Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy Birthday to Poe - With a Beantown Touch (Boston Post #1)

Poe Statue - Boston - Jim Schmidt Photo
Happy 207th Birthday to Edgar Allan Poe, born on this day - in Boston - 1809!

This post includes photos from a statue of Poe recently (2014) dedicated in Boston which I saw when visiting there in August 2015.  It's also the first of several blog posts documenting that visit.

"Other cities have long claimed a piece of the itinerant Poe. Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Richmond, Va., all have Poe monuments or museums of one sort or another," an interesting New York Times article (link below) from October 2014 declared, adding "Boston never bothered. Not without reason. Poe sneered at the city’s luminaries. Riffing off the Frog Pond in the Boston Common, Poe called the local swells “Frogpondians,” their moralistic works sounding like the croaking of so many frogs. As for residents here, they “have no soul,” he said. “Bostonians are well bred — as very dull persons very generally are.”

Poe Statue - Boston - Jim Schmidt Photo

The Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston and the Boston Art Commission led the effort for the statue, which was crafted by sculptor Stefanie Rocknak.

Some additional interesting links regarding Poe and Boston are listed below:

New York Times - October 4, 2014 -  "Edgar Allan Poe’s Feud With Boston? Nevermore"

Boston Globe - October 5, 2014 - "Edgar Allan Poe immortalized in the city he loathed"

Poe Boston, Inc - "Edgar Allan Poe & the City of Boston"

Boston Public Library - "The Raven in the Frog Pond"

Boston.com - "Quoth the detective: Edgar Allan Poe’s case against the Boston literati"

Enjoy!

Poe Statue - Boston - Jim Schmidt Photo

Poe Statue - Boston - Jim Schmidt Photo
Poe Statue - Boston - Jim Schmidt Photo


Friday, January 15, 2016

"Pillars of the Earth" - #1 - St. Mary Aldermanbury - "Perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture"

St. Mary, Aldermanbury - Fulton, MO - Photo by Jim Schmidt
"The removal of a Christopher Wren church , largely destroyed by enemy action...and its reconstruction and re-dedication at Fulton is an imaginative concept.  It may symbolize in the eyes of the English-speaking peoples the ideals of Anglo-American association on which rest, now as before, so many of our hopes for peace and the future of mankind." -  Letter, 1962, Winston Churchill to Dr. Davidson, president,  Westminster College

This post is a follow-up to my last post about a visit to the National Churchill Museum in nearby Fulton, Missouri.  While the previous post focused on the museum, this post will focus on the remarkable structure of which the museum is but a part: the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury - a church with a remarkable history, moved from London to central Missouri, brick-by-brick, in the 1960s.  Likewise, with the borrowed moniker, "Pillars of the Earth," it's the first of what I hope will be a series of posts on historic churches that I've visited (and hope to continue visiting).

Some information on the early history of the church from The Churches of the City of London by Herbert Reynolds (1922):

"The open space surrounding this church and its pleasant churchyard render it more conspicuous than many others in the City.

The early church on this site dated back to the fourteenth century, and was in the possession of the Elsing Priory until the suppression, afterwards becoming a rectory. The parishioners had the right to elect their rector under the licence of the Bishop. Sir William Englefield, Lord Mayor, 1429 and 1437, built the steeple and renewed the bells.

This old church perished in the Great Fire, and the present one, by Sir C. Wren, was erected on the old site in 1677.

The interior gives one a correct idea of the architect's scheme of window lighting ; the plain glass type remains, and with the exception of the eastern window there is no stained glass. All these windows were shattered in the first Zeppelin raid over the City on the night of the 8th of September, 1915."





