An Author in Our Midst – The Lincolnian Interview, Part 2

I was recently interviewed by The Lincolnian, a quarterly publication of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia. The interview was published in the Summer 2017 issue and Part 2 is recreated below. Read Part 1 here.

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David J KentLincolnian: Any reaction to the book that you wish to share?

David Kent: The Lincoln book has just been released, but the initial reaction has been similar to that received for my Tesla and Edison books. People love the smooth writing and say the books are both easy to read and provide comprehensive information on the subjects. The reaction from the public has been heartwarming. The Tesla book released in 2013 is on its 7th printing and has been translated into multiple foreign languages. I’m hoping to have the same success with Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaLincolnian: At a Lincoln Group meeting, you indicated that you were writing another book on Lincoln’s interest in science? What is the status of that book? Tell us the themes of that book?

David Kent: Yes, I’m currently working on a scholarly book that focuses on Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. I’ve been doing intensive research for years on the subject and am now preparing key chapters. This book will be more in-depth so I’ll be looking for a different publisher than the one putting out my earlier books. I’m hopeful it will see the light of day (and bookstores) by late next year. Stay tuned!

Lincolnian: Tell us a bit about your own background? How/why did you become a writer? You seem to have strong twin interests in science and Lincoln. How did you become interested in these two areas – which developed first? How did your interest in Lincoln develop – and what most interests you about him. I know you travel to visit different Lincoln sites – describe some of your travels – which is the most unusual Lincoln site you have seen – where will your travels take you next -what have you missed that you wish to visit?

David Kent: While I’ve been interested in Lincoln since I was very young, I grew up in a coastal New England town so it was probably inevitable that I enter a career in the environmental sciences. After getting science degrees I worked as a marine biologist until the laboratory I worked in was burned to the ground by an arsonist, then in a series of environmental consulting firms in New Jersey and Washington DC. Over the years I’ve been president of four different scientific organizations. Throughout my science career I was writing, mostly technical reports and peer-reviewed papers, but also was writing for various newsletters. The writing bug really grabbed me only as I was returning from a 3-year secondment in Brussels, and decided to expand on my Lincoln interests. In late 2013 I left the science consulting life behind and decided to focus on my writing full time. I joined the Lincoln Group of DC in January 2012 and have been writing a lot on Lincoln in recent years, including articles in the Lincolnian and elsewhere. I joined many LGDC members on the trip to Lincoln’s Illinois last year and was totally enthralled by sites I hadn’t seen before. Future plans include a road trip beginning in Tennessee and tracing Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky through boyhood in Indiana and into Lincoln-related areas in northern Illinois. I’ve traveled to many countries around the world and even non-Lincoln specific locations seem to have a thing for Lincoln. There are statues of him in Edinburgh, Scotland, two other spots in the UK, Vigeland Park in Oslo, and, as yet to be seen, Havana, Cuba, Mexico City and Juarez, Mexico, and in Guatemala.

Lincolnian: Do you have other topics on your radar for the future after you have completed the Lincoln /science book?

David Kent: I have several books in my mental pipeline after the Lincoln/science book, including at least two more on specific aspects of Lincoln’s career. In January I hope to discuss a Lincoln book project in which LGDC members would be participants. More on that soon.

Lincolnian: Anything you wish to add on these subjects for our readers?

David Kent: I have to say that my membership in the Lincoln Group of DC has been an inspiration for me. I thank LGDC members in the acknowledgements of this current book and have benefited tremendously from the interactions I’ve had in our monthly dinners, the monthly book club discussion group, and various tours and symposiums. I’m especially indebted to current LGDC President John Elliff and the rest of the team on the LGDC Board for support and encouragement. I’m looking forward to continued service and participation in LGDC.

For more information on the Lincoln Group of DC, check out this post.

[Part 1 of the Lincolnian interview appeared here last week]

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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An Author in Our Midst – The Lincolnian Interview, Part 1

I was recently interviewed by The Lincolnian, a quarterly publication of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia. The interview was published in the Summer 2017 issue and Part 1 is recreated below. Read Part 2 here.

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David J KentMost Lincoln Group members know by now that David Kent, our Vice-President for Programs, is an accomplished author, one who has penned successful books on such figures as Tesla and Edison. His most recent publication spotlights Lincoln himself. David agreed to be interviewed for The Lincolnian regarding his new Lincoln book and his writing career. Here are the contents of that interview.

