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

Winter in NY

Day Eleven - February 21, 2011
New York, NY to Philadelphia, PA

We clambored aboard the gray van at 7:45 this morning. Large white flakes of snow were spiraling out of the sky. Winter in New York City. . . .

I’m still ill, but “the show must go on.” Fortunately, Fritz remains healthy. He’s the one who really counts, says Tim. I try not to breathe in Fritz’s direction.

Today is president’s day. I can’t think of a better way to spend it than to be with this crew tracing Lincoln’s inaugural journey.

We drove into Trenton, New Jersey. We had a program at 1:00 pm at the New Jersey Statehouse. Lincoln spoke to both the state’s senate and general assembly 150 years ago today.

I haven’t spoken much of the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. In the 1960s our country commemorated the centennial of the war with various events and reenactments. On February 21, 1961, Anthony Quinn, the famous actor, spoke at the New Jersey Statehouse. He was hired to address a joint session of New Jersey’s legislature. Herbert H. Tate, a prominent black Republican assemblyman, helped organize the event. Tate wanted to highlight the progress on race that had been made up to that point in New Jersey—but that much more work needed to be done. Symbolically, in the audience to hear the movie star read Lincoln’s address was an African American named John Harris. Harris was a 103-year-old man who had been born into slavery in North Carolina. [Source: p. 91 of Robert J. Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961 – 1965; Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007.] 

To quote from Lincoln’s address to the senate:

“May I be pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my childhood, the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of a small book, such a one as few of the younger members have ever seen, “Weem’s Life of Washington.” I remember all the accounts there given of the battle fields and struggles for the liberties of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here in Trenton, New Jersey. The crossing of the river; the contest with the Hessians; the great hardships endured at that time, all fixed themselves on my memory more than any single revolutionary event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how those early impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for. I am exceedingly anxious that that thing which they struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be happy indeed if I shall be a humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle. . . .”

Spirit, unfortunately, is developing the cough that I’ve been battling for several days. We’ve been going through a fair number of cough drops.

Spirit and Fritz did another wonderful presentation at the New Jersey State House. A crowd of about 250 people heard the program. Once again, many audience members swarmed Fritz after the program. But this time, Spirit, also drew a nice little crowd, which included several children. Spirit gave them a short interpretive talk about the Little Rock Nine and the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Our thanks go out to Sarah Schmidt for her help, as well as the rest of the staff at the New Jersey State House. Sarah is the State House Tour Program Educator. Her bubbly personality and enthusiasm for the Lincoln event made our visit here a very special one.

The New Jersey State House is a wonderful building. They also created a superb temporary exhibit about Lincoln’s visit to the site 150 years ago. One of the artifacts on display was a letter that Lincoln had signed accepting the invitation to visit Trenton.

We then drove on to Philadelphia. We stayed at the Union League of Philadelphia, a wonderful old hotel.

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