The Architectural Series of London Churches - British Museum

What the Germans didn't accomplish in 1915, they completed in WWII: in the London Blitz of December 1940, the church was severely damaged by an incendiary bomb:


St Mary, Aldermanbury - January 1, 1941 - Getty Images

St Mary, Aldermanbury - April 1, 1946 - Getty Images
A Victorian silver communion service was rescued from the rubble after the bombing and fires of December 29, 1940, and is on display in the Churchill Museum in Fulton:

Victorian Era Communion Silver from original St. Mary's - Jim Schmidt photo
The church was destined for destruction.  As part of the plans for a memorial to Churchill at Westminster College in Fulton, MO, then-college president Dr. Robert L. D. Davidson, hatched the idea of bringing the church to the college and restoring it.

St Mary, Aldermanbury - July 31, 1964 - Getty Images


And so they did! The process, which the London Times called “perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture,” began in the spring of 1964. Five years later, on May 7, 1969, the building’s dedication ceremonies were held.

Exterior = 84 feet long; 54.5 feet wide; tower height = 106 feet
Interior = 75 x 49 x 38 ft; 280 persons capacity

Photos below - Enjoy! - I highly recommend a visit!

The dimensions of the church are the same as the building which burned in 1666, using the foundation line preserved by Christopher Wren - photo by Jim Schmidt

From the undercroft, the stairway is crowned by a chandelier - photo by Jim Schmidt

Stairway - photo by Jim Schmidt
Clear, handblown cathedral glass windows, manufactured by Blenko Co. (Milton, WV), duplicate those used by Wren - Jim Schmidt photo 

Detail from the lectern...new carvings throughout the church were done by artist Arthur Ayers in the original Wren style - Jim Schmidt photo
The chandeliers were made in Cleveland, OH, and are replicas of those designed by Wren - Jim Schmidt photo
The 12 original columns designed by Wren stand on either side of the aisle.  The bases are new, since the sandstone originals could not be moved; seven of the capitals are original; the columns no longer support the roof - photo by Jim Schmidt

Photo by Jim Schmidt
Photo by Jim Schmidt
The organ is a 38-rank tracker, mechanical; built ny N. P. Mander, London; pipes are c. 1770s; case from 1741 - photo by Jim Schmidt
Outside detail - Jim Schmidt photo
The Tower - Jim Schmidt photo
Photo by Jim Schmidt

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Stay Calm and Carry Museum On" - The National Churchill Museum (Fulton, MO)

I love museums of all kinds and the summer months make for a great time to see them.  Last week I had the great pleasure and privilege of taking a short road trip with our son, Robert, to the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, on the campus of Westminster College.  It was a great, fun, and interesting visit.

Westminster is the home of this museum owing to its place in history as the site of Winston Churchill's famous "Sinews of Peace" speech address - also known as the "Iron Curtain" speech, on March 5, 1946.  Originally established in the late 1960s as the National Churchill Memorial and Library, it went through an extensive renovation in 2006 and has since been designated by Congress as America's national Churchill museum.


The actual focus and home of the museum is the Church of St. Mary Aldermanbury - a 17th century London church transported brick and pillar to Fulton, MO - but that will be the subject of my next blog post as it deserves its own - the Museum proper resides in the lower level of the church, but also includes statues of Churchill on the church grounds as well as "Breakthrough" - a sculpture built from sections of the Berlin Wall.

The Museum tour is self-guided, but a kind volunteer gave us a short orientation to the layout.  The tour is primarily chronological - beginning with The Early Years (1874-1914), First World War & aftermath (1914-1929),World War II (1929-1945), The Sinews of Peace (1946), Churchill and the Cold War (1946 and Beyond), and Churchill's Private Life.  Not knowing many details about Churchill apart from his appearance in my general reading about WWI and WWII, the entire tour was a good experience to learn more about the man.

"The day came when my father himself paid a formal visit of inspection.  All the troops were arranged in the correct formation of attack. He spent twenty minutes studying the scene..." - Winston Churchill 

"The Early Years" an exhibit includes a cabinet of some of the young Churchill's toy soldiers.  He had more than 1500 of them.  The section of the museum also describes his rough early years of schooling, his graduation from Sandhurst Military Academy, his intrepid adventures in the Boer War, and his entrance into politics.