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved AmericaLincolnian: You have a new publication out – Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America – tell us about this publication – what was the inspiration behind the book, what is/are the major themes, what did you aim to accomplish for the audience, who is the targeted audience?

David Kent: I have been interested in Abraham Lincoln since as far back as I can remember, so when the publisher of my Tesla and Edison books decided to branch out into history, I jumped at the chance. Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is directed at a general audience and so spans Lincoln’s entire life, from his days growing up on frontier farms to the crisis of the Civil War and the Lincoln legacy. The goal is to reach out to a broad readership in a way that is visually appealing. The strife of this past year in politics shows that there are many in our nation who lack a good understanding of history, including the critical time period in which Lincoln lived. As the subtitle suggests, I bring out how Lincoln’s decisions helped deal with our nation’s greatest challenges, and how he kept the Union together despite all forces trying to tear it apart.

Lincolnian: What research did you undertake in writing the book? In doing so, did you learn anything that surprised you?

David Kent: I feel like I’ve been researching Lincoln my whole life. I read 20-30 Lincoln-related books every year, along with a wide variety of other genres. I also review primary materials – letters, speeches, newspaper articles – to get both a broad and deep understanding of his life and how he thinks. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me because I’ve been researching it for another book, but I’ve always been enthralled with Lincoln’s interest in science and technology.

Lincolnian: In your opinion, what information in the book will surprise the reader?

David Kent: I think general readers will be surprised by how active Lincoln was in politics from his first days in New Salem. He really did become the leader of the Whigs in Illinois, and without him the Republican party of Illinois likely wouldn’t have become as powerful as quickly as it did. For Lincoln scholars I bring out how Lincoln understood that the de facto expansion of slavery enabled by the Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, and Dred Scott decision triumvirate would lead to war. Lincoln pressed the issue knowing the crisis was unavoidable.

Lincolnian: Your book contains many images – photographs, graphics, etc. Describe a few examples that will be new to the audience or most captivating.

David Kent: The incredible publishing team and designer have pulled together amazing imagery for the book. These images were selected to bring out the stories told in the text and make the book a visual as well as an intellectual experience. Images range from photographs of the time period, paintings of key events, political cartoons presented in key newspapers, letters and documents, and even comic book pages. One image from a comic book, for example, highlights how good Lincoln was with his own children and those in the neighborhood, often getting down on his hands and knees to play with them. The images really bring out the life described in the text.

Lincolnian: What similarities – and differences – does this book have as compared to your previous works on Tesla and Edison? What similarities in character, traits, etc. did you find that Tesla and Edison shared with Lincoln – and what were the major differences you found in your subjects?

David Kent: The style of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is the same as my previous books on Tesla and Edison. Those two books were very successful for the publisher (and me), so the publisher wanted to branch out into similarly-styled books in history. Because of my lifelong interest, I suggested Lincoln and they agreed. The three books highlight the human side of science and history. While very different in many ways, all three men were innovators. Tesla was a big picture guy, always wanting to change the world with a radical new idea. Edison was a details guy, always tinkering and improving on existing ideas. Lincoln was a little of both. In the courtroom and in politics he could remember and exploit key details while at the same time always keeping his eye on the bigger picture. And like Tesla and Edison, Lincoln too was an inventor, the only president in our history to have obtained a patent.

Lincolnian: Where can we find the book /who is the publisher?

David Kent: The book is in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide (if you don’t see it, ask for it; it’s there). You can also order it online at BarnesandNoble.com. I sell signed, first edition copies through my own website (http://www.davidjkent-writer.com/buy-the-books/). I’ll be the speaker at LGDC’s December 12th luncheon meeting and will have copies to sell there. The book is published by Fall River Press, an imprint of Sterling Publishing in New York.

[Part 2 of the Lincolnian interview will appear next week]

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Fall Events at the Lincoln Group of DC

Lincoln Group of DCThe Lincoln Group of DC is one of the premier Abraham Lincoln associations in the country and I feel privileged to be a part of the executive board. This post highlights some of the upcoming events in the DC area that you don’t want to miss.

October 14: Special event at the African American Civil War Museum, 1925 Vermont Ave, NW. The United States Colored Troops in the Civil War. 1-3 pm. Presenters are historian, teacher and reenactor Michael Schaffner, and fellow presenter high school student Hugh Goffinet, who will describe soldiers’ lives during the Civil War and demonstrate the manual of arms. The program is free and open to the public.

