Wednesday, December 28, 2011


It's a Festivus Miracle!

My family has a lot of Christmas traditions-- critiquing the church service on Christmas eve, festive holiday spoon-hanging, and the ritual smashing of the gingerbread house among them-- but every year there seems to be a surprise as well.

This year's surprise came in the trunk of my cousin John Robinson's car. It was some cardboard untidily taped together with fading masking tape.

He hauled it into my parents' house and told me the story of how they had ended up here. My grandmother, Genevieve Webster, died almost 20 years ago. Not long after, John went over to check her basement storage area, to make sure it was cleaned out, and found this cardboard container in a corner against the wall. Before throwing it out, he looked inside.

What he found was old newspapers. Not just any old newspapers, but those that recorded two significant events-- the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, and the Boston Massacre in 1770. They are incredibly fragile but whole, which is remarkable for something that is 240 years old.

What surprised me, upon reading them, was how informative a primary document can be. For example, the front page of the paper announcing Lincoln's death had a sidebar with the headline, "John Wilkes Booth, the Actor, Suspected of Murder." What I hadn't realized, until then, was that Booth was famous in his own right-- to the degree that the headline writer assumed that his readers would know this actor. It made the shock of it all more clear to me.

John's question to me, and my question to you, is this: What should we do with these?

I dunno, but it seems like maybe someone could do something with your Lincoln papers and the various records at NY Ave Presbyterian...

I know the Newseum in DC has a really cool exhibit featuring historic papers, maybe they'd be interested.
Sounds to me like they should be museum bound. This kind of stuff is so cool, but then I love exploring geneology and would love to know how they came tobe in your grandmothers basement.

Not sure if you remember the Prokopowitz' but Gerald is a Lincoln scholar who worked at the Lincoln Museum for a time and now teaches at Eastern Carolina. He might be able togive you some advise onthe Lincoln paper.
Donate them appropriately, request a copy(s) to retain and share the headline and content (your reflections and questions) when appropriate.

Many young adults would welcome an opportunity to sit by your side (many of us included) and discuss the content - wonderful teaching and learning moments.

Truly a treasure. Please keep us informed of your decision...
Definitely to a museum. As you say, primary sources are the best - future scholars would appreciate having access to these.

You can pick a famous museum(s) that already has a lot of similar or the same material, or you could give them to a smaller, lesser known museum that needs to build its collection.
On another note, did you really NOT know that John Wilkes Boothe was a well known actor???!?!?

The next time I see you I am going to give you a Lincoln biography and sit there and make you start reading it. Sheesh.

Andrew Johnson, William Seward.... various people named Douglas(s), etc. grumble, grumble.....
Step One: inspect them for secret treasure maps.

Step Two: if secret treasure maps found, then search out treasure. You will need a team for this, I am officially volunteering.

Step Two(b): no treasure maps, burn them, they are useless.

This is my understanding of what to do with historical documents from those Nic Cage movies and of what to do with old stuff you find in an attic from Goonies.
You will retain them until you have written a brilliant screenplay making John Wilkes Booth human to us. This is all very exciting. I have a huge,massive crush on Lincoln,his mind his heart his soul and his beard,and he is the first person I hope to meet in Heaven. When you have finished your screenplay,The Duchess shall star as Mary Todd Lincoln. Or the ghost of Ann Rutledge. Then you will turn the document over to the Smithsonian.
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