"The First World War" describes his position of First Lord of the Admiralty, his influence in the development of battleships and tanks (financed through the Navy!), the disaster at Galipoli, and his field service in WWI.

His important part in the history of WWII - for which he is probably best known in the American imagination - justly represents a good part of the museum.




Not surprisingly, the very best part of the Museum - and the section with the most artifacts - covers Churchill's visit (with President Harry Truman) to Fulton and Westminster College for his famous speech.



Finally, the Museum has displays focusing on Churchill's private life, including several original paintings done by Churchill, and his place in popular culture.



The Museum also includes some wonderful outdoor sculptures.




The Museum is comfortable with professional exhibits; perhaps a little light on Churchill artifacts (apart from the excellent Iron Curtain speech collection), though that's understandable given the more important collections overseas such as the Churchill War Rooms at the Imperial War Museum. I highly recommend a visit.




Friday, June 19, 2015

150 Years Ago Today - "Freedom Day" - Juneteenth in Galveston, TX - 1865

"Juneteenth" monument on the grounds of Ashton Villa in Galveston, TX - p[hoto by James M. Schmidt

Note: An abbreviated form of this post about Juneteenth appeared on this blog on 18 June 2012 (here) - I've updated it as an expanded post with an excerpt from my book, Galveston and the Civil War (2012) and have included links to some exception material from Andy Hall's "Dead Confederates" blog.

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." -General Gordon Granger’s General Order No. 3, Galveston, TX, June 19, 1865

In commemoration of "Juneteenth," I am pleased to provide an excerpt from my book, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (History Press, 2012)

"Freedom Day"
 
by James M. Schmidt

The war may have been over, but there was now a peace to keep. Major General Gordon Granger—newly appointed as commander of the Department of Texas—arrived in Galveston on the morning of June 19, 1865, and that very day, he issued several orders from his headquarters in the city: one asserted his authority over the state, another declared that all acts of the state’s governor and legislature since secession were null and void and yet another made the state’s cotton public property and the quartermaster the sole agent for its purchase and sale. The most important order, however, was his “General Orders No. 3”:

 Gen. Gordon Granger - Library of Congress
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere. (1)

Note - See Andy Hall's "Dead Confederates" blog for a post (here) that includes an image of a rare handbill with General Order #3

Although President Abraham Lincoln had issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 (after the Battle of Antietam), and the final proclamation on January 1, 1863 (the same day as the Battle of Galveston), they actually had a minimal immediate impact on the lives of most of the millions of the nation’s enslaved African Americans, especially the slaves in Texas. The proclamations did have a significant effect on the prosecution of the Civil War, on the political landscape and in the international community, but it was only with battlefield victories— many of them hard-fought and won by ex-slaves in uniform—that the proclamations could be enforced. Granger’s order, then, was very important in that it legally abolished slavery in Texas forever.


Ashton Villa - Photo by James M. Schmidt
Local tradition has it that General Granger read his order and the Emancipation Proclamation from the balcony of the home of James M. Brown (also known as “Ashton Villa,” and, ironically, constructed, in part, with slave labor) in Galveston. Other historians have suggested the order may have been issued from Granger’s headquarters on the Strand or from the United States Customhouse. Where or whether the order was read aloud, it was posted throughout Galveston and printed in newspapers in the city and throughout the state. In postwar interviews, slaves throughout Texas remembered masters calling them together to read Granger’s order and learning they were now free. (2)

Owing to distance, poor communication and the reluctance of masters, it took time—weeks or months sometimes—for the news to reach slaves on plantations in the inland frontier; even then, the reaction to the news varied from slave to slave or family to family as they contemplated how to embrace their freedom. Some ran away immediately; others stayed and
continued their work but for wages. In Galveston, lawyer William Pitt Ballinger awoke to find that three of his slaves had “up and left [at] night upon hearing the news of their emancipation.” Ballinger wrote that he was “saddened by their running” but told his family the three “were free to do as they pleased—the law was with them.” As further witness to the mixed reaction to emancipation, two of the ex-slaves headed for New Orleans while another soon returned to the Ballinger household. (3)


