under the purview of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.  Due to budget restrictions, the Library is not open on weekends: that’s why “Library and” is parenthetical in the title of this post.  Here are shots of the complex (buff buildings) from our hotel room, my son and me outside the museum, and the then closed library across the street (click on the thumbs for a larger image):

  

Inside the museum we paid our fees ($22 for two adults and one 11 year-old) and, with recommendations from Mike Kienzler in hand, started on our journey.

Basically, the museum consists of an open receiving area, a theater, two “journeys” which center on the two phases of Lincoln’s life, an artifact display (Treasures Gallery), a play area for kids (Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic), and the Ghosts of the Library program. Photos are permitted only in the receiving area (Plaza) and Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic.  Museum security is very strict with photo limitations – don’t press your luck.  There’s also a museum store, a cafeteria, and an Illinois Gallery.

This museum is not what comes to mind when old fogies like me think of museums.  The trend today is away from stuff – artifacts – and towards multi-media experiences, lots of 3-D models, recreations, etc; more or less the telling of a story with fewer limitations on how it’s told.  It will work for some folks, and won’t work for others.  It is what it is.  Frankly, I didn’t mind; my kid loved it, and there were some very cool artifacts in the Treasures Gallery and sprinkled along the Journeys for the over 40 crowd.  To me, the rubber dummies looked like rubber dummies.  But maybe my mind’s eye isn’t what it used to be.  Younger folks, the ones who will be taking their kids to this museum some day, are a lot better at believing, and so are maybe more receptive to the influence of this kind of approach.

In the Plaza, we were first greeted by lifelike rubber models of the Lincoln family as they may have appeared prior to leaving Springfield for the White House.  This is a very popular photo stop, as everyone wants to get their picture with the Lincolns.  While the museum has staff there who are happy to take pictures on your camera, it’s hit or miss on whether or not they know how to use it.  All of the first set of us with the “dummies” came out blurry, but we had another staff member take the pictures later and they turned out OK.

  

Taking Mike’s advice we started with the film Lincoln’s Eyes.  This, like the rest of the museum, is not a traditional approach, but a multimedia enhanced film guided by an artist commissioned to paint the portrait of Lincoln that is posted outside the theater.  Whether this is the real artist, or an actor portraying a real or fictional artist isn’t quite clear to me.  I got that kind of feeling more than once in the museum.  Below are images of the portrait and of the film’s poster.

 

Next we took the first of the two Journeys, Pre-Presidential Years.  The tour starts off in a recreation of what a teenaged Abe’s log cabin may have resembled.  We proceeded past a lifelike depiction of a slave auction, which Abe may or may not have seen in New Orleans and through the New Salem store.  One of my wife’s favorites was the models of Lincoln, Willie and Tad in his law office where mayhem ruled.  My son loved the TV production panel, with Tim Russert commenting on the candidates of 1860 with modern graphics, and paid political announcements – we sat through it twice.  Below are photos of the lifelike young Lincoln and his cabin, which is accessed off the plaza.

 

Then it was on to Journey Two, The White House Years.  This tour is accessed off the plaza via the south portico of the White House, where we were greeted by Mary Lincoln and a display of dresses – reproductions – of prominent ladies of the era.  Then we walked through the Whispering Gallery, with asymmetrical framings of many of the anti-Lincoln cartoons produced during his presidency, accompanied by whispered criticisms of him over the sound system, which moved through the years as we walked.  Then came a touching tableau of the Lincoln’s vigil over the dying Willie on February 5, 1862.  While muffled sounds of revelers and music can be heard from downstairs, Lincoln stands in the doorway of his son’s room, one of Willie’s dolls dangling forlornly from his father’s hand, while Mary hovers over the bedridden boy.  Two weeks later Willie was dead, and we find Mary in mourning, sitting in a White House alcove in the dark, rain pelting on the windows.

On a stroll through the White House kitchen we heard the staff scuttlebutt, including speculation about Mary’s sanity.  Lincoln’s office is arranged as it may have appeared when Lincoln revealed plans for an Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet, with attendant rubber sculptures of each member.  The wall and floor coverings are brightly colored and ornate, as were those in the Lincoln Home we visited the day before – I think we imagine Victorian furnishings less vibrantly, but I’ll accept that the museum did its homework.  On exiting the room we could hear criticisms of the EP, this time with accompanying holographic, hectoring images, then we were led into a Hall of Shadows where AL ultimately signs the document.

