Whitman In Washington

Another article discussing Walt Whitman on his bicentennial, this one from the perspective of his years in the capital. There is also a list of commemorative events happening in the city to browse for anyone who’ll be in the area.

Like many Washingtonians with creative passions, Whitman held down three government jobs to pay the bills. He was first a clerk with the army paymaster’s office, then the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

When the Secretary of the Interior realized that it was that Walt Whitman who worked for him, Whitman was unceremoniously let go. “He was a bit of a prude,” said Murray of Whitman’s boss, who didn’t approve of the emphasis on love between men that permeated Leaves of Grass.

Whitman’s friends rallied around him and soon found him a new clerking job in the Attorney General’s office.

Source: How Walt Whitman’s Decade In Washington Changed His Life — And His Poetry | WAMU

The Slave Bible at Museum of the Bible

I can’t say that Washington DC’s Museum of the Bible is a museum I’d have given much thought to visiting, but through September, they’re hosting an exhibition on the Slave Bible. It’s a fascinating piece of history, and worth checking out if you’re in town.

The Slave Bible, as it would become known, is a missionary book. It was originally published in London in 1807 on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of enslaved Africans toiling in Britain’s lucrative Caribbean colonies. They used the Slave Bible to teach enslaved Africans how to read while at the same time introducing them to the Christian faith. Unlike other missionary Bibles, however, the Slave Bible contained only “select parts” of the biblical text. Its publishers deliberately removed portions of the biblical text, such as the exodus story, that could inspire hope for liberation. Instead, the publishers emphasized portions that justified and fortified the system of slavery that was so vital to the British Empire.

Source: The Slave Bible: Let the Story Be Told | Museum of the Bible

Ben Butler Play

Milwaukee residents, take note! There’s a play running through April 28th about the wily Benjamin F Butler, Union general and all-around rapscallion.

What if General Butler was a bundle of contradictions: a military commander with no real experience, a brash and bellowing man who was also plagued with self-doubt and a lack of confidence? What if Butler’s decision to grant runaway slaves asylum was influenced heavily by conversations with one of the black petitioners, who was secretly taught to read and had an uncanny grasp on legal issues? What if the landmark decision to define slaves as contraband – property seized from the enemy during wartime – wasn’t the calculated wranglings of an experienced trial lawyer, but instead an accidental discovery in the midst of a heated argument? What if General Butler had serious misgivings about the impact his decision would have on his own military and political career, not to mention the rest of the war effort? What if Butler’s acts were heroic, in spite of himself?

Far from a Wikipedia entry bogged down with facts, and very far from a historical recreation of the moment, “Ben Butler” takes these questions and turns the story into a farce, pumping up the ridiculous personalities and foibles of all the participants, who are accidentally involved in an enormously important historical moment. The result is a sitcom in period costumes, re-imagining characters with exaggerated mannerisms but with dilemmas and speech patterns that sound very contemporary.


Walt Whitman Exhibit

The University of Virginia is marking Walt Whitman’s bicentennial with a new exhibit. If you’re in the area, it’s ongoing to July 29th.

This year, the University of Virginia celebrates the bicentennial of his birth with an exhibition, “Encompassing Multitudes: The Song of Walt Whitman.” The exhibit showcases various editions of his best-known volume, “Leaves of Grass,” and handwritten versions of these and other poems, as well as other writings, including essays against slavery and about Abraham Lincoln, and letters and notes detailing his time working as a nurse during the Civil War.


Civil War-Era Musical in SF

Readers in the San Francisco Bay area should note there’s a new stage show currently playing at the Berkeley Rep Theatre. It’s profiled in the NYTimes, though the focus is on the fact that its producer is Garth Drabinsky – a name we Canadians know and note less for his lavish productions than for the criminal activities of his production company! That said, his productions were always of excellent quality, and seeing as how Stephen Foster’s music is heavily used, this would be a must-see for me.

“It’s about two brutalized peoples, Irish and African-American, one fleeing famine, and one fleeing slavery, who meet in the Five Points, and, for a brief moment, change the flow of American history, until America catches up with it,” Mr. Kirwan said. “It’s not kumbaya, but it happened, and that’s what’s hopeful about it.”

It has a score that is at once familiar and new: rearranged and re-lyricized songs of Stephen Foster, the 19th-century composer celebrated for his contributions to early American pop music but criticized for his work on minstrel shows. Foster spent the final months of his life in the Five Points neighborhood, and is a prominent and problematic character in the show — talented but often untruthful, ambitious but often intoxicated.

Source: The Producer Has a History. So Does This Civil War-Era Musical. – The New York Times

Marszalek in NYC

Are any of my readers from the Big Apple? If so, I wish to live vicariously through you this week, when John Marszalek is visiting and presenting at two separate events. Marszalek is the author of the wonderful Sherman biography, as well as books on Halleck, Grant and Lincoln. I’ve heard him speak at iTunes U symposia, and he is both knowledgeable and very entertaining. Worth the effort to get tickets!

A nationally recognized Mississippi State historian joins two other prominent colleagues next week as featured speakers for the New York Historical Society.

Source: Marszalek to share Civil War research with New York audiences | Mississippi State University

Tony Kushner and Sarah Vowell

Kudos to Andrea Simakis for providing this very extensive recounting of a recent talk by two unusual Lincoln biographers: The Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner, and the hipster historian Sarah Vowell, author of the hilarious and weird, Assassination Vacation. I’m hoping to find some video from this event, but if that fails at least I have this wonderful little anecdote in which to revel:

“Listen,” Goodwin told a still-wobbling Kushner. “When I started ‘Team of Rivals’ 10 years ago, I felt the same way you’re feeling now – I had no idea if I could pull this off, and it seemed impossible to contribute anything new about Lincoln.”

And, she added, to try to understand Lincoln “seemed hubristic.”

“But I can promise you one thing,” he remembers her saying. “Whether you succeed or if you fail, you will never regret the time you spend in his company.”

Source: Playwright Tony Kushner, public radio’s Sarah Vowell to talk Abraham Lincoln at CWRU (photos) | cleveland.com

The Color Line

Back from another hiatus with an event suggestion. This exhibit combines my twin passions: Civil War history and being in Paris.  Turns out, the very modern and engaging ethnology museum is moving away from the phallus-heavy exhibits it usually presents, and hosting a cultural appreciation of African-American culture in the post war era. The show covers 100+ years of black American art, music, and literature.  I spent part of the past two years in Paris, and this exhibit is making me wish I could go back!

Source: The Color Line

Immigration exhibition

Here’s a Lincoln law I’d not heard of before – the Act to Encourage Immigration.  In this day and age of war, open borders, and refugees, there’s a timely exhibition being mounted by the Soldier’s Home.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Act to Encourage Immigration into law on July 4, 1864. The act was the first — and only — law to encourage immigration into the United States, as opposed to trying to control immigration. The American by Belief exhibit at the Lincoln Cottage museum gives a look at the immigration issue of the 1860s and balances it against today’s immigrations issues — and how similar the reasons for immigration were then and today. The museum was created in 2008, in a partnership with the Nationa

Source: In Petworth, an ode to immigrants – The Washington Post

Civil War 150th Anniversary Parade in Washington DC

I’m assuaging myself with the fact that I’ll be in Paris on May 17th, but I can’t pretend seeing this one-time-only, sesquicentennial Grand Review Parade wouldn’t have competed with Paris for my affections.  If you’re within a day’s drive of Washington, please go!  And take lots of pictures for me!

Civil War 150th Anniversary Parade in Washington DC.