Galveston’s ex-slaves rejoiced on hearing the news. Confederate major H.A. Wallace recalled that when he reached the island, he found some ex-slaves at the wharf throwing their hats in the air. When Wallace inquired why they were celebrating, the men declared, “We’s free now.” Wallace asked, “What makes you free?” and they answered, “Yankees come down on ships on the outside to free us.” The day has been remembered ever since as “Juneteenth” (a portmanteau of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” also called “Emancipation Day” or “Freedom Day”). Beginning in 1866, African Americans in Galveston and throughout the state began annual celebrations of Juneteenth with church services, parades, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and more. (4)

Still, it would take time for that freedom and equality to be fully realized. Even Granger’s order was “stated in a patronizing tone,” as one historian declared, requiring the freedmen to find work and forbidding idleness. Fewer than 2,000 Union soldiers patrolled the whole of Texas, hindering the safe passage or harbor of ex-slaves in the midst of returning Confederate veterans or masters reluctant to yield their human “property.” Even in the presence of the Union occupation, the Galveston Weekly News defiantly declared that “the attempt to set the negro free…and make him, politically, the equal of the white man, will be most disastrous to the whole country and absolutely ruinous to the South.” (5)

As one historian noted, slavery may have been over in Texas, but “[its] bitter legacy had only begun to unfold.” (6)

Notes:

(1) The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vol. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880–1901., ser. 1, vol. 48, part 2, 929.
(2) Andrew Hall,
“Juneteenth, History and Tradition,” Dead Confederates Blog.
(3) Moretta, John A. William Pitt Ballinger: Texas Lawyer, Southern Statesman, 1825–1888. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2000, 174.
(4) McComb, David G. Galveston: A History. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986, 84.
(5) Cotham, Edward T. Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998, 185; Galveston Weekly News, June 28, 1865.
223. Campbell, Randolph B.
An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989, 251.



Sunday, June 7, 2015

150 Years Ago Today - Gen. W. T. Sherman's 1865 Commencement Address at Notre Dame


Cross -posted from my "Notre Dame in the Civil War" blog.

I am pleased to provide an excerpt from my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the commencement address delivered by Union general William T. Sherman at the University of Notre Dame, on June 7, 1865.

Life is only another kind of battle and it requires as good a generalship to conduct it to a successful end as it did to conquer a city, or to march through Georgia.

–William T. Sherman, Notre Dame commencement address, June 7, 1865
The Sherman family—fresh from grand reviews and a series of congratulatory banquets—stopped at Notre Dame on Wednesday, June 7, 1865. The university took advantage of the presence of their distinguished guest and invited him to speak at that day’s commencement exercises. When Sherman entered the refectory, the students gave him an ovation. Timothy Howard, the wounded veteran of Shiloh—and now a Notre Dame professor—addressed the general on behalf of the faculty. The professor first congratulated Sherman on his military exploits and success and then on the general’s special connection to the university:

We are glad that you have kindly visited us on your way; we knew you would not forget us. From the field of strife and the march, your heart must have often turned to the quiet shades where dwelt the treasures of your soul. And when the war was over, we knew that General Sherman would come to see the places made sacred to him by the consecrating footsteps of his family, and rest with us and let Notre Dame be a gentle spot in the midst of toils in the present and honors in the future. (1)

Tommy Corcoran, a senior from Cincinnati, also congratulated the general and spoke with pride of how the university had a part in the Union victory, stating that “[p]riests, sisters, professors and students have gone out from their quiet places, and have become part in your grand armies; and a feeling of glory goes up in our souls as we remember that we, too, have a share in your renown.” (2)