More information: http://www.lincolngroup.org/oct2017.html

October 28: Our monthly Book Discussion Group, Ford’s Theatre, DC. This is the final day of our discussion of “President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman” by William Lee Miller. We will be choosing the next book to be discussed, so now is the time to join the group. Free and open to all Lincoln Group members. 10 am – 12 pm.

More information: http://www.lincolngroup.org/book-discussion.html

October 30: Special Event: A Theodore Roosevelt Salute to President Abraham Lincoln, Arlington Hilton Hotel. A stunning performance by Teddy Roosevelt look-alike and presenter, Joe Wiegand, who has performed at the George W. Bush White House and with the Mt. Rushmore Presidents at the National Archives. A must-see!  6-9 pm. Reservations required.

More information: http://www.lincolngroup.org/oct30-2017.html

December 12: Members Book Night. Join three of the Lincoln Group’s premier authors as they discuss their books: David J. Kent (Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America), Elizabeth Smith Brownstein (Lincoln’s Other White House), and Car Adams (Nance). 6-9 pm. Reservations required.

More information: http://www.lincolngroup.org/dec2017.html

There is so much more going on in the Lincoln Group of DC, so check out our web page and join us at one of our events.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

George Buss as Abraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States during a time of great upheaval. His first inaugural address was long (his second would be much shorter) and delved into the crisis that was causing the nation to split.

One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2017, members of the Lincoln Group of DC experienced the entire Lincoln first inaugural address in person, as performed by George Buss (the same Lincoln who now performs the Gettysburg Address each year in November). The event was co-sponsored by the Lincoln Group of DC, the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, the Lincoln Cottage, and the Abraham Lincoln Association. I took the following video of the peroration:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.

One can only hope:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Below are a small selection of photos from the event. All photos (including the thumbnail at the top) are copyright Bruce Guthrie, a fantastic photographer who graciously offers his time and skills to chronicle Abraham Lincoln and other events.

To learn more about the Lincoln Group of DC, check out our website.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Remembering Abraham Lincoln at the Hill Center, Old Navy Hospital

On January 18, 2017, in celebration of the Old Naval Hospital’s 150th anniversary, Hill Center and the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia will hold a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address.  In 1864 President Lincoln authorized $25,000 for construction of the (Old) Naval Hospital, which was completed in 1866, and the building has been restored to its 1860s condition to serve as Hill Center.
You can join us by signing up here: http://hillcenterdc.org/home/programs/3039.  You can also pay at the door.
The program will recall how Abraham Lincoln faced the gravest challenge that ever confronted a new president. The program will include delivery of the First Inaugural Address and a panel discussion about its context and significance. Michelle Krowl, president of the Abraham Lincoln Institute and a Lincoln specialist at the Library of Congress, will moderate the discussion. Panelists will include Lincoln scholar John Elliff, president of the Lincoln Group of DC and former associate professor at Brandeis University, and Michael F. Bishop, Director of the National Churchill Library and Center at George Washington University and former executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.  Other co-sponsors are President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, DC and the Abraham Lincoln Association headquartered in Springfield, Illinois.
The Inaugural Address will be delivered by George Buss of Freeport, Illinois, a professional educator who has performed as President Lincoln widely in Illinois and other states. He delivers the Gettysburg Address at the annual November commemoration at the Gettysburg Cemetery. Mr. Buss portrayed President Lincoln skillfully at a mock press conference hosted by the Capitol Historical Society in 2015 where he took questions from members of the National Press Club.  Mr. Buss is admired for the depth of his knowledge of Lincoln and his ability to represent Lincoln’s principles and historical perspective in both formal and informal settings.
The following organizations are co-sponsors of this event:
The reception with light hors d’oeuvres will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the John Phillip Sousa Hall, and the program will follow in the Abraham Lincoln Hall at 7:00 p.m. Sign up here, or just show up and pay at the door.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

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How Bloomington Illinois Made Abraham Lincoln Great

I recently returned from a week-long trip to central Illinois, stopping in places where Abraham Lincoln became famous as a lawyer and a politician. Check out Part I and Part II of my travel summaries from that week. The week started in Bloomington, Illinois, and it turns out that this city may very well have brought out the greatness in the man who would become our sixteenth president.

David Davis mansion

David Davis mansion

Lincoln’s first court case in Bloomington took place in 1838, when the 29-year-old lawyer and state legislator was riding the 8th judicial circuit. Bloomington was a stop on that circuit and the home of David Davis, the judge who rode the circuit for six months out of each year with Lincoln and several other lawyers. Davis would go on to be Lincoln’s campaign manager years later when Lincoln ran for president (and during his presidency Lincoln appointed Davis to the U.S. Supreme Court).

