Monday, February 16th was President’s Day. It used to be Lincoln’s Birthday. Yesterday used to be Washington’s Birthday. It was a separate holiday honoring the “father of our country.”

Garry was waxing nostalgic for the good old days. When George and Abe had their own special days. Modern times are egalitarian. Now, we honor all presidents equally. We know this because they all share a single holiday — President’s Day.

“Poor George and Abe,” opined Garry, “They lost their days. Now we honor William Henry Harrison, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, Zachery Taylor …” Then he asked me what Tyler’s first name was. And by any chance, did I know when Martin Van Buren was president.

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore – in urgent need of a good haircut

I didn’t remember Tyler’s first name, so I looked him up. Turns out, he was John Tyler. He got to be president when W.H. Harrison died after one month in office because he got pneumonia standing around in the rain on inauguration day. Which is what my mother always warned me about. Not becoming president, but standing around in the cold and rain, catching pneumonia.

When I was a kid, I had this book called 33 Roads To The Whitehouse. Which means there have been 10 presidents since I was a kid. I read the book a bunch of times. Used to know all about each president up to and including Dwight D. Eisenhower. Which was when the book ended.

William Henry Harrison - Noteworthy serving the shortest term as U.S. president

William Henry Harrison – Noteworthy for being the president who served the shortest term as U.S. President

Because of that book, I knew Martin Van Buren followed Andrew Johnson. Who succeeded Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated. In order, it was Lincoln, Johnson, Van Buren, William Henry Harrison (as opposed to Benjamin Harrison), who died after 30 days in office. John Tyler was Harrison’s VP, which is how he got into office. Got that? There will be a short quiz at the end of the period.

All presidents are the same in the eyes of our government, or at least the part of our government that decides on which holidays we get time off from work. Thus we honor, without discrimination, Washington, Lincoln, Harding, Taylor, and the inimitable Millard Fillmore. Even if they did nothing in office. I know for sure Harrison didn’t do anything in office, except die. He wasn’t in office long enough to do anything else.

If you are curious, Wikipedia has a pretty good article titled “List of Presidents of the United States.” It includes lots of presidential trivia. I love historical trivia. It’s those little twists and turns which change destiny.

Maybe next year I’ll buy a car. That’s what real, red-blooded Americans do on President’s Day. And, as everyone knows, I’m a traditionalist.

“Lincoln” is amazing on so many levels.

Lincoln movieIt’s exactly what you hope for in a historical movie … and so very rarely get. Spielberg not only made this wonderful movie well, he made it smart. Instead of trying to cover the entire Lincoln saga or perhaps myth, he focuses on the President’s last months on earth, the period following his reelection during which he pushed through the 13th amendment that finally eliminated slavery in the United States, and ended the war. You will see more about the man Lincoln than in any previous movie or documentary about Lincoln.

The performances are universally brilliant, as you would expect. This is the Hollywood A Team where the magic comes together. Everyone is in this movie — some not even credited but you will recognize them — even if only for a tiny cameo, as if being part of this movie was an honor.

And perhaps so.  I suspect actors volunteered for the privilege of being included. The script is intelligent, elegant, somehow managing to convey both the greatness of the man and his pained humanity. There is no reason for me to go into the details of the cast, writing, history, and so on. The  review published in the New Yorker covers those bases well and you can read it here or on its original site.

“Lincoln,” was written by Tony Kushner, directed by Steven Spielberg, and derived in part from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.”

Daniel Day-Lewis has gotten the role of a lifetime and gave a performance that will probably define his career. Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and so many others … literally too many to name … are all brilliant. There are not many big roles for women in this story, but I’d like to make a special mention of Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Her performance as First Lady gives this suffering woman the first real depth and three-dimensional portrayal I’ve ever seen. Mrs. Lincoln has in cinema and history been given short shrift, labeled a crazy lady, then dismissed.

That she was not quite “right” after the loss of her son is well-documented and disseminated, but she was more than a mere wacko. She was politically savvy and highly intelligent, albeit emotionally unstable and in great pain. Perhaps a more stable, supportive mate would have been able to provide some rays of light in the dark world of President Lincoln … but given the dreadful times through which they lived and were destined to play major and tragic roles, this couple was probably doomed to misery, even had Mary Todd been the incarnation of Pollyanna.

Cover of "Team of Rivals: The Political G...

Cover via Amazon

The enormity of their personal tragedies combined with the responsibility of being the nation’s leader at this particularly desperate historical turning point would have crushed anyone. Lincoln was a giant, but also a man with a wife, children and more than his share of family drama.

The movie is mesmerizing. The way it’s shot, moving from panorama to private moments keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion, you live through the battles on the floor of the House of Representatives and in the back rooms where agonizing bargains are struck as if you’ve never seen it before. It’s a painfully accurate and timely look at the real process of getting legislation passed, the viciousness, ruthlessness, chicanery and all else that goes into a process that hasn’t significantly changed over the past 150 years or more. Great cinema and a Real Politik civics lesson for young and old.

Most of the reviews I’ve read have emphasized the historical importance but failed to mention that this is a really compelling movie that makes you feel you have traveled back in time. It’s great drama with more than a dollop of wit and humor. Watch and chew your nails while Lincoln and his carefully picked team somehow push through an amendment to the constitution against staggering odds while simultaneously ending the deadliest war in American history.  It feels like you’ve never heard or seen it before. Spielberg manages to inject a level of tension and excitement that should be impossible. There are surprises, some of them very funny.

