I feel I would be remiss to cheapen Lincoln with gimmicks. What kind of ridiculous metaphor or pointless rumination can I use to make a slapdash word-painting that only loosely ties into perhaps mildly-serious literary subject matter?
There are good contenders today, folks. Oh, sweetness. Lots of avenues presenting their shiny feathers, arguing me into their court with come-hither eyes, tempting me with tangents. Delicious. BUT, it’s Lincoln. And I’m not about to sit here and wax poetic about Tech N9ne (or do what I did to Eisenhower) before looping back around with a sheepish, haphazard grin to talk about the man who ended slavery.
So, I’ll do this instead:
Lincoln died on my birthday. This is a fact that I’ve always found oddly and poignantly fascinating. It’s an impossible thing to ignore in the wee, black hours every year. You lay in the dark and watch the bloody stamp of red, digital clock proclaim midnight on yet another marker of the day you were born – hooray! – and, really, must imagine that frantic pumping of lungs, the flickering life of a great historical figure. A charred circle of pistol wound. End. The Titanic sank that day, too – my birthday (fun fact. I’ll just throw that out there and go nowhere with it). Quite a lot of famous death burning in those candles on my cake. Quite a lot of history for an arbitrary day in the Spring. Happy Birthday to me.
What happened in the past is often only important to us when we are forever forced to pony up and walk with it by no choice other than the whim of nature. My feelings of ownership towards these famous historical (and depressing) events come merely by their unfortunate association with the day I happened to start my life. They are Mine because I’m selfish and narcissistic. Funny.
But the real beauty of history – besides how awesome it is to look back and feel like we smugly know everything – is that, in practice, it truly belongs to everyone. Open domain of time and knowledge for all – as long as there are still those other human animals around who care to preserve it. Ah ha! Hello, Keith Erekson.
The Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at El Paso, Keith Erekson is the author of the new book, Everybody’s History: Indiana’s Lincoln Inquiry and the Quest to Reclaim a President’s Past. Telling the story of the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society during the 1920s and 30s, Erekson investigates what would become known as the “Lincoln Inquiry” – a band of curious minds dedicated to unraveling the murky history of Lincoln’s younger years before he became a star of the past. In conjunction with The Filson Historical Society, Erekson will speak tomorrow, Thursday, November 29th, at the Jeffersonville Carnegie Library, presenting Everybody’s History for any and everybody who may so desire to claim it for their own.
No gimmicks. Not for Lincoln. Because he’s Mine, and I honor what’s Mine.
The Jeffersonville Carnegie Library is located at 129 Court Avenue in Jeffersonville. The event is free, but reservations are required.
Image: Courtesy of Louisville Free Public Library www.lfpl.org