The convergence of Purpose

The convergence of Purpose

Another key player in Lincoln’s life was Jesse Fell, a local lawyer, businessman, and founder/editor of the Bloomington Observer (later changed to the Pantagraph, the newspaper greeting us in the hotel lobby today). In the statue above called “The Convergence of Purpose,” Lincoln is joined by Davis and Fell as they discuss the issues of the day, most notably slavery, tariffs, and the railroads. Fell was instrumental in arranging the confluence of two major railroads just north of Bloomington, which is now the sister city of Normal, Illinois.

Jesse Fell telegraph

Jesse Fell telegraph

Fell also had the local telegraph in his office, which was likely the first exposure to this new device for the technology-loving Abraham Lincoln. When Fell wanted to start the first public university (now called Illinois State University) in Normal, it was Lincoln he called in to do all the legal paperwork.

Lincoln presented some 15 of his most important speeches in Bloomington, with his first probably being as early as 1838 when he stood in for his law partner, John T. Stuart, then running for Congress against a certain Stephen A. Douglas. It wouldn’t be the last debate he had with Douglas. In 1854, after listening to Douglas regale the afternoon crowd in support of the recently passed Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln, recently “aroused” back into politics, Lincoln took on giving a rebuttal that evening.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Bloomington is also the location of Lincoln’s “Lost Speech.” Given in 1856 at the first Illinois Republican Convention, the speech was supposedly so enthralling that reporters present forgot to take notes. An alternative (and perhaps more likely) explanation is that Lincoln asked the hyper-partisan newspapers of the day to suppress the speech, fearing it way too radical for his keen political sense. But perhaps the speech isn’t completely lost? Check the next Lincoln Group of DC Lincolnian for a book that purports to recreate it.

In 1858 Lincoln was trying again for a Senate seat, this time against his old rival Stephen A. Douglas. Bloomington was not one of the seven famed Lincoln-Douglas Debate cities since both candidates had already given speeches there. But Lincoln did give another famous speech that year in Bloomington, the one popularly known as the “House Divided” speech:

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or is advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.

There is one other speech Lincoln gave in Bloomington that is of note, though it more accurately should be called a lecture. Always interested in the concept that all men should seek to improve themselves, on April 6, 1858, Lincoln prepared and presented a lecture now referred by the name “Discoveries and Inventions.” The lecture covered a wide range of discoveries (and, of course, inventions) beginning with the “fig leaf apron” of Adam and Eve to how patent laws “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” Apparently the response from the heavily attended Bloomington audience was sufficient to inspire Lincoln to give the lecture several more times, though when he returned to Bloomington a year later for another go at it the lecture had to be cancelled due to poor attendance.

Bloomington would play a large role in making Lincoln president. David Davis, Jesse Fell, Leonard Swett, Asahel Gridley, and others were the prime movers of opinion and action that led to unanimous support by the Illinois delegation for Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican candidate for President in 1860. It’s clear that Bloomington and its influential residents helped make Lincoln great from his days on the 8th judicial circuit through his political speaking appearances and even his lectures on inventions. It was Jesse Fell who prompted the Lincoln-Douglas debates to occur, encouraged Lincoln to run for the presidency, and to whom Lincoln provided his first official biographical account for distribution to eastern newspapers. It was Davis who pulled his substantial weight to garner support and lead the campaign for Lincoln’s nomination and election. Without Bloomington, Illinois, we may never have met Abraham Lincoln.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Visiting Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois – Part II

Last week I traveled to Lincoln’s Illinois to visit many of the places Abraham Lincoln lived and worked. Mid-week I posted the highlight summaries I had prepared for the Lincoln Group of DC. Today I’m posting Part II – the highlights for the rest of the week. See Part I for the first few days of the trip.

Day 3

Springfield, Illinois. Home of Abraham Lincoln for most of his professional career. And today was mostly (but not exclusively) about the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, one of the most visited Presidential Museums ever. Not bad for a guy who has been dead for 151 years.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

The morning was spent at the Museum portion. Those who have seen museum after museum and think they’ve seen it all are in for a treat because this was like no museum I’ve ever been in. We started with a multimedia video presentation of “Ghosts in the Library” that highlighted the preservation and collections process. A “curator” told us about the discoveries while “ghosts’ of Lincoln, soldiers, and others floated into and out of the action. In the end we were left with both an appreciation of what historians do, and confusion as to whether the curator was real or a holographic image. We still don’t know.

