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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.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Buffalo, New York!

This morning we drove to School #81, a middle school, for a program. The 130 students and teachers were very receptive to our presentation. Spirit gave a rousing introduction. She really got the students wound up in anticipation. And the students truly seemed excited to meet Mr. Lincoln. On his way to the front of the theater he shook hands with several students. After one young girl greeted Mr. Lincoln, I noticed her turn to a classmate and giggle with delight.

On Saturday, February 16, 1861, the citizens of Buffalo welcomed the president-elect with enthusiasm like we experienced—but on a much larger scale than we encountered. An estimated 10,000 people thronged to the Exchange Street station when Mr. Lincoln, his family, and entourage rolled into Buffalo at about 4:30 pm. Chief among the greeters was Millard Fillmore, the thirteenth president of the United States. The crowd became so boisterous that Lincoln barely made it out of the depot, and then only because a handful of men encircled Lincoln and ran interference for him.

Reading the accounts of Lincoln’s struggle to get through the crowd at the depot reminds me of watching footage of “Beatlemania” in the 1960s. Wild-eyed fans of The Beatles would swarm them, making a simple stroll from a limousine to a hotel a perilous adventure. Surging crowds can get a bit scary. In fact, Maj. David Hunter (who would later become a general during the war) was so roughed up in the effort to get through the crowd at the Buffalo train station that he dislocated a shoulder.

After reaching the American Hotel, Lincoln spoke from a balcony to a large crowd. He thanked Buffalo for its reception. Then, for the first time on the trip, he referenced his upcoming inaugural address. Lincoln was still crafting it, to hone it “so that when I do speak authoritatively I may be as near as right as possible . . . to say nothing inconsistent with the Constitution, the Union, the rights of all the States, of each State, and of each section of the country, and not to disappoint the reasonable expectations of those who have confided to me their votes.”

On Sunday, February 17, Lincoln rested. The Lincoln Inaugural Journey team was thankful he did, too. Because for us, it means that we can spend two nights in Buffalo. So far on the trip, it’s been “another day, another hotel.” Only twice during our two-week trip do we get to spend two nights in the same hotel (the other will be New York, NY).

Lincoln attended Sunday morning services at the First Unitarian Church as the guest of Millard Fillmore. Appropriately, for our evening program, we drove to Unitarian Universalist Church. The church isn’t the same building where Lincoln worshipped in 1861. But the church is home to the same congregation!

The Unitarian Universalist Church is beautiful. Ornate woodwork surrounds the podium. Civil War re-enactors were on hand once again. The 155th New York Regiment formed an honor guard that included a fife and drum, which was a wonderful touch.

The program went very well. About 300 people filled the pews.

The Hutchinson Family Revival (three men and two women) sang several songs. They were fantastic! Just the sort of upstate New York/New England abolitionist type of singing you would imagine. They sang “Come Join the Abolitionists” (which included the refrain “when slavery is no more), “Lincoln and Liberty” (which was a tune the original Hutchinson Family Singers sang in support of Lincoln’s candidacy in 1860 and it’s sung to the tune of “Old Rosin the Beau”), a third song I didn’t recognize, and “We Are Coming Father Abraham.”   

Peter Wolfe portrayed former president Millard Fillmore and introduced Fritz. The setting in the church was terrific. The re-enactors stood guard while Mr. Lincoln spoke at the ornate pulpit. Once again Fritz rose to the occasion and delivered a wonderful address. The crowd loved it. I heard many compliments afterward.

We wish to thank Mark Lozo and Molly Quackenbush for their work on behalf of Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. Mark is the chief of interpretation at the park and he is our primary contact on this and he did a great job organizing the evening event. Molly is the park superintendent and I enjoyed meeting and talking with her.

One of the great things about having the program at the Unitarian Universalist Church is that members have a sense of history. In the church fellowship hall, there is even an exhibit on Lincoln’s visit to Buffalo in 1861. The connection was wonderful. Our Mr. Lincoln spoke to the same congregation that the real Mr. Lincoln spoke to 150 years ago.

After the program, I videotaped a short interview with a member of the congregation. She said, “I really enjoyed the program. I thought it was really neat to have a women who is the daughter of [one of] the Little Rock Nine in our pulpit today. It was just wonderful. It shows how far we’ve come, yet we still have things to do. . . . I was very grateful to be here.” When I asked if she learned anything new, she replied: “I really learned today that Lincoln really did not want to go to war. He really wanted to solve this issue of secession . . . to stop the spread of slavery and not go to war over it. It will be interesting to read the history a little bit further and see why he got forced into it, because I don’t remember.”

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