The next few presentations depict the progress of the war, including an expansive Gettysburg mural.  My son’s favorite was a time-lapse map of The Civil War in Four Minutes.  As various battles are highlighted, the casualties mount in the lower right corner.  He watched it twice.  Nearby is a wall of dozens of photos, with touchscreens to access background on each one.

A tableau of Ford’s Theater frames the assassination, and another shows Lincoln lying in state in Springfield in the Capitol’s Hall of Representatives.  Lincoln’s casket was open for viewing in “real life” – the catafalque in the tableau is so high, and the casket inclined to such an extent that I couldn’t see if this detail was recreated.  The final exhibit explores efforts of American’s to “Hold On” to Lincoln by collecting items he may have owned or touched.

Here are a few images of the entry to Journey Two.  A few figures are hanging out near the entry: John Wilkes Booth, George McClellan, U. S. Grant, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.  Check out the juxtaposition of McClellan and Grant: Mac imperious, properly holding cup and saucer, little finger extended, looking down on HUG; Grant gripping his cup ham-handedly, bothersome and useless saucer at his side, looking like he’s set to kick Mac’s ass.  I felt compelled to step between them.  (Funny – at 5’11” I’m taller than both these guys, but it doesn’t appear that way in the photo.  Am I shrinking?)

     

[Every narrative of a good guy needs a bad guy.  I don't need to go into the problems I have with narrative history and its limitations, because I already talked about them here.  So let's accept the validity of a narrative format and go from there.  It's obvious who the good guy is going to be at the ALPLM.  And there's certainly no shortage of bad guys in AL's story.  Stephen Douglas, arguably.  The Radical Republicans.  Rabid Yankee abolitionists.  Fire-eating southern separatists.  Newspaper editors nationwide.  Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Braxton Bragg, Nathan B. Forrest et al.  The Confederate Congress.  John Wilkes Booth.  A nut-job wife.  All are likely candidates.  But all, if they are even mentioned in the displays or over the sound system of the museum, fade to static background noise behind the overarching presence of the great evil of AL's life: you guessed it, George B. McClellan.  In Lincoln's Eyes, he even appears as one of the divisive panels pulling the quilt of the nation apart.  What are the servants in the recreated kitchen of the White House overheard complaining about?  The limited reach of the Emancipation Proclamation?  The slaughter of U. S. Colored Troops?  No, of course not.  It's that traitor McClellan.  All of this is set up by the depiction of Mac outside the entrance to the White House.  Ah well, what are you gonna do?  Gotta roll with it.]

After Journey Two we took in Ghosts of the Library.  Don’t miss this.  It’s a special effects wonder.  I think I figured out how they did it at the end, but still I’m not positive and nobody’s talking.  An actor (or is it?) describes to the audience the importance of documents and artifacts in learning about the past.  Are the items we can see during the program actual artifacts and documents?  Probably not, but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s the message that counts.  But damn, this is one cool show.  I didn’t see a single fidgety kid in the audience.

The Treasures Gallery will appeal to traditionalists.  There are a number of swell items in here, none sweller than one of Lincoln’s stovepipe hats, complete with worn fingerprints on the right side outer and inner brim, where he would grip it to tip the hat to passers by.

The last stops on our tour were Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic and the Museum Store.  The Attic is really a glorified play area, though I was glad to see that my son – who will never get a job cleaning giraffe ears – is at least taller than Willie at the same age.  It also has a doll house version of the Lincoln Home my wife really liked. 

  

The gift shop I thought had a particularly poor selection of caps and shirts.  In fact, the tee shirts we did end up buying were clearance items we found the next day on a quick return trip – after all the discounts were taken, they were $4 each!