This was followed by a second video-esque presentation of the history of the war and of Lincoln’s actions. Then we started on the main exhibits. Beginning with Lincoln in his log cabin, we experienced the cramped quarters of a one-room log cabin with Lincoln reading against the firelight while one of his kinsman snores in the loft above. From here we followed through his early life up to the time he runs for president. Entering the White House section (with a certain John Wilkes Booth lurking in the shadows), we pass by Mary Lincoln’s dresses and Lincoln’s road to the presidency, including what appears to be a modern day newscast with Tim Russert (of Meet the Press) reporting on the “four way race” for the presidency (replete with campaign ads). The museum did a fantastic job of presenting the material in a fresh and interesting way.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

After a quick lunch at the Feed Store (where Lincoln used to pop in from his law office next door), we met at the Presidential Library where curator James Cornelius gave us all a once in a lifetime, up close and personal, look at some first hand artifacts. Among them were handwritten letters by Lincoln, Mary, Elizabeth Keckly, and Edward Everett, plus a compass and sundial that belonged to Lincoln’s grandfather, and several other one of a kind artifacts. The most intriguing to all of us was the “Everett copy” of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s handwriting as presented to Everett to be sold (along with his handwritten 2-hour Gettysburg speech) as a fundraiser for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

But our day wasn’t over. Our next stop was the Vachel Lindsay Home. Lindsay was a poet whose most famous poem was called “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” which was marvelously orated by our very own LGDC President John Elliff. From here we walked to the Elijah Iles House. Iles was probably most responsible for the development of Springfield. It was here that LGDC members enjoyed a reception with ALA President Kathryn Harris and many other ALA, Illinois State Archives, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and ALA Journal Editors.

We ended the day on our own for dinner, during which some of us enjoyed the local brews at the locally famous Obed & Isaac’s, followed by some fantastic guitar and fiddle playing at, of all places, a local antique shop called “Abe’s Old Hat.”

For those following along, yes, this was yet another amazing day on our tour of Lincoln’s Illinois. And we have two more days to go.

Day 4

Mary Todd courted both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas on a couch in the home of her sister, Elizabeth Edwards (Note: Not at the same time). That “courting couch” is now in the Benjamin Edwards house in Springfield – and our esteemed traveling Lincoln Group of DC members got to see it today. The incredibly knowledgeable curator of Edwards Place, Erika Holst, guided us through the amazing history of the Edwards family. The Lincoln’s were regular visitors to the house, often listening to Mary’s sister play the piano; in fact, it turns out our LGDC President was closely guarding a secret. After our tour we all gathered back in the parlor where Jane Hartman Irwin sat down and played several tunes that Lincoln likely heard, and on the very same piano on which he heard them.

 

After many LGDC members purchased books and CDs of our experience there, we headed off to the Old State Capitol building (where, incidentally, Barack Obama held both his initial announcement of running for president and his introduction of running-mate Joe Biden). We received an amazing tour of the Capitol building from Stephanie, including the office where the newly elected Lincoln began his search for cabinet members. This was followed by a working lunch/meeting with Sarah Watson, Director of the “Looking for Lincoln” National Heritage Area project. Sarah was instrumental in helping for the planning of this trip.

Lincoln Tomb

And then it was to the Lincoln Tomb, which was a somber thrill for all of us. The tomb, obelisk, and statuary dominates the Oak Ridge Cemetery, and rightfully so. Our guide provided a great deal of history of the tomb and its inhabitants, the entire Lincoln family with the exception of Robert, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. The tomb is imposing by all definitions of the word. Only a short walk away we visited the African American History Museum (AAHM), where we once again met up with Kathryn Harris, President of ALA, in her other role as Board member of AAHM.

Abraham Lincoln (Randy Duncan)But our day still wasn’t over. Our next stop was a whistle stop, or more accurately, the Great Western Depot where President-Elect Lincoln gave his farewell address to the people of Springfield, or those of whom had come out in a misty rain to see him off on his long journey to Washington and his first inauguration. Abraham Lincoln himself (Randy Duncan to his friends) was there to recite his goodbye address. A few hours later (trains must have run a lot faster in those days), Mr. Lincoln joined us on the eve of his inauguration at local eatery Maldaner’s and gave us some insights into “tomorrow’s” speech. He also took questions, as well as interviewed many of us for potential cabinet positions and patronage jobs (I asked to be named environmental minister).

It was a long day, but a productive one. Tomorrow includes our visit to New Salem.

