Tuesday, Mar 1, 2011
In the wintry dawn the carriage rolled over the cobblestones of the snow-strewn street. Nervous bodyguards furtively searched every corner looking for possible assassins. Within minutes, the President-elect stepped out of his carriage and entered the historic Camden Street railway station to the stirring sounds of fifes and drums and gave a speech to a national audience.
“In 2011, Lincoln has given Baltimoreans what they missed out on 150 years ago,” said park ranger Jim Bailey. “Fears of an assassination plot made the real event much more low-key – he simply boarded the train.”
The trip from Baltimore to Washington represents the final stage of a two-week “marathon” recreating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s journey to inauguration and the start of the NPS commemoration of the Civil War – “From Civil War to Civil Rights.”
Lincoln interpreter Fritz Klein, along with Tim Good, superintendent of Ulysses S. Grant NHS, delivered 21 programs in 16 cities to over 5,100 people, covering over 2,000 miles in the process.
Engaging schools and youth was a hallmark of the journey. After an early morning press conference at Camden Station, ‘Lincoln’ visited Digital Harbor High School, a magnet school in South Baltimore, to address an assembly of 175 students. Spirit Trickey, park ranger at Central High School NHS, whose mother was one of the famous “Little Rock Nine,” began the presentation with a heartfelt introduction illustrating how the events of 150 years ago had a direct influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and how both affect important events today.
“The assistant principal, Dr. Bowden, and staff – especially Peter Heineman, the teacher who put it all together – are to be commended,” said Gay Vietzke, superintendent at Fort McHenry.
“Today’s program has the feel of a presidential whistle stop tour” said Vince Vaise, chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry.
Following the presentation at Digital Harbor, the entourage, accompanied by Peter Heinemann and six students from Digital Harbor, proceeded to the Pennsylvania station, where they were met by Director Jarvis and elected officials. As happened 150 years ago, they boarded a special train and traveled to the capital. En route, the students engaged Director Jarvis and Klein in a lively dialogue about the importance of the Civil War to people today.
“The nation has come a long way, the war brought about the abolition of slavery, and there is still much left to be done – or as Lincoln said, the unfinished work that they (those who fought the war) have thus far so nobly advanced,” said Jarvis.
Upon arrival in Washington, the party was whisked to Ford’s Theater NHS, where they met Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to launch the official kickoff of the 150th commemorative anniversary of the Civil War.
"The conflict of the Civil War and struggle for civil rights are interlinked,” the secretary said at a press conference. “The sesquicentennial of the Civil War is a great opportunity to expand the story beyond the battlefields to show how these events of long ago are relevant to a new generation today.”
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students” said Heineman.
After the press conference, the students visited the Washington Monument and the Civil War African-American Soldiers/Sailors Monument, where Klein presented a moving rendition of the Gettysburg address.
“That ‘made’ the trip for me. Being from Trinidad, my parents are honored that I am now an American citizen and work for the National Park Service and that the story of African-Americans is being told,” said Robert Stewart, centennial seasonal ranger at Fort McHenry.
“You can read about this history – even download it from YouTube, and that’s cool, but nothing replaces going to the places where this history occurred” said Vaise. “To retrace Lincoln’s inaugural journey – including Ford’s Theater and those memorials – is a great way to get young people fired up about the anniversary of the Civil War.”