Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Katie's February Birthday Feature, Pt. 1: Abraham Lincoln

Katie has special knowledge of February (it's her birthday month), she gives us a:
February Birthday Feature, Pt. 1: Abraham Lincoln

February doesn’t have much going for it. As far as months go, it is typically too cold and too short for anyone to get terribly excited over it. Unless you like birthdays. February is full of those. In fact, one of my favorite pieces of birthday trivia is that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day in February in the same year over 200 years ago: February 12, 1809. Not a bad day for history.

And so I thought it would be fun to highlight these two famous birthday boys to help get us through the end of this month, starting with Abraham Lincoln.

I started thinking about Lincoln when I was at a presentation in conjunction with Black History Month (another point for February!) last week. I grew up near his hometown in Illinois, so I’ve spent a lot of time learning about Lincoln as a young man. And, of course, we all know about how he served as president during the Civil War and signed the Emancipation Proclamation, thus freeing the slaves. But it wasn’t until I picked up James L. Swanson’s Chasing Lincoln’s Killer that I realized how little I knew about his death.

This is one of the most fast-paced, high intensity books I’ve read in ages--and the craziest part is that it’s all true! Swanson provides plenty of background, following Lincoln’s last days and the steps of John Wilkes Booth leading up to that fateful moment at Ford’s Theatre, but remarkably that is only the beginning. The chain of events set into motion on the night of Lincoln’s assassination continues on for the next 12 days as John Wilkes Booth becomes the most hunted man in America, escaping DC and heading first to Maryland and then Virginia, hoping to find protection in the South.

In addition to being a suspenseful tale, this is a visually stunning book. It’s filled with photos and maps that really help make the connection between the story and its place in history. And for those of you who want to go beyond black and white pictures, the action in this book takes place right here in the region:

Ford’s Theatre, the theatre where Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. This is still an operating theatre, although the President’s Box remains empty in honor of Lincoln.

Petersen House, the house where Lincoln died. This house is closed for rehabilitation until the Spring, but a plaque outside commemorates the tragedy that happened here.

Mary Surratt Boarding House, the house where the assassination plot was hatched. This house is now actually a restaurant, so if you’re hungry after visiting Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House, stop in Wok n’ Roll in Chinatown to eat where history was made.

Surratt House, John Wilkes Booth’s first stop in Maryland.

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House, the second stop for John Wilkes Booth in Maryland.

So really with so much history to explore you could drag out Lincoln’s birthday celebration for a few more weeks without a problem.

In the meantime, stay tuned for Darwin’s birthday celebration later this month.

Ford's theater image from here.

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