The Journey begins...

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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

End of the Road....Lincoln in D.C.

Day Thirteen - February 23, 2011
Baltimore, MD to Washington, DC

This morning we started early. It was a big day . . . our last day together as the Lincoln Inaugural Journey team.

Last night we had dinner at the Baltimore Hilton Hotel with a large table of dinner companions. Our dinner company included Sam Rogers, the Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer with “Visit My Baltimore,” and Vince Vaise, the Chief of Interpretation at Fort McHenry National Monument. Both men are engaging and entertaining. At our end of the table I got into quite a conversation with Vince and Jim Bailey, one of the NPS park rangers that Vince supervises. Vince and Jim are historians with high levels of passion and knowledge for the subjects they study. Not only do they know the War of 1812 history, but they know Baltimore’s Civil War history.

Our day started at 5:30 am when we gathered in the hotel lobby. The plan called for Fritz to board a carriage in front of the hotel at 5:45 am and ride for a block to Camden Station for a program at 6:00 am. The event was titled, “Under the Cover of Darkness: Mr. Lincoln’s Journey, February 22 – 23, 2011.”

Although the temperature was bone-chilling cold, everything went according to plan. I shot some video and took some photographs. President-elect Lincoln rode in carriage pulled by two magnificent white horses and escorted by two soldiers armed with bayonet-tipped rifled muskets. Fritz disembarked at Camden Station. He spoke to the local media in what had been the “Gentleman’s Waiting Room.”

Several local television stations broadcast from “Sports Legends at Camden Yards.” So we got some great media coverage. There should also be something posted on

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the baseball stadium for the Baltimore Orioles, is next door to our hotel and the “Sports Legends at Camden Yards.”

It was here that Lincoln traveled under great secrecy 150 years ago. Lincoln took very seriously the assassination threat. The president-elect had secretly caught a train at 11:00 pm on February 22 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He arrived at the President Street station in Baltimore, Maryland, at about 3:30 am. A horse drawn car transferred him to Camden Station, where Lincoln boarded a train for the final leg of his journey to Washington, D.C.

While we were in Sports Legends at Camden Yards we toured a new exhibit. In fact, the exhibit opened today. It features information on Baltimore during the Civil War, with a wonderful collection of artifacts, photographs, and written descriptions of the city’s Civil War history. I thought it was well done. The exhibit gallery, of course, included a section devoted to Lincoln’s travels through Baltimore.

Due to the action-packed day, it will be difficult to provide a detailed blow-by-blow recital of events. But here, in a nutshell, is what happened.

After the fantastic event at Camden Yards, we drove to Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore. Spirit, for the last time on the trip, introduced President-elect Abraham Lincoln. About 110 high school students and teachers listened to the presentation. The group asked a number of questions.

Lincoln gets ready to board train to D.C.
Then, six students and a teacher from the high school boarded a van to the train station. Like Lincoln 150 years ago, all of us were to board a train bound for the nation’s capital.

At the station we entered a waiting room. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis met the delegation. The students and Director Jarvis, along with Fritz Klein, engaged in a conversation about the Civil War and what it means today. The conversation continued on the train as we rattled along to the station in Washington, D.C.

Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, met our delegation at the station. We boarded a bus, along with the students, and rode to Ford’s Theater. At the theater, the students had a meeting with Secretary Salazar and Director Jarvis, among others. The students toured the museum.

Spirit Trickey then kicked off a press conference that featured remarks by Secretary Salazar and Director Jarvis. They spoke about the 150th anniversary of the Civil War the country is commemorating from 2011 to 2015.

I saw quite a number of NPS employees that I’ve known for years, which was a real treat (including my first boss, Don Wollenhaupt—he is now Chief of Interpretation for the Southeast Region).