Given the subject matter, it’s amazing how often film will make you laugh. There are wonderful scenes, small and intimate, revealing of magic and myth. There are the mandatory “big scenes,” of  battlefields heaped with corpses, but most of the story takes places in small places, in sheds and basements, back rooms, parlors and hidden corners where the light is always dim. Everyone always looks cold … in the most literal sense. It’s winter without central heating and while no one mentions it (why would they? that was the way their world was), men and women alike constantly wrap themselves in blankets and shawls to fend off the chill. It makes you grateful for electricity and radiators, not to mention thermal underwear.

abraham-lincoln-tadLincoln is too tall for the world in which he lives. It can barely contain him or the sorrow he carries. He stoops, bent under the weight of impossible choices and ducks through doorways never high enough.

Go see this movie. Take your kids. Take the grandchildren. Then buy it on DVD and watch it again. Let it remind you of how painful it is to have a free nation and how heavy is the price we pay for the privilege.

This is grand entertainment, history, civics and drama wrapped in a story so insane it could only be true. To quote a familiar phrase, “you can’t make this stuff up.” You rarely get to see movies this good. It’s a treasure that will be even more appreciated in years to come.

Regardless of how many Oscars it wins … or doesn’t win … this is destined to be a classic. It can’t help it. It’s just got classic written all over it.

One more interesting note. When the movie ended and the credits started to roll, no one got up and left. No one at all. Every single person in the theater sat there and watched the credits until the screen went dark. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that happen before.

♦ See more on www.newyorker.com

A Thanksgiving Story

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1862, Boston abolitionists Lewis and Harriet Hayden hosted the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, John Albion Andrew for dinner at their home on Beacon Hill. Hayden, a self-emancipated black man, and Andrew, the white Republican Governor who won election on the same ticket with President Abraham Lincoln, were good friends and it was not uncommon for them to share dinner. However, such a public and special occasion in Massachusetts was noted and discussed by the citizenry.

Lewis Hayden extended the dinner invitation with one sole purpose, to devise a plan to secure President Lincoln’s agreement to enlist black troops from the north in the Civil War. Hayden knew that the enlistment of “colored citizens” to fight for their liberties and fundamental rights was urgent.

Before Governor Andrew departed that evening, he promised to seek federal permission to form a regiment of black soldiers as soon as the President signed The Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. He traveled to Washington, DC and met with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on January 26. Stanton authorized Massachusetts to recruit additional troops and Andrew wrote in the margin of the order, “and may include persons of African descent, organized in separate corps.” We now know those men as the Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment, made famous in the movie Glory! We also know that the Governor sent Harriet Tubman ahead to prepare for their arrival in South Carolina.

This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on our lives and all that we are grateful for, the Museum of African American History in Boston and Nantucket thanks you for all you have done to help us share amazing stories of people of goodwill, from all backgrounds, who helped to shape our nation. In this season of giving, will you help us continue to share these important stories that inform and instruct us today? Your year-end contribution or membership to the Museum of African American History would be greatly appreciated and put to good use.

Freedom was paramount for Hayden who escaped slavery in Kentucky to become the proprietor of a men’s clothing establishment and an important colleague with white abolitionists in Boston. The Hayden home welcomed at least 100 self-emancipated men, women and children arriving via the Underground Railroad network. Their boarding house had twelve chairs in the living room for their boarders and visitors including Harriet Beecher Stowe. Over the trajectory of their freedom, Lewis was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature and Harriet left some $4,000 in her will to Harvard University for a scholarship for black medical students.

Now, as we look to welcome in a New Year, and a robust season of exhibits, educational and public programs in Boston and an on Nantucket, I am grateful for your willingness to stand with the Museum with a gift commitment of any size. Make a gift online at https://maah.ejoinme.org/donate.

Beverly A. Morgan-Welch
Executive Director

See on campaign.r20.constantcontact.com

Dolls, Plants, and the Light From the East …

Facing east towards the deck and the woods, the morning light streams in … so the plants live in front the french doors that lead to the deck. Of course, that means we virtually never open the doors because we’d have to move the plants. So, we use the dutch door in the kitchen. But the dining room doors are lovely

On the top shelf, above the dolls, you can see three of my Tang dynasty Chinese zodiac figures. The cradle with the baby doll in it (it’s a 1950s Betsy Wetsy) … I built it from a kit and painted it myself. Underneath the cradle and the dolls is the sewing machine I don’t know how to use. But I might learn someday. Yeah, sure.

Do you see George Washington and Abraham Lincoln back there?

There are a lot more dolls in the dining room … in fact, they occupy every surface on which a doll can stand. The big green thing on the chair is my 4 string mountain dulcimer. It is beautiful. But you can’t tell because it’s in its case.

The big Dracaena Marginata has been with me for close to 12 years and urgently needs repotting. It’s so heavy and tall it is a hard for me to move it, much less re-pot it. I’m going to add some topsoil to the pot and give it a feeding and hope that will do the job. If it gets any bigger, I’ll have to re-home it anyhow.

I got the two Christmas cacti as cuttings and they bloom beautifully several times a year. Ignoring them is to the key to success. I call it “benevolent neglect.” Succulents thrive on it.