Monthly Archives: June 2008

In Search of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

My first memory of Abraham Lincoln is a huge face on Mt. Rushmore when I was a preschooler.  You don’t forget that. And who can miss his face on the penny and the five-dollar bill.  The guy is everywhere.

Everyone recognizes Lincoln and not just because he’s monumental and monetary.  He truly is larger than life.

When Anita and I visited the home of the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass (maybe more on him later), a little boy on our tour was silent until he saw the president’s framed photograph on the wall.  “Abraham Lincoln,” he called out.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned how important and rare this president was — and I’m still learning. I want to shout out “Abraham Lincoln,” too.  So this is my shout out.

Abraham Lincoln was burdened with one of the gravest trials a leader can face — holding this nation together.  The Civil War still casts a long shadow over our country.  Three million Americans fought in that war, and more than 600,000 died from both the North and South.  Two of my great great grandfathers fought in it — Peter Gergen, an immigrant from Luxembourg (Illinois military), and John Nelson, an immigrant from Ireland (Pennsylvania military).  Arguments continue to this day about the war’s purpose, meaning and worth.

Thousands of books have been written about Lincoln and about the Civil War.  And we haven’t seen the end to the words written about him, including my own.

In June, my friend Anita and I visited several places in Washington, D.C., that were important to that war or to the leaders in it.

During several years of his presidency, Abraham Lincoln and his family spent summers in this cottage three miles north of the White House. Lincoln commuted to the White House every day by carriage or horse.

One of our stops was Lincoln’s Cottage, an early day “Camp David,” which was restored to what it might have looked like in Lincoln’s day.  It opened to the public in February of this year.  Lincoln and his family spent nearly a quarter of his presidency there, beginning in June 1862.  He’d spend the summer nights there, returning full-time to the White House in November each year.  It’s about three miles north of the White House on the city’s third highest hill.

James Buchanan was the first president to use the cottage as a summer White House.  Lincoln visited the cottage right after his inauguration and hoped to move his family there that summer, but it was not to be.  Fort Sumter was surrendered to the Confederates in April 1861.  Lincoln was overwhelmed with the duties of the war.

In February 1862, his son 12-year-old Willie became ill and died.  Now, the hilltop cottage would be more than just a refuge from the capitol area’s heat and humidity and the siege of people wanting his help. Now, it also would be a balm for his and Mary’s grief.

Lincoln\'s Cottage, rear view. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

This is the back of Lincoln’s Cottage, a 19th century “Camp David.”

Lincoln couldn’t escape reminders of the war. Daily, soldiers would be buried in the adjoining national cemetery, visible from his window. More than 5,000 soldiers would be buried there during the Civil War.  Soldiers were camped on the grounds, and Lincoln would share their coffee, and meet them in camps along his route to and from the White House each day, which took about 30 minutes each way.  He preferred to make the trip alone, and did so sometimes in the beginning, but 25 to 30 soldiers later were assigned to escort him, once thwarting a kidnapping attempt.

He’d often see the poet Walt Whitman along the way.

Among the many words Whitman wrote about Lincoln: “I see very plainly ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression…..”

Whitman dedicated the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” to Lincoln.

This is a rough draft of Walt Whitman\'s poem, \" width=

The cottage was only about a mile from Fort Stevens, which was attacked by Confederate soldiers coming in from Maryland.  Lincoln stood on a parapet to take a look and someone shot at him.

“Get down, you fool,” someone shouted.  Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was later Supreme Court Justice, claimed to tbe the one who told the president to stand down.  Others also tried to take credit for the warning.

Plagued by insomnia, Lincoln would often ride or walk on the grounds and through the cemetery. One time during one of these restless wanderings, someone took a shot at him.  A sentry later found Lincoln’s hat with a bullet hole in the crown. Lincoln was unruffled by these attempts on his life.  Even Mary suffered in an attempt on Lincoln’s life.  Bolts had been loosened from the Lincoln carriage, which flipped over on one of her solo trips back to the White House. Her frequent

Abraham Lincoln could see this cemetery from his cottage and sometimes would roam there at night when he couldn’t sleep. Many soldiers were buried there during Lincoln’s tenure at the cottage, adding to his grief over The Civil War.

headaches became even worse, and her son Robert said that she never quite recovered from the accident.

