From 1861 to 2009
by Bill Shein
During the last few weeks, much has been made of the similarities between the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, and the current one, Barack Obama.
For example, we know that both came to the White House from Illinois. Both are regarded as masters of the political game. Both are tall. Both studied and practiced the law. And both enjoyed star-studded, pre-inauguration concerts that included an outstanding performance by folk legend Pete Seeger.
But it’s less-well-known that both Obama and Lincoln named their children Sasha and Malia, something that Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin says is “absolutely not true.” At least when she’s asked during repeated late-night prank phone calls to her home.
There are countless other links between 1861 and 2009. It’s been widely reported that President Obama used Lincoln’s Bible while taking the oath of office. But did you know that thanks to special arrangement with the Smithsonian Institution, on Tuesday, soul legend Aretha Franklin wore the actual hat
worn by Mary Todd Lincoln during her husband's first swearing-in?
(It’s the same hat that created quite a stir during 1861‘s “Fashion Week” in New York, according to the description on Wikipedia.)
And did you know that President Obama’s personal secretary is named Evelyn Lincoln? And that President Lincoln’s secretary was named Barika Obama? It’s true — at least according to a Wikipedia page that I just edited myself. What a great feature! Thanks, Web 2.0
In 1861, outgoing President James Buchanan allegedly mouthed the words of the presidential oath as Lincoln spoke them, just as Hillary Clinton did on Tuesday. Yet another interesting link.
And check this: During Lincoln’s presidential campaign, one of his rivals, fellow Illinoisan Stephen A. Douglas, campaigned alongside a man called “Bob the Blacksmith,” a voter who accused Lincoln of being a “socialist,” even though no one knew what in the world he was talking about.
(According to Wikipedia, “Bob the Blacksmith” may have been a time-traveling jokester from the year 2310.)
Back then, of course, the overflow crowds on the National Mall could not follow the inauguration proceedings on JumboTron televisions. Why? Because in March, 1861, all of the JumboTrons in the capital were being used to broadcast the season finale of “Who Wants to Secede from the Union?“, a popular reality show that had taken the nation by storm.
This meant that spectators out of earshot of the inauguration ceremony were forced to watch groups of amateur thespians act out the happenings as best they could, and without the benefit of today’s ubiquitous Abe Lincoln masks.
And this is interesting: According to documents in the Library of Congress, commentators covering Lincoln’s first inauguration only used the phrase “peaceful transfer of power” four times. But this past Tuesday, that phrase was used by our nation’s massive army of blathering talking heads no fewer than one billion times
. And according to Chinese numerology, one billion is considered an auspicious number. (At least that's what I learned from another Wikipedia page I just edited moments ago.)
The story of this inauguration week is still being written, and no doubt there are still more interesting facts to be invented —
I mean, unearthed.
Perhaps it will turn out to be that in the name of security, President Obama wasn’t even at the Capitol taking the oath of office. Instead, his image was beamed to the podium using CNN’s journalistically useless hologram technology, borrowed for the day by the Secret Service.
In fact, if CNN is willing to loan that thing out, I’d like to appear in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s living room to ask her about Sasha and Malia Lincoln —
and without using up any more of my evening-and-weekend minutes.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - According to Wikipedia, this week Bill Shein became the 44th president of the United States. Norm