Day 5

Our final day on the Looking for Lincoln tour. It has been a fantastic experience all week, and the last day was more of the same…plus some surprises.

We started at the Illinois State Capitol. Yesterday we were at the Old State Capitol where Lincoln (more or less) was a state legislator. Today was the “New” Capitol building where the current Governor, Attorney General, and legislature meets (in keeping with Washington DC precedent, no one seemed to be working today). David Joens, who is both Director of the Illinois State Archives and Vice President of the Abraham Lincoln Association, gave us a wonderful tour of a truly magnificent building. As might be expected, there were many representations of Lincoln (and that other famous Illinois guy, Stephen A. Douglas) throughout the building. Paintings of the two overlook their respective Republican and Democratic sides of the House chambers.

LGDC at Illinois State Capitol

From there we visited the Dana Thomas House, and we found our first (minor) surprise. We chose the house solely because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, not because of any connection to Lincoln, and it was there. Well, it turns out the house often hosted musicians, writers, and poets. Two common guests were Vachel Lindsay, author of the poem “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” (where we visited on Wednesday), and Carl Sandburg, another poet but probably best known for his multivolume series on Lincoln, “The Prairie Years” and “The War Years.”

Up next was lunch and a tour of New Salem, the village where Lincoln lived when he first started out on his own. Our guide was Jim Patton, who was lead interpreter of New Salem for many years but came out of his comfortable retirement to personally take us around. Being able to immerse ourselves in village life, seeing the kind of one-room log cabins everyone lived and work in, and checking out the saw and grist mill where Lincoln sometimes worked was an exhilarating experience.

Lincoln the Surveryor at New Salem

Then we received our first huge surprise. Driving into Athens (pronounced AY-thens) we expected only to wave at the Long Nine Museum that we thought was closed. As the bus pulled up to the side of the building, out comes running (okay, walking) 84 year old John Eaton, the owner of the museum. Seems he was just there to check some things out and suddenly our bus pulls alongside. This was an unexpected treat. “The Long Nine,” for those who don’t know, was the nickname given to the nine Representatives from Sangamon County, all of whom were over 6 feet tall. The museum had many artifacts related to Lincoln’s time there, plus a series of dioramas denoting aspects of Lincoln’s life in the area. When we left, John Eaton (who was as surprised as we were) told us we “made his day.” He most certainly made ours.

This unexpected stop put us a bit behind schedule, but we moved on to see prairie grass as Lincoln saw it when he arrived, then drove on to the nearby Funk’s Grove. Since this final stop was supposedly going to replace the Long Nine we really didn’t have much of an expectation. They did have a small Lincoln document collection, but we were all absolutely delighted to find an even bigger connection to Lincoln. It turns out the patriarch, Isaac Funk, was a close friend not only of Abraham Lincoln but of David Davis, Jesse Fell, Asahel Gridley, and other key figures in Lincoln’s life on the circuit. In fact, Davis invited Isaac Funk up to the Wigwam in Chicago that nominated Lincoln to the presidency. Isaac also gave a hugely controversial (and blunt) anti-Copperhead speech during his wartime service in the Illinois legislature. The Funks were definitely ahead of their time as they founded the first land grant college in Illinois, electrified the house in 1910, long before anyone in the midwest knew anything about electricity (Isaac’s grandson Deloss had personal consultations with both Tesla and Edison), taught the latest in farming and agriculture, and were pioneers in the development of hybrid corn, wheat, and other better producing crops.

Phew. We had a week packed with activities, following Lincoln around central Illinois. Many thanks to John and Linda Elliff, Bob Willard, and others who helped plan a fantastic trip. Everyone heads back home to DC where we’ll begin planning the next experiences for the Lincoln Group of DC.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Visiting Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois – Part I

I’m currently with the Lincoln Group of DC on a tour of Lincoln’s Illinois. I’ve been filing reports to LGDC members who didn’t make the trip, so here are some highlights of our first couple of days.

Day 0

Twenty-three Lincoln Group of DC members came by planes, trains, and automobiles from DC, California, and even the Pacific Northwest to Bloomington, Illinois. The reason? To experience Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois, from the towns that he practiced law on the circuit, to where he gave some of his most famous speeches, and to the tomb that holds his body. This first day was a day of gathering. Trickling in throughout the day, we met as a group for the first time Sunday evening and introduced ourselves. Former Abraham Lincoln Association (ALA) President Bob Lenz welcomed us to Bloomington, the home of David Davis, a Lincoln confidante on the circuit, campaign manager, and eventual Supreme Court Justice who would go on to write a famous decision declaring some of Lincoln’s acts unconstitutional. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow.

