Looking for Lincoln

We have a nice new housemate, so I’m trying to tidy up around the house and get rid of some clutter, and I tackle this pile of magazines from my mom’s house, old New Yorkers where I’ve already read the cartoons. Maybe I could get rid of them.

I open up the first one and there’s one of those great New Yorker drawings, full page, of two little kids, one white and one black, playing on their skateboards in front of the Lincoln Memorial. One of them is looking up at the statue, checking it out, possibly wondering, “Who’s that guy?”

Then there’s the article, “Set in Stone: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Memory” by Thomas Mallon. I read on a bit and find it’s about a book called Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt, and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.

Great! That means that not only can I not get rid of the magazine, I have to go out and buy the book. See why I never get anything done around here?

This blog is about used books — great reads for a quarter — but as Archie Goodwin says, “There are times when a principle should take a nap.” This is a book that everyone who admires Abraham Lincoln and should go out and buy new.

It’s about how our country, in an effort to patch things up with the South, went back on just about everything Lincoln ever stood for. Blog entries aren’t too great for going into detail, but here’s one: in 1908 one of Lincoln’s friends, a bootmaker named William Donnegan, was lynched in Springfield, Illinois.

A year later Springfield held a 100th birthday party for Lincoln and no African Americans were invited. The country was yearning for reconciliation and the rights of black people seemed a small sacricifice for that great end.

The book also chronicles the career of Lincoln’s son Robert, who declined to go to Ford’s Theater with his parents o that fateful night because he had to study Spanish. Oddly enough, he was present at the assassinations of both Garfield and McKinley, in 1881 and 1901. How weird is that?

The Kunhardts are scholars of the first order, chips off the old block of their father (and grandfather) Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., the editor of Life magazine for many years (and also the creator of People).

Their grandmother, Dorothy Kunhardt, was the author of Pat the Bunny, a perpetual bestseller, and an avid collector of Lincoln memorabilia, especially photographs.