The general’s nephew, Tom Ewing, then spoke on behalf of the junior department. He first poked fun at the seniors, saying that most of them were going to be doctors so that they could “kill other people without endangering their own lives,” while the rest would become lawyers so that they “may be smart enough to find excuses for avoiding all coming drafts.” His fellow juniors, though, he proudly declared, “have unanimously and solemnly resolved…to be soldiers…[and] Major Generals, also.” He then alluded touchingly to the general’s favorite son, stating, “You have come here, we know, to visit the halls where Willy studied, the groves where he played, and the boys who were his friends—a title we are proud to claim.” (3)

The general was deeply moved and assured the audience that the boys at Notre Dame were dear to him. Sherman declared that, under the circumstances, he would rather “fight a respectable battle in behalf of the nation’s rights, than make a speech now,” adding, “[b]ut it is clear that you expect me to say something and I don’t want to disappoint you.” He then delivered some unprepared remarks (his trademark), commenting on his own youth and the need for self-reliance and referring often to the great national struggle:

Let me not forget that I was once a young man like those who have appeared before the audience on this day and occasion. You should be grateful that you are under such good instruction and guidance. You now have a pilot on board to guide you, but the time will come, and soon, when you will have to go forth into the great, dark seas alone, under your own guidance…

You must see to it that the ship is strong, the pilot true and the compass unerring…No one can tell when the ship might be wanted, when it will be required to go into action and even to do fighting for America. God knows there has been enough of fighting for a long spell, but it is the highest wisdom and the best policy…to be ready for that encounter at any moment…

But I ask you to remember that, although I have no more than ordinary abilities such as any of you possess, I had not forgotten to take care of the ship and that I trusted in the pilot—in myself. I relied upon my own courage and foresight and in my devotion to the good old cause, to the Union, to truth, to liberty and, above all, to the God of battles…

So I call upon the young men here to be ready to at all times to perform bravely the battle of life…A young man should always stand in his armor, with his sword in hand and his buckler on.

The general concluded by promising the young men assembled that he would “always regard you and your pursuits with interest,” with confidence that “each of you will try to make your careers honorable as well as successful,” and then he then bade them farewell. (4)

Notes:

(1) Chicago Evening Journal, June 16, 1865.
(2) Ibid
(3) Ibid.
(4) “General Sherman at Notre Dame” in Wilson D. Miscamble, ed., Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 46–47.


Note: Sherman's speech is the first of many in the wonderful book cited above: Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses by Fr. William D. Miscamble (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003). It includes more than two dozen addresses from 1865 through 2001.

Monday, April 27, 2015

"The Avenger of Lincoln" - A Patent Medicine Connection

This post originally appeared in 2012 as the last in a 5-part series on the W. W. Gavitt Medical Co. of Topeka, Kansas.  It is re-posted on the 150th anniversary of the death of John Wilkes Booth, who was shot by cavalryman Boston Corbett - a review of a very recent book on Corbett is also added.

BOOTH'S SLAYER LIVING
Boston Corbett Who Killed the Assassin of Lincoln
Selling Patent Medicine


- (Fort Wayne, IN, Sentinel - August 31, 1901)


In this post on Topeka's W. W. Gavitt Medical Company, I relate an interesting story that connects the Gavitt company to the Civil War, specifically the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the hunt for John Wilkes Booth.

Recall from Part I that the Gavitt company relied on "jobbers" - that is, agents, to sell their medicines door-to-door - and gave particular attention to enlisting the support of Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R., the leading Union Civil War veterans' organization) leaders and ministers.

Imagine then how pleased Gavitt must have been, then, to learn that Boston Corbett - the man who shot Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, when Booth was finally cornered in a burning barn - was one of his salesman!

Except that he wasn't. Which makes it a story as interesting (if not more so) than if he was!