Each day we’ll provide an update on where we’ve been and some of the people we’ve met. As the week progresses we’ll spend time in riding the 8th circuit, seeing Lincoln (the city), Atlanta (the Illinois city, not the Georgia one), various sites around Springfield (including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum), New Salem, and wave to the Long Nine Museum on our way to Funk’s Grove.

Day 1

Our first full day was spectacular. Starting in Bloomington, we were joined on our bus by Bob Lenz and Guy Fraker, author of Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit (http://www.lincolnsladder.com/) There is nothing better than having the expert on the eighth circuit giving a running commentary as we tour Lincoln’s life on that very same eighth circuit.

Our first stop was David Davis’s mansion. Davis was the Judge on the 8th Circuit, and along with Abraham Lincoln and other lawyers, twice per year rode on horseback (or by carriage for the hefty Davis) for three months, going from county to county taking care of trials. David Davis would later be instrumental in getting Lincoln the Republican nomination in 1860, and Lincoln the President named Davis a US Supreme Court Justice.

Davis Lincoln Fell

But Davis wasn’t the only 8th circuit colleague who was important in Lincoln’s life. One of our stops was the Jumonville statue of Lincoln, Davis, and Jesse Fell, called “The Convergence of Purpose.” Fell was a lawyer, banker, land owner, and editor of a key Republican paper that promoted Lincoln. It was to Fell that Lincoln sent his first handwritten biography that helped the eastern states know more about Lincoln. We also stopped at the McLean County Historical Museum where Bill Kemp regaled us with Lincoln’s connections to the area. Bob Lenz then gave us a great walking tour of the neighborhood. We also got an impromptu look at Guy Fraker’s office, filled with some amazing Lincoln artifacts and photos.

And that was just the morning. After lunch we boarded the bus and winded our way along the side roads following Lincoln’s horse beats on the circuit. We saw the small shed on the Hoblit Farm Lincoln slept in, checked out the county line markers, and visited in two of the courthouses on the circuit. At Mt. Pulaski we not only got a tour, we got jokes – Lincoln’s favorite jokes and stories – well told. Our group of Lincoln scholars got a lot of laughs along with a lot of information.

We wrapped up with dinner in Atlanta (the one in Illinois, not Georgia). Our long day started at 8 am and ended when we checked into our hotel in Lincoln, Illinois at 8 pm. Being able to follow Lincoln along the 8th circuit routes was a transcendental day for all of us. Book learning and lectures are great for learning facts, but traveling the places where Lincoln walked is best for experiencing the feeling of the era. Add the incomparable insights all day long from Bob Lenz and Guy Fraker. There is nothing better.

Day 2

Lincoln CollegeOur second full day began at the Lincoln Heritage Museum on the campus of Lincoln College in, Lincoln, Illinois, of course. We were greeted by Director Tom McLaughlin and Assistant Director and Curator Anne Mosely, who gave us a primer on the museum. The first floor was a standard museum format, with a series of displays showing artifacts and history of Lincoln’s life. The second floor gave us one of the most unique museum experiences we’ve ever seen. You begin by joining the Lincoln’s in their box at Ford’s Theatre watching as the assassination unfolds. Several LGDC members virtually reached out to grab Booth as the fatal shot was fired as the multimedia visuals unfolded. From there we moved room to room on a timed basis, with doors to the next room opening automatically as each vignette finished. Sophisticated choreographing in time with strategic lightly and voices from the skies provided a multimedia look at each aspect of Lincoln’s life. It truly was a unique presentation.

After a quick lunch at the locally famous Blue Dog Inn we walked across the street to a statue of a watermelon. Yes, watermelon. Because the town was named after Lincoln when he was still alive, and no where near famous, Lincoln was asked to christen the town, which he duly did by hacking open a watermelon and ceremonially spilling the watermelon juice onto the ground.

Lincoln House
Back on the road we stopped next at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The Lincoln’s lived for 17 years at 413 S 8th Street in Springfield. Three of their sons were born there, and one of them died. Our group received a personal tour of the home, a house that receives as many as 900-1000 people on its busiest day. Along with the Lincoln house are four blocks of 1860-period restored buildings, each with their own story to tell.

