The plane, boss!

Moving everything out of the ALLM to make way for our big renovation project has been a labor of herculean proportions.  But hey, at least we didn’t have to disassemble an entire DC-3 and haul it across town, like the folks at the Smithsonian.

The biggest items we had to take apart and move were a 3-inch Ordnance rifle, an ambulance wagon, and William Seward’s carriage.  Seems pretty easy compared to a 17,000-lb. aircraft, although we weren’t thinking it at the time.

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Six degrees of Little Bighorn

I learned two things about legendary Western historian Robert Utley from the blog of author, artist, and True West editor Bob Boze Bell. 1) He just turned ninety.  2) He interviewed a Little Bighorn survivor.

Ho-lee cow.  About the Little Bighorn thing, I mean—although turning ninety is nothing to sniff at, either.

I’m assuming the guy Utley interviewed was Charles Windolph, who died in 1950 at age ninety-eight.  Windolph was one of the men engaged at the Reno-Benteen sector of the battlefield, east of the Indian village.  He covered the troopers supplying river water to their comrades pinned down on Reno Hill, earning himself the Medal of Honor.

A veteran of Custer’s last battle living in the atomic age.  That’s quite a thing to get your head around.

Reno Hill. Photo by William Neuheisel from Wikimedia Commons

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New book on Banastre Tarleton coming

Oscar and Catherine Gilbert’s Bloody Ban: Banastre Tarleton and the American Revolution, 1776-1783 is on the way from Savas Beatie.  The Gilberts’ work on backcountry militia in the Revolutionary South has been good, so this one ought to be well worth a place on the shelf.  It’ll be interesting to compare their conclusions with those of Anthony Scotti, whose Tarleton study appeared in 2008.

Military history buffs should be quite familiar with Savas Beatie.  In fact, independent publishers like SB and Westholme have been putting out some of the most interesting Rev War and Civil War books of the last few years—fresh takes on important campaigns, new light on neglected events and theaters, and reconsiderations of prominent figures.

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Commemorating a Revolutionary woman at Sycamore Shoals

East Tennessee artist Mary Ruden‘s statue of Mary Patton is on display at Sycamore Shoals State Park until the end of this month.

Patton and her husband operated a powder mill in the Watauga settlements.  Most accounts credit her with outfitting the King’s Mountain expedition.  Sycamore Shoals is an especially appropriate venue for this sculpture, since two of Patton’s big powder kettles are on exhibit there.

This is one of a series of Ruden’s works depicting historic Tennessee women. Her next subject is suffragist Lizzie Crozier French, just in time for the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment.

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John Sellers, 1933-2019

The Lincoln community is mourning the loss of Dr. John Sellers, who passed away on October 6.  He was a longtime manuscripts specialist at the Library of Congress, where he managed and expanded that institution’s massive collection of Abraham Lincoln papers.  His work to make Lincoln and Civil War documents accessible via electronic media and printed guides constituted an incalculable contribution to the study and appreciation of American history.  He curated landmark exhibitions, organized symposia, and assisted authors of some of the most acclaimed books on Lincoln and his era.

One of his most important legacies was his willingness to advise archives, museums, and public history organizations engaged in the collection and study of Lincoln and Civil War material.  LMU’s Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum and the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy are two of the many historical entities that benefited from his expertise and generous spirit.

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When we said the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum was getting a total renovation, we weren’t kidding

We meant total—from the roof down to the floor.

The only thing we haven’t moved is our plaster copy of Paul Manship’s Hoosier Youth statue.  It’s too darn big to pack up.  Instead, the construction crew built a crate around it to keep it safe and sound while the work’s going on.

Outside, the new elevator shaft is taking shape.  On either side will be the new galleries, learning lab, collections processing room, and restrooms.

As for exhibits, we’re hard at work on those, too.  The Kincaid Gallery we opened last year will be back, but all the other galleries will have new stuff.  The National Constitution Center exhibit Lincoln, the Constitution, and the Civil War will be moving downstairs, this time with some fantastic objects from our own permanent collection.  Upstairs will be a new display of Civil War weapons, uniforms, and medical artifacts.  We’re also developing a new exhibit on Lincoln’s final days.  And, of course, we’ll roll out brand new permanent exhibits in the spaces that are under construction—one on the ways Americans have remembered Lincoln, and another on the history of our parent institution.

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Ken Burns does ‘Country Music’ without historians on camera

This post is more or less copied from a thread I tweeted a few days ago.  But hey—it’s not plagiarism if you’re stealing from yourself, right?

I’ve caught a couple episodes of the new Ken Burns documentary Country Music.  It’s as absorbing as all his films.  But one thing irks me, and it’s the same thing I disliked about his Vietnam series: Historians are conspicuous in their absence, at least on camera.  The talking heads aren’t people who specialize in studying the history of music or popular culture.  Instead, they’re participants in that history, and their descendants.

Don’t get me wrong.  When a filmmaker’s subject matter is the stuff of living memory, they’d be crazy not to put the people who lived it on camera.  And the firsthand testimonies and anecdotes in Country Music have been fantastic.

But the sort of perspective and critical distance that historians can offer is important, too, and I think Country Music would be stronger for it.  That’s especially true of the early episodes.  This is where historians’ input would be most beneficial, and where commentary from the singers and songwriters who followed in the subjects’ footsteps is at its weakest.

For one thing, a lot of these practitioners are discussing people and events of which they have little firsthand knowledge.  It’s one thing to hear Jimmy Dickens tell how Hank Williams wrote “Hey, Good Lookin'” when Dickens was there to see it.  It’s another thing to hear a singer or songwriter talk about Roy Acuff’s music when their only firsthand experience of that music was listening to it on the radio.

In the early episodes, the singers and songwriters who appear on camera are talking about the titans of their own profession, the founding fathers and mothers of the genre.  And when you’re talking about your idols, it’s easy to extol rather than explain.  That’s what much of their commentary ultimately boils down to.

I don’t mean that the subjects come off as infallible.  Far from it.  We get extended treatments of their personal foibles and failures—Williams’s drinking, Johnny Cash’s troubled marriage, Bill Monroe’s longstanding grudge against Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt.  When it comes to these figures’ musical contributions, however, the on-air commentators don’t really try to make sense of their greatness. They just stand in awe of it.  You get the sense from the interviews that the talent of someone like Hank Williams defies explanation.  That’s problematic for a historical documentary, because one of the tasks of the historian is to, you know, explain things.

Maybe it’s an inevitable by-product of the way Burns is telling the story.  It’s a very people-driven approach. The series is ultimately about the individuals who gave birth to the music rather than the context out of which it developed.  But people and music are partly the products of their historical circumstances.  Some additional input by historians could shed more light on those circumstances, and perhaps help viewers get our heads around the figures who brought it to life.

Grand Ole Opry performers in 1944, from Billboard's 1944 Music Yearbook via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Ole Opry in 1944, from Billboard via Wikimedia Commons

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