First, some details about Corbett, whose life after that event was tragic:

After being discharged from the army in August 1865, Corbett went returned to his pre-war occupation of being a hatter, moving from Boston to Connecticut to New Jersey. For reasons unknown (although some speculate it may have been due to mercury poisoning, a chemical which was used in hat-making at the time), he began to display erratic behaviour, such as threatening fellow veterans at a reunion in Ohio in 1875. In 1878, Corbett moved to Concordia, Kansas, and - owing to his fame as Booth's killer - was appointed assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. He again displayed erratic and threatening behaviour, brandishing a revolver when the house was in session. He was arrested and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. On May 26, 1888, he escaped from the asylum. He stayed briefly with a friend in Kansas, telling him that he intended to go to Mexico; one theory holds that Corbett settled in Hinckley, Minnesota, and is presumed to have died in the "Great Hinckley Fire" of September 1, 1894.

However, in the late summer of 1901, newspaper articles around the country carried reports that Boston Corbett was not dead at all, but rather a "jobber" for W. W. Gavvitt Medical Co., selling his medicines door-to-door in Texas an Oklahoma (avoiding Kansas as he was an escapee from the asylum).

Typical were these headlines in newspapers from Indian, Iowa, and Kansas:

The Avenger of Lincoln a Traveling Salesman
for a Firm in Topeka Kansas

SLAYER OF JOHN WILKES BOOTH
NOW A DRUMMER

Works for Topeka Firm
He Was Recently Reported Dead
But Had Only Escaped From an Insane Asylum
Was a Religious Fanatic

According to the newspaper reports:

"He worked for the Gavitts a long time before they associated him with the man who shot Booth. Finally they suspected his identity and he acknowledged that hewas Boston Corbett in a letter written to the firm some months ago. W. W. Gavitt says he is an excellent salesman and that he has always made money for himself and the firm."

There is a an excellent summary of what happened next in a discussion group thread at the website, Lincoln-Assassination.com:

"The record is not clear whether Gavitt fed information about Boston Corbett to the salesman, or whether Gavitt drew the information from him. James O. Hall always maintained that Gavitt provided the facts and the drummer soaked them up. By the turn of the 20th Century the newspapers picked up the tale and it was soon stated that the real Boston Corbett was still alive. They also mentioned that he would be entitled to receive a pile of pension money.

Eventually, John Corbett was put in touch with Judge George A. Huron, the Topeka-based guardian of Boston Corbett’s estate. Huron had been trying to find out what happened to Boston Corbett after his 1888 escape and disappearance. Huron and John Corbett wrote for quite a while and Corbett finally admitted that he was the object of his search. Huron promised to help Corbett get the back pension. He tried to get Corbett to come to Topeka, but Corbett stated that he was worried that he would be returned to the asylum. Corbett stated that he would come to Gavitt’s home office, but kept finding excuses for not coming to Topeka.

Huron soon became suspicious of the indentification, however. The real Boston Corbett was literate and wrote in a fine hand; the drummer could barely string together a full sentence and his spelling was very poor. Corbett was vague on some of the details of his life in Kansas, and glossed over the story of his past. Huron pressed the case, getting Corbett to sign an official affidavit as part of the pension application. In the dead of a harsh winter, Huron and a lawman travelled to Texas to confront Corbett. What they found was a large, tall, broad shouldered man. He was much different from the slight former cavalryman. He was also several years younger than Boston Corbett would have been.

John Corbett was arrested for attempted pension fraud, tried and sentenced to the new U.S. Prison in Atlanta. He served several years and dropped from sight after he was released from jail."

[Note: The story was also the subject of a short article in a 1991 issue of Civil War Time Illustrated]

So, the Gavitt salesman was not Boston Corbett after all, but it's still an interesting story and an example of how patent medicine firms would use any kindof publicity to increase their sales!

Corbett is the subject of a recent (April 2015) and very good biography, which covers the Gavitt and pension fraud angle very well - the book is: The Madman and the Assassin: The Strange Life of Boston Corbett, the Man Who Killed John Wilkes Booth and my review is below:

4/5 stars

"Boston Corbett is a character, and no mistake." - Cleveland Leader, Sept 6, 1865

Thank you to the kind folks at Chicago Review Press for the review copy.

"The Madman and the Assassin" is an interesting book about an important player in the saga of the Lincoln Assassination: cavalryman Boston Corbett, who shot and mortally Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, who was cornered in a burning Virginia barn.