All-in-all, the ALPLM is a must see.  If you’re old (like me), it may not be what you’re used to, and folks do hate change sometimes.  But I watched the younger patrons, and they seemed pretty immersed in the whole experience.  Take an open mind with you.  I give it two thumbs up, and hope to get a chance to see the library at some point.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part VI

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Springfield, IL: Part IV – Old State Capitol

6 12 2009

On Saturday, Oct. 10 this year my family and I visited the Old State Capitol  in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  After our tour of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, we walked across Adams Street to the state house, where Lincoln served in the state legislature.  This building served as the fifth seat of Illinois state government from 1839 to 1876 (the preceding four were not in Springfield), and is now maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Here are a few shots of a descriptive marker on the grounds, the building, and detail of the front columns (click the thumbs for larger images):

    

Upon entering the state house, the central hall is dominated by the staircases to the second floor, from the landing of which can be seen the interior of the dome:

 

The first floor of the Capitol houses the offices of the auditor, secretary of state, and treasurer, as well as the state library, law library, and supreme court.  Here are photos of each in order:

     

The second floor is where the senate and hall of representatives are located.  There are a few interesting items outside these large rooms, including a statue of Stephen Douglas, a banner from Lincoln’s 1860 campaign, an old-timey mouse trap (death by drowning, I think), and the Adjutant General’s office (occupied 1869-1873 by old leather breeches Hubert Dilger):

   

Here’s the Senate Chamber:

Lincoln delivered his House Divided” speech in the Hall of Representatives, where he had served, upon his being put forth as a candidate for the U. S. Senate in 1858.  A little under 7 years later, his body would lie in state in the same room:

    

The coolest thing I picked up on my trip was a free handout at the Old Capitol.  It’s Lincoln’s last paycheck from the legislature.  It contains three very interesting signatures: Lincoln’s; Auditor James Shields; and Treasurer John Whiteside.  This is cool because, as you most likely know, future Civil War general Shields once challenged Lincoln to a duel over some critical letters that appeared in the Sangamo Journal known as the Rebecca Letters, the second of which was almost certainly written by Lincoln.  As the challenged party, Lincoln chose broadswords for weapons, and put some other creative limitations on the contest such that neither man could possibly strike the other, or that the much taller Lincoln only could reach his shorter opponent.  Shields’s second in all of this was Whiteside.  You can find all the correspondence on page 291 of volume I of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.  Or you can go here and advance through the sections to see all the correspondence and notes.

I forgot to ask where Lincoln had his office during the presidential campaign (or was it after the election and prior to the inauguration?) – if any of you readers know, clue me in.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part V

Part VI

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Springfield, IL: Part III – Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices

8 11 2009

On Saturday, Oct. 10 this year my family and I visited the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices in Springfield, IL (see overview of the trip here).  After our tour of the Abraham Lincoln Home National Historic Site, we headed to 6th and Adams Streets where the offices are located across Adams from the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln served in the legislature.  It was pretty cool to realize how closely these three critical Lincoln sites are situated to one another.  Adams St. from 6th to 5th is closed off into one of those urban malls that were all the rage in the 1970s.  Unlike most of those, however, this one seems to work, probably due to the tourist factor.

The law offices are maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and for now, at least, it is open on Saturday.  The building is three stories, and when Lincoln had offices there from 1843 to 1852 with first Stephen Logan and later William Herndon, they were located on the third floor.  Exactly where is not certain, but it is believed they were on the 6th St. side, two floors above the Post Office – the left end of the building in the first image below.  The building in Lincoln’s day extended further up Adams, but that part of it was demolished later, so it is possible that the actual space occupied by Lincoln’s offices is gone.

DSCN0973 DSCN0854 DSCN0847 DSCN0846

Our tour began on the first floor, where we heard some of the story of the building’s use and learned a little about the post office.

DSCN0921  DSCN0923 DSCN0924

The Federal court and offices were located on the second floor.  The old Capitol can be seen out the window of the courtroom in the front of the building.

DSCN0925 DSCN0926 DSCN0927  DSCN0929 DSCN0930 DSCN0931 DSCN0932

Then to the third floor, which has a recreation of the Lincoln-Herndon office as described by Herndon, but set up in the front of the building.  Two long tables were arranged in a “T”, and a couch representing a custom seven-footer upon which Lincoln would lounge to read the paper each morning sat in a corner.  The room in the last picture is where the office was more likely located, in the rear above the Post Office.

DSCN0933 DSCN0934 DSCN0935 

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices is a must-see, despite some questions about where the actual office was located.

Part I

Part II

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

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Lincoln’s Books

28 10 2009

As far as I know, he didn’t write any.  I’m pretty sure he wrote a third person biography for a pamphlet as part of the 1860 presidential campaign.   A poem or two.  Lots of letters.  Speeches.  Bills.  Briefs.  At least one proclamation.

But no books. 

Correct me if I’m wrong.

See here.  Wow.

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