The Lincolns were planning another summer at the cottage in 1865, but Lincoln was assassinated in April of that year. He had just visited the cottage the day before.

Mary wrote a friend: “How dearly I loved the ‘Soldiers’ Home’ & how little I supposed, one year since, that we would be so far removed from it, broken hearted, and praying for death, to remove me, from a life, so full of agony.”

Retired soldiers still live at the home.  There’s a picnic area near a visitor’s center.  The air is fragrant with the lemony scent of Magnolia grandifolia and the spicy odor of boxwood. It was pleasant in the shade of the towering trees, which our guide said were all post-Lincoln.  For more information about visiting and the cottage’s history go to www.lincolncottage.org  Reservations for the guided tours are recommended.  You can also find a link to a Lincoln Cottage blog on that website.

Two books about Lincoln that I enjoyed are “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin and “Lincoln” by David Herbert Donald.  Both are Pulitzer Prize Winners. Presidents are always good topics to write a book about if you want to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Where Lincoln Sought Refuge in His Dark Hours, link to a New York Times article about Lincoln’s Cottage, his summer White House.

Lincoln died in this small room in the Peterson House, across the street from Ford\'s Theater.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Abraham Lincoln died in this room in the Peterson House, which is across the street from Ford’s Theater, where he was shot.

The Real Lincoln Bedroom: Love in a Time of Strife, link to a New York Times article about new book on the Lincolns’ marriage, which also includes a link to a list of books and other Lincoln topics.  If you are interested in history, the Civil War or Lincoln, this is the site for you!

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, History, Life, Presidents, Travel

The Rolling Stones

J.A. got these autographs for me.

My autographed photograph of The Rolling Stones.

I never win anything, I don’t collect autographs, and I usually don’t know anyone who can get me past security…..But the rock n’ roll stars were in alignment at least this one time in April 1999. (Ok, so it’s an old story.)

 The Rolling Stones were bringing their “No Security” tour to Kansas City, their first trip to town in ten years.  Friend and neighbor KG was organizing a group to go. 

We were excited. We actually knew someone who knew someone — our friends and neighbors, the As. Their son-in-law, B.F., was a back-up singer for The Rolling Stones. We’d seen the family photos with the Stones in the A’s kitchen. Grandkids on Stones’ laps.

Mrs. A. offered to get us backstage passes, but told us we were on our own for tickets. 

I didn’t want to pay $250 each.  There were cheaper tickets, but KG wanted the best.  I was planning to sit in the nosebleed section. I’m cheap, what can I say?

KG chided me, “Come on, just pay the money, when will you have this chance again?” 

I never win anything, but I won these tickets in a drawing at a department store.  I\'d told friends my husband and I didn\'t want to pay $250 each to go with them, but I was counting on winning tickets.  Amazingly, I did!

These tickets say they cost 0.00, but they were priceless!

I told KG I’d win tickets. A local department store was holding a contest for tickets. I’d enter. I’d win. Easy.

KG laughed: “You’re out of your mind.  You’ll be sorry.” 

You know, I never doubted I’d win. (Although I’ve had that feeling about contests before and since and didn’t win, but that makes a lousy story.) The day before the drawing, I remembered that I’d have to actually enter to win — wishful thinking alone doesn’t work — so I hurried to the store and dropped two entries into the box — one for me, one for my husband.  This was in the days before most contests were online.  Then I waited. 

KG asked: Did you get tickets yet? 

“No, but I will.”

“You’re delusional.”

A while later — it seemed like forever — someone from a New York office called to tell me I’d won two tickets. Actually, she told me that my husband’s entry had won, so now I had to twist his arm to take me.  Forms were FedExed, signed, notarized, FedExed.  I practically lived on my front porch one weekend, waiting.  There were deadlines that had to be met, or we’d lose out. I had no idea how complicated it was to win something. Finally the tickets arrived by FedEx.