Honestly, I was prepared to give the book only 3 stars based on the first 2/3 of the book - as with many other 19th century Americans, details on Corbett's early life are understandably hard to come by, but the author does well in sketching his pre-war background and his chapter on Corbett's experience at Andersonville is very strong; Civil War enthusiasts may grow impatient (as I did) with the middle 1/3 of the book, if they are at all familiar with the tale of Booth's plot, the assassination, and/or the manhunt for Booth; that said, the middle third - with nary a mention of Corbett for 60 pages - is written in tight and lively prose, and will appeal to those who aren't as familiar with the story. His forays into tangential subjects - hat making, the Great Awakening, are interesting and short enough that they do not interrupt the flow of the book.

The last 1/3 really makes the book and easily earns it 4 stars overall - a very strong and sympathetic (but not hagiographic) look at a haunted man, and really tragic in the description of his ailments (most brought on from his imprisonment at Andersonville), his own paranoia, his unemployment, and bullying in the press. Among the more interesting aspects were the lengths he had to go to secure a well-deserved pension, even w/ the aid of some powerful political allies - pity the poor veteran who did not have them and had to deal with the bureaucracy of the Pension Bureau. The tale of Corbett's disappearance and supposed re-appearance is the stuff of (incredible) fiction, but is well-documented and well written and must-reading. The descriptions of his periodic reunions with former comrades are also interesting.

Martelle makes great use of Corbett's pension records, period newspapers, and especially the Corbett-Huron Collection at the Kansas State Historical Society to bring the story to life, and his endnotes provide additional illumination (particularly the disappointment in not being able to access long-sealed medical records).

A highly recommended look at the tragic postwar life of a Civil War veteran.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

150th Anniversary - Abraham Lincoln Funeral Train

Note: A version of this post originally appeared in June 2011 as one of a multi-part series on my visit to the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX - it has been updated with a few additional photographs, some new links, and a book review.

"With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin,
and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night,
with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;"

- Walt Whitman, "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd"


This week marks the 150th anniversary of the "Lincoln Funeral Train" - a journey from Washington, DC, to Springfield, IL, that stretched from April 21, 1865 to May 3, 1865.

Many towns along the original route are holding commemorations.

In 2011, I had the great privilege of visiting the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX.

The museum has one of only three scale replicas of the Lincoln Funeral Train crafted by Dr. Wayne Wesolowski. You can learn about his funeral train replica project at "Abraham Lincoln Online" here and by reading his booklet, The Lincoln Train is Coming, which describes Lincoln's funeral arrangements and the trip from Washington to Springfield.

Photos of the scale model and period photos are below.






 In addition to Dr. Wesolowski's booklet, I recently added another related book to my collection: Lincoln's Funeral Train: The Epic Journey from Washington to Springfield (2014) by Robert M. Reed.

My review is below:

4 stars

This book is a really nice addition to my collection of Lincoln-related books, esp. those concerning his assassination and its aftermath. Very good production quality - loads of period photographs and engravings and interesting artifacts or ephemera, all very well re-produced on paper - lively, interesting, and well-documented narrative of the train's journey from beginning in Washington, DC, to its end in Springfield, IL. Will be of great interest to history enthusiasts and others in some of the major cities along the route which are well-documented in this book through newspaper or first-hand accounts. Really quite amazing that a nearly 2,000 mile journey with dozens and dozens of stops - major and minor - was able to stay on schedule. A few minor criticisms, but they do not detract from the overall quality of the book: a) could have used a better editor or proofreader's hand - there are some misspellings, grammar issues, etc., throughout; b) some of the photos or documents featured in the book are at best tangential to the funeral train; others have absolutely no place in the book; c) some of the featured items from auction houses such as Skinner include appraised values - found this disconcerting and wondered if the book was written to appeal to collectors of Lincolnia more than the average reader. All said, a really interesting and well-illustrated volume - a good companion for the 150th anniversary of this tragic event.