The Journey begins...

My photo
The National Park Service is sponsoring programming that will commemorate the 150 anniversary of President-elect Abraham Lincoln's trip from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, DC, on February 11-23, 2011.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day Three - February 13, 2011

Cincinnati, OH to Columbus, OH

Before I talk about the events of today, I want to return to last night’s amazing program. You could sense the energy and enthusiasm in the crowd. The audience was moved. For a brief time, Cincinnati’s Civil War era past came back to life.

Last night, Bob Limoseth, the program’s moderator, opened the presentation with some powerful and relevant words. I’m going to share them now.

Mr. Limoseth:

“Good evening. Welcome to the Museum Center and the Cincinnati History Museum’s kick-off event in observance of the upcoming Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. From April 12th of 2011 to April 9th of 2015, cities and towns across the country will be commemorating events and activities associated with America’s Great Civil War.

Lincoln "Fritz Klein" and the NPS team at the Indiana State Museum
“Now, I see a number of young people in our audience tonight and we are pleased you have come to see Mr. Lincoln. I want you to note, however, that I just used the word commemorate (which means remembrance or to mark by some ceremony) --- not celebration. We do not celebrate war and we do not celebrate an event in which 620,000 Americans, both north and south, lost their lives. In order to understand the magnitude of this tragedy, I’d like to put it in perspective for you. If 2% of today’s population was to be lost in war or some other great tragedy, as it was 150 years ago, it would amount to over 6,000,000 lost American lives.”

On this trip retracing Lincoln’s inaugural route, I have to admit that Tim, Fritz, Spirit, and I are having a lot of fun. It’s been tiring, but rewarding. We’ve had some long days and we check into a different hotel every night. But this is such a great opportunity for us. We get to share a window into the past with our audiences.

And we know we’re interpreting a dramatic time in history, a turning point that helped define us as a people, as a nation. A century-and-a-half ago Americans were on the brink of taking up arms against each other. Very few Americans could have imagined the destructive forces that were about to be unleashed.

When Fritz is quoting the words Lincoln used 150 years ago, there is often a hush that drapes over the audience. It is caused, I think, by the seriousness of the material. Secession, slavery, and possible civil war are weighty topics. Sometimes we can get caught up in the color, the personalities, the pageantry—the romanticism—of the Civil War era. But we should not forget the bitter divisiveness that led to the war and how the iron heel of war left its imprint on this nation ever since.

We drove to Columbus this morning so that Fritz Klein could speak on a morning talk show. Marshall McPeek of  WCMH-TV, Channel 4, interviewed Fritz. Marshall wanted to know what it is like for Fritz to portray Lincoln all these years and the research that Fritz has done. Fritz often points out, as he did on television today, that he has learned a great deal about how to be a better person by studying Lincoln.   

This afternoon’s event in the beautiful Ohio Statehouse was one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen. The audience, which included a fair number of kids, was spell-bound. They had over 600 in the immediate audience. Gregg Dodd, the Deputy Director of Communications, Marketing, and Events at the Ohio Statehouse, played a key in organizing the event. He said another 75 people were watching via closed circuit television system. They streamed the event live. There should be a video of it on this site tomorrow: . Being in the House chamber where Lincoln spoke 150 years before made it even more special.

As a prelude to the program at the Ohio Statehouse, Steve Ball sang Civil War songs while strumming a guitar. His stories and beautiful singing voice was a great way to set the mood for the event. Men and women in period clothing helped create ambiance, too. The 70th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Honor Guard brought in the colors. After the program, audience members could go the rotunda and pose for photographs with Fritz as the president-elect.

In February 1861, critics of Lincoln faulted him for his silence. Southerners were voting to secede from the Union and create a new country, the Confederate States of America. With this crisis dominating the news, why didn’t he speak out more? Mr. Lincoln addressed this topic in his speech to the joint meeting of the Ohio legislature. “Allusion has been made to the interest felt in relation to the policy of the new administration. In this I have received from some a degree of credit for having kept silence, and from others some deprecation. I still think that I was right. In the varying and repeatedly shifting scenes of the present, and without a precedent which could enable me to judge by the past, it has seemed fitting that before speaking upon the difficulties of the country, I should have gained a view of the whole field, to be sure, after all, being at liberty to modify and change the course of policy, as future events may make a change necessary.”

All in all, the event at the Ohio Statehouse was well planned and executed. I wish I could thank each person individually. But that isn’t possible. So thanks to everyone who made it possible!

By Dave Schafer

1 comment:

  1. Dave,
    Having attended the Cincinnati program, I too was struck by Bob Limoseth's words on commemorating the Civil War. However, if all were are going to do is commemorate, is that really enough? Is that really interpreting the Civil War? I don't think so.

    Anyway, Good luck on the rest of your journey and stay safe. I've enjoyed reading the blog so far!