Two doors down is the National Park Service Conference Center, where we gathered to hear from two of the greatest names in Springfield and Lincoln scholarship – Dick Hart and Wayne C. Temple. Hart is an expert on Springfield and talked a bit out his newest book, “Lincoln’s Springfield Neighborhood.” We were surprised to find that the neighborhood was incredibly diverse, with a vibrant African-American community as well as Irish, German, Portuguese, and others. Among the stories Dick told was the story of Jameson Jenkins, a free black man living 1/2 a block form the Lincoln’s and who became good friends with Abraham. Following Dick was the incomparable Wayne C. Temple. Retired from the Illinois State Archives earlier this year after 51 years of service – and at 92 years of age – Wayne is still a wonderful story teller, funny and insightful. A protege of J.G. Randall, Wayne Temple was the impetus for the Lincoln Day-by-Day project in 1959, which the Lincoln Group of DC helped bring to fruition. In fact, Wayne said he was incredibly proud to have worked with us and acknowledged that Day-by-Day never would have happened without the LGDC. He further suggested that there are plenty of gaps that perhaps we could work to fill in even today.

It continues to be a thrill to all of us on the trip to hear from some of the great Lincoln scholars in the area. And we’ve only just begun. Tomorrow – the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

READ PART II HERE

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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LINCOLN’S 1860 ELECTION – A Special Event sponsored by the Lincoln Group of DC

lincoln-1860-ribbonSeven score and sixteen years ago the United States experienced a contentious election. The populace was terribly divided, one campaign openly pandered to the fears of white Americans, and the survival of the Union was in question. The winner of that election in 1860 was Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President.

What does the election of Lincoln have in common with the election of 2016? Are there lessons we can learn? Are we doomed to a forever divided nation, and divisive politics?

Come join us this Saturday, August 13th to find out.

The Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia sponsors Open Discussions of events in the life of Abraham Lincoln. The events are open to the public at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

On Saturday, August 13, 2016, the group will discuss Lincoln’s 1860 Election, including his road to the Republican presidential nomination and his victory in the November election. Parallels to this year’s party nominations and the impending campaign will be explored by experienced LGDC Open Discussion leaders John O’Brien, chair of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church History Committee, and LGDC president John T. Elliff.

NY Avenue Church window

For those who don’t already know it, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is “Lincoln’s Church.” The family maintained a pew and Reverend Phineas Gurley was spiritual adviser to Abraham Lincoln during his time in Washington. A beautiful stained glass window depicting Lincoln overlooks the main meeting room. Since the church’s History Committee is co-hosting the event, the sanctuary (Lincoln pew, stained glass window), Lincoln Parlor (Emancipation document, Rev. Gurley portrait, desk and settee), and John Quincy Adams Room (Mary Lincoln letters, Lincoln desk set, etc.) will be available for viewing.

So come join us. The event is open to the public.

The discussion will be held from 10:00-12:00 at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. Nearest Metro stations are McPherson Square and Metro Center; and Saturday discount parking is available nearby.

For further information and to sign up, visit the Lincoln Group website here.

David J. Kent is a Vice President of the Lincoln Group of DC. Learn more about us.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Special Event – Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Election

Abraham LincolnAs the current day political conventions get ready to officially name Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the Democratic and Republican nominees, it brings us back to when a relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln unexpectedly gained the nomination – and won the election – of 1860.

Going into the Republican convention of 1860 the most likely nominee was New York Senator William H. Seward, with Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase a close second and likely strong showings by Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania and former Congressman Edward Bates of Missouri. Oh, and then there was Abraham Lincoln, who hadn’t held political office since his one term as a U.S. Congressman ended a dozen years before.

The surprising results of the nomination convention and election will be the subject of a special event sponsored by the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia (LGDC).

On Saturday, August 13, 2016, the group will discuss Lincoln’s 1860 Election including his road to the Republican presidential nomination and his victory in the November election. Parallels to this year’s party nominations and the impending campaign will be explored by experienced LGDC Open Discussion leaders John O’Brien, chair of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church History Committee, and LGDC president John T. Elliff.

More information is available on the Lincoln Group website.

NY Avenue Church window

The event is being held at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC (“Lincoln’s Church), which features a beautiful stained glass window highlighting Abraham Lincoln. There is also a Lincoln Parlor containing artifacts and a John Quincy Adams room. Tours of these historic areas follow the program.

I am happy to say that I was recently elected Vice President of Programs for LGDC. We already have an excellent line-up of speakers for our fall program 2016 and are working on filling slots for 2017. Anyone with ideas for speakers can contact me any time.

Please put Saturday, August 13th on your calendar and join us for this entertaining and informative event. Check out the LGDC website for more about our group.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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