On the concert’s eve, I was in KG’s kitchen, when we saw a long limousine pull into the A’s driveway.  Who was it? We took a walk, hoping we could catch a glimpse in the window of someone from the band.   We couldn’t see anything.  I felt like an idiot.  We laughed at ourselves.

When we got to Kemper Arena on the night of the concert, we pushed our way through the crowds to meet Mrs. A. in a large dining area — the band lounge.  But there was no band, of course.  A lot of people were eating and drinking.  We weren’t hungry so we passed on the refreshments. We didn’t recognize anyone.  We could hear the echo of the opening act, Jonny Lang.  We weren’t actually in the real back stage, but, hey, we had a pass! Still, I was sorry I had missed Lang. We were here to hear music, not watch people eat.

We hurried to the concert floor.  It was crowded, shoulder to shoulder. I could see Dr. A., in a suit and tie, and  Mrs. A., in a jacket and skirt, near the front in the crush of people.  At a break, Mick Jagger introduced B.F., who called out, “I love you, Mom and Dad.” 

Dr. and Mrs. A. had faithfully attended all of The Stones concerts when the band came to town, whether in Kansas City, in L.A., where the As had a home, or in Tokyo, where they had relatives, although Mrs. A. confided that it really wasn’t their kind of music. I think it grew on them, though, over time.

Twenty thousand fans were there, and I think they all squeezed onto the stage floor.  Who was left in the cheap seats?  Mick Jagger was electrifying as he pranced, pouted and shouted on the long stage!  What if I hadn’t won tickets?  I would have missed out.  It was an unforgettable, not-to-be repeated experience. Part of our exuberance was feeling a connection to our generation, resonating the patterns already imprinted in our brains since the days in 1965 when I first heard “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” at Dara’s birthday slumber party for all of the girls in the eighth grade at St. Mary’s.

The following week, Mrs. A asked us whether we wanted band autographs.  I said, “Sure.” A week later, I got the photo above, signed by Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts in gold ink.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, although I’m happy to have the photo. It’s been in a file drawer ever since, until I scanned it for art for this post.  I’ll have it archivally framed one of these days.

In August 2005 in Boston, my daughter’s boyfriend, R.H., worked on the crew to erect and then take down in Fenway Park what was one of the largest stages ever constructed for a rock concert.  The Rolling Stones were kicking off their “Bigger Bang” tour there on Aug. 21 for a two-night stand.  R.H., a college student and musician, was a lot more excited by the work than he was by the music which was not of  his era.  He was happy to climb to the top during the take-down.  He joked about seeing the members of the band hobbling off to their limousines. By the time R.H. had been born in 1984, the Stones had been making music for twenty years. 

R.H. and my daughter, L.L., are in a generation that seem to have infinite music choices.  They can find it anywhere.  Are there any bands that unite them, any common soundtrack to their lives?  They seem liberated by it.  They probably won’t be gathering twenty years from now in a huge stadium to re-visit the music of their youth.  Now, though, when I see their music “mixes”, I see as many songs from my youth as I do from theirs.  Too bad, the old dinosaurs of our age will be gone.

Our long-time colleagues, friends and neighbors got these passes for us.  Not much was going on backstage, but a lot of people eating and drinking while the opening act, Johnny Lang, was playing. No musicians were in sight!

We got into the band lounge where we saw a lot of people lounging and eating, but no Rolling Stones.

On a trip to Chicago in October 2006, my husband and I stayed in a hotel full of Rolling Stones fans, who were going to an outdoor concert at Soldier’s Field, still the same “Bigger Band” tour that had kicked off in Boston.   I was wistful. There were tickets left. Should we get some?  We’d come to Chicago to see the King Tut Exhibit at the Field Museum. I hadn’t even known about The Stones. The temperature had dropped into the teens. The wind was howling.  We watched from our hotel window as the crowds trudged toward the stadium, which we could see from our room.  I sighed.  The moment had passed. The next morning, the fans were enthusiastic. They’d made their own heat.  I rationalized that we couldn’t have recaptured that night in April long ago when everything came together.  But, except for the cold, I wish we would have gone.

