Haunting

One of the gifts that I got last year in my Christmas stocking was a calendar with a collection of facts, quotations, and interesting tidbits about Abraham Lincoln – one for each day. I’ve kept the calendar at work all through 2011, and have enjoyed what it’s had to offer.

Yesterday’s quote stopped me in my tracks. It’s one of those every day, throwaway details that subsequent events can make weighty.  Here’s what it said – “Allow Mr. Ashum & friend to come in at 9. A. M. to-morrow.”

These words were written in Lincoln’s hand sometime in the afternoon or early evening of April 14, 1865. A small thing – and yet, how momentous and poignant in hindsight!  By “9 AM tomorrow” the entire world had been turned topsy-turvy and Mr. Ashum and friend were forgotten in all the uproar.

But it made me curious about who Mr. Ashum was, and what he would’ve been meeting with Lincoln about.  I found a very interesting website about President Lincoln and his friends, which includes a blog (not recently active) and offers some insight into Mr. Ashmun (including the fact that the President apparently did not know how to spell his name).

Ashmun also met with President Lincoln at the White House shortly before he went to Ford’s Theater on night of assassination. According to White House staffer Thomas Pendel: “On the fourteenth day of April 1865, in the evening, just previous to the time when the President and Mrs. Lincoln were going to the theatre, George Ashmun of Massachusetts, called on Mrs. Lincoln, and I showed him into the Red Parlor, took his card upstairs, and soon the President and Mrs. Lincoln, with Mr. Colfax, then Speaker of the House, came downstairs and went into the Red Parlor where Mr. Ashmun was waiting. They all entered into a lively local conversation, and came out of the Red Parlor presently, and stood in the inner corridor. Their conversation was about the trip Mr. Colfax proposed to take across the continent. They then passed out of the corridor into the main vestibule, and stood in the main entrance, where they again chatted. Mr. Colfax bade the President and Mrs. Lincoln good evening, and went upstairs to see the Private Secretary, Mr. John G. Nicolay. Mr. Ashmun went out on the portico with the President and Mrs. Lincoln, said good-bye, and started off downtown. Ned Burke and Charles Forbes, the coachman and footman, respectively, drove over to a private residence, and took in a coach Major Rathbone and Miss [Clara] Harris, who was the daughter of Senator Ira Harris of New York.”1010

In their conversation that night, President Lincoln first rebuked Ashmun for seeking a commission to adjudicate a cotton claim and then promised to meet with him the next morning. By then, Mr. Lincoln was dead. Ashmun later served as a director of the Union Pacific Railroad.

There’s also quite a bit about Lincoln’s final day on a WordPress blog titled Symon Sez … lots of fascinating details!  And lots of other blogs … this could KILL my day!  This last blog is by Geoffrey M Elliott, who has studied and written about Lincoln for many years. The blog includes a review (by him) of a book titled A First-Rate Madness. The subtitle is “Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness.”

The author is psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi – a professor at Tufts School of Medicine. Lincoln is profiled, along with other leaders like JFK Franklin Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. I absolutely loved the book Lincoln’s Melancholy, and am intrigued by the thesis that mental illness – and how individuals cope with it – can contribute to greatness.  Who knows what we’re medicating away – what kind of poetry, inspiration, and insight – as we try to protect people from the pain of the human condition.

Oh, and here’s something to look forward to … Daniel Day-Lewis as Mr. Lincoln … sometime next winter, I believe.

Not bad, eh?

And one final bit of trivia … Lincoln was once challenged to a duel … “but the challenger accepted his apology when the much taller and smarter Lincoln chose broad swords as the weapons for the duel.”

But enough of this. I’ve got to move on, set all this Lincoln talk aside, find a couscous recipe, and get my day underway!

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