Sunday, April 12, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 272: Elizabeth Keckly, Lincoln’s Assassination (#272)

Elizabeth Keckly, "Lincoln’s Assassination" (1868) from The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It:

Another record of Lincoln's assassination, this time from freed slave and dressmaker to Washington, Elizabeth Keckly. (The LoA note on this says that she was born a slave, married a free man of color, bought her and her child's freedom, and eventually separated from her husband--which is all sorts of interesting, but not anywhere in this story.)

The end is what you'd expect it to be: Lincoln shot and people astounded and grief-stricken. What's more interesting to me is the beginning, which records Lincoln alive: rehearsing for a speech, talking about his beloved pet goats, using the goats as lead-in for a discussion of political/social issues.

But again, all Lincoln stories end up with the tragedy of his death. And I wonder what the cult of Lincoln would be like without that martyrdom. Mind you, I'm fully in the cult myself: his intelligence, humanity, grace, humor, kindness, firmness--all of it combines to make him a fascinating figure for study and emulation. But again: would he have become a fat Elvis joke or a terrible reactionary or would he have gone on and retained his aura of greatness?

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