Our final event of the trip occurred late in the day. We assembled one last time, appropriately, at the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum. Dr. Frank Smith, the man who was the driving force behind the memorial’s creation, spoke eloquently about the memorial and the people it honors. Fritz then spoke to the audience. He recited the Gettysburg Address. The words resonated with the audience, especially when we considered the setting. The sculpture looming behind Fritz as he spoke those immortal words features black soldiers and a sailor in U.S. military uniforms of the Civil War era. The words “Civil War to Civil Rights and Beyond” are engraved on the memorial.

The aluminum panels on the memorial feature engraved names of nearly 200,000 men who served in black units during the war, including the often-forgotten African American sailors. I found the names of men that served in the 79th and 83rd United States Colored Troops (USCT). These two regiments were mustered in as the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiments in 1863. Later, most black regiments were consolidated into the USCT and given different designations. The two black regiments that became the 79th and 83rd USCT were mustered into service in Fort Scott, Kansas. Fort Scott National Historic Site is my home park, where I began my NPS career in 1987. I also looked for the 34th USCT, because it was led by James Montgomery, a fellow Kansan. Montgomery left Kansas in late 1862 to recruit and lead the 2nd South Carolina Colored Infantry Regiment, which eventually became the 34 USCT. I found James Montgomery’s name on the memorial, which was of great interest to me. Among other actions, in June of 1863 Colonel Montgomery co-led raid with Harriet Tubman up the Combahee River in South Carolina. The raid freed more than 700 enslaved men, women, and children. I posed for a photograph with a woman who was portraying Harriet Tubman.

As we were driving away from the memorial, after many handshakes and wishes of farewell, we spoke with Fritz about his final talk. We all agreed that his recitation of the Gettysburg Address was powerful and fitting conclusion to the trip. The words resonated with the small crowd assembled for the event, which included several African American women in replica 1860s clothing and a young African American man wearing the Union blue.

I suddenly recalled the words Lincoln used to describe the contributions of the black men who donned blue uniforms to strike a blow against slavery. “And then, there will be some black men,” wrote Lincoln, “who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”

Fritz and I both thought that it would have been fitting to include those words in his talk at the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum. We didn’t think about it in time for the program. But I can certainly include it in this blog!

Our journey had wound down. Tim and Spirit dropped off Fritz and me at our hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. Tim and Spirit will be staying over for meetings the following day.

I want to say this: Tim, Fritz, and Spirit were wonderful traveling companions. They are fun, dedicated, professional, and passionate about what they do—and they do it well.

This was a remarkable journey. From Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., we followed Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural route. I asked Tim to check the odometer as I departed the van for the last time. We had traveled 2,105 miles in 13 days. We presented 24 programs to about 5,300 people. Media coverage was abundant along the way. (In fact, the February 24 issue of USA Today included a photograph of Fritz stepping off the train in Washington, D.C. to shake hands with students under the observation of NPS Director Jon Jarvis.) Tim Townsend, the historian at Lincoln Home National Historic Site, deserves special recognition. He played a key role in making the event possible. He supported the trip at every turn. He also penned the NPS booklet, Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, that we handed out at every event. Tim had the books shipped ahead of time to each host site so that we wouldn’t have the van loaded down too much.

One of the things that made the trip worthwhile was watching the audiences reacting to Fritz’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. It was amazing. They really connected to the presentations. Lincoln fascinates Americans (as well as people all over the world).

At stops along the way, people of all ages listened in rapt attention to words spoken 150 years ago. Some even donned stovepipe hats and fake beards. They paused to consider the challenges facing Lincoln, and the nation, 150 years ago. They paused to remember a man and an event in history that changed the country forever; a time that created a “new birth of freedom” in our nation. They paused to remember this very human and imperfect man whom the country has turned into a folk hero. The Rail Splitter. The Great Emancipator. The folksy president who turned out to be political genius; a compassionate man who possessed an iron will. Abraham Lincoln: the prairie lawyer who led the nation through the fiery trial of civil war, who oversaw the movement to free four million enslaved human beings, and who was slain just as he had directed the ship of state safely back to port.

The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

--Walt Whitman

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