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Filed under Life, Music, Personal

It’s Always a Great Year for “Vintage” Clothing

 

This shopper is happy with the low price on this lovely skirt at a consignment shop.

This shopper is happy with the low price on this skirt at a Kansas City consignment shop.

It must be in the genes.  My daughter works part-time at a Kansas City consignment store,  just as her grandmother did for many years.  As prices skyrocket, it’s trendy to give a second life to clothing that’s “gently worn” and still high style.  Grandma is on a first-name basis with Saks and Nieman, but has supplemented her stylish wardrobe with pieces from Act II, a high-end designer store in Kansas City, where she worked part-time. 

As a teenager, my daughter got started on her “vintage” clothing buying spree at The Wasteland on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in 2001.  We were turned on to the area by my good college friend Jan, who also took us to the huge Aaardvark’s Odd Ark in Pasadena. (Yes, there are three As in a row.) My daughter was hooked!  I did well myself, grabbing a great black leather motorcycle jacket for $11.

A Kansas City Star photographer snaps Mrs. L in a Fashion Focus as she walks on the Country Club Plaza.

On the Country CLub Plaza, a Kansas City Star photographer captures Mrs. L. in his lens for a Fashion Focus.

There’s something about the word “vintage” that makes used clothes sound fabulous.  The whole re-sale shopping experience has inspired new euphemisms for used, old, recycled, cast-off, outgrown, discarded and unwanted, but who cares?  You can get some great stuff!

My daughter’s consignment shop is mid-range and has been selling infant, children’s and women’s clothing and accessories for more than twenty years.  She buys or uses her store credit to get a batch of “new” clothes a couple of times a month.  She also consigns clothes she no longer wants.  What she can’t consign she’ll take to a thrift shop.  She’s so hooked on “vintage” fashion and its affordability, she barely thinks of buying new.  In the Kansas City area, there are more than a dozen clothing consignment shops and dozens of thrift shops.

Happy shopper outside The Wasteland, a thrift shop on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

Shopper outside The Wasteland consignment shop on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

 She and her boyfriend, both recent college graduates, also have been hitting the neighborhood garage sales.  They have a “new” stereo, “new” bike and plenty of other thrifty finds. Link to a New York Times story about consignment shops: When Conscience and Closet Collide

Check out www.petenrepeat.com

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Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin-kashmir…the real video

Favorite Band. Favorite Song.  Yes, I’ve figured out to post videos from You Tube. There’s no stopping me now!

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Ouch!

New Media Douchebags Explained

Just when I get the hang of blogs, MySpace and Facebook, I now find out that I’m in danger of becoming a New Media Douchebag!  I promise not to complain (too much) or whine (too often) or be a Debbie Downer or a Cathy Crybaby on all of my various sites.  But who’s really reading any of this stuff anyway?! There are more than three million blogs on wordpress.com. Who has the time? We’re all too busy crafting our own brilliant webpages. Or not so brilliant…… One of these days the whole thing will come crashing down.  Uh oh, is that Debbie Downer speaking?

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Women in Art

Women In Art

This is beautiful and fascinating, but it’s also kind of creepy.  A lot of the women look the same, too.  It’s as if the artists used the same template.

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Orgy in the Front Yard

This Japanese maple seedling sprouted under its mother in our front yard.

Check out Olivia Judson’s entertaining book on reproduction at www.drtatiana.com/book.shtml  She also blogs on the New York Times site. You’ll never look at sex the same way again.

Two paper birches swamped our front yard with offspring this spring.  We were knee deep in birch babies.  Ok, I’m exaggerating.  But the seeds did fall in drifts like beige snow, sprouting into a carpet of tiny trees in every open space.  Last year, a late freeze nipped the flowers, so this year Mother Nature is in hyperdrive, making up for a lost year.

There isn’t room for any more trees, so I’m uprooting all of the youngsters with my hoe.  Mother Nature giveth, and her daughter taketh away.

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Filed under Biology, Gardening, Life, Nature