Tagged: Abraham Lincoln

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

A New Life for an Old Slave Jail – NPR


Formerly known as the Alexandria Slave Pen, this ashen gray row house in Alexandria, Va., once housed one of the country’s largest slave-dealing firms. Image via NPR

“President Abraham Lincoln stood on a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa., 150 years ago [this week] and declared “a new birth of freedom” for the nation. That same year, an African-American man named Lewis Henry Bailey experienced his own rebirth. At age 21, Bailey was freed from slavery in Texas. His journey began in Virginia, where he was sold as a child in a slave jail. Today, the building where Bailey and thousands of slaves once lived before they were sold is the home of the Freedom House Museum and the Northern Virginia chapter of the Urban League, one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations.”

Dallas, 1963: City of Hate? – Atlantic Cities

JFK 1960 Dalls

John F. Kennedy campaigning in Dallas, September 1960. Photograph by Shel Hershorn. Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Image via AC

“In the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Dallas earned a new moniker — the “City of Hate.” It’s a damning nickname. Is it fair? Fifty years ago, Dallas was the nation’s right-wing “center for resistance.” After President Kennedy’s assassination, Dallasites faced years of trouble while traveling around the country. They were sometimes even denied service because of their hometown.  What most non-Texans didn’t realize was that the city had a more glamorous and cultured side as well. It was home to new luxury apartment towers, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed theater and the flagship location of Nieman Marcus. The Fort Worth hotel Kennedy stayed at on his final night transformed his suite into a room filled with sculptures and paintings by Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh.”

WWI Created New Culture of Mourning – Deutsche Welle

Historian Jay M. Winter explains how the First World War permanently changed the culture of mourning. Whether Verdun, Shoa, or 9/11, what remains of the deceased is often only a name. Before WWI, mourning centered around the place where the physical remains of a person was entombed. Because of the massive number of casualties and the way in which soldiers perished during WWI, there was not a body to bury/burials were lost in the back and forth movement of the frontlines. It was at this point that spirtualism and seances became popular. It was also at this time that the list of names on memorials became an accepted practice in mourning: “The names were the things that mattered. The names are all that mattered. In war memorials you’ll see them, in churches, in Germany, all over the world. What matters is the list of the names in the parish or the town, the school or the university. It is the names. It is a way of bringing the bodies back home in a metaphorical sense of the term. Those names defined families that were empty, that had absences.”

Where Were You? 50 Memories to Mark 50 Years – Here and Now


Many listeners’ memories of the Kennedy assassination include Walter Cronkite on CBS. In this image, Cronkite removes his glasses while announcing the death of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963.(Getty Images). Image via Here and Now

Here & Now has been receiving emails, web comments, Facebook messages and tweets (and even one fax) from listeners, with their memories of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, 50 years ago today. Many of these stories share common threads: Class lessons interrupted, seeing parents and teachers cry, being glued to the television for days. Memories also came from foreign countries, on board planes, in hospitals and in the telephone room of an Air Force base. We’ve loved reading them and wanted to share 50 here to mark 50 years past.”


Part II: The Sounds of Lincoln

My interest in Steven Spielberg’s  Lincoln was first piqued when I heard a story about the sounds used for the film on NPR. Okay, that’s not strictly true. My interest was actually peaked when I heard Daniel Day Lewis was cast in the eponymous role.  A Brit as Lincoln? Quel horreur! But let’s get real, Lewis is one of the greatest living actors of our time, not to mention the choosiest (he’s only made 5  films in the last 15 years!) so the screenplay for Lincoln must have some meat to it. And seriously, just look at him! Spitting image.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Image via NPR

But I digress… back to the sounds used in the film. From the ka-chunk of a carriage closing to the thud of boot steps, the sound sound designer for Lincoln went above and beyond to make the film sound authentic.  Creating authentic costumes and creating authentic sets and/or using historically accurate sites so that a film looks right is one thing, but I’d never heard of going to so much trouble for sound.

Sound designer Ben Burtt, whose accolades include whipping up the iconic sounds of light sabers for the Star Wars franchise, dispatched a team of sound engineers across the country to record the sounds Lincoln did/might have heard in DC, South Bend, IN, and Frankfort, KY.  Why? He told Guy Raz, “I felt, well, here’s a chance to get in touch with actual history. I always do research when you’re collecting sounds and making sounds for a film, and authenticity is normally not necessarily the prime directive in doing sound design. You’re always searching out sounds that have the right emotional impact and they may not even be authentic at all. But for this film I didn’t want to make guesses. I wanted to essentially capture the spirit of what might have been.”

The Sounds of St. John’s and the White House, Washington, DC

St.John’s Episcopal Church. Image via Wikipedia.

In DC, the sound crew recorded at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Lincoln worshiped, and at the White House.

According to historical accounts, St. John’s figured prominently in Lincoln’s life in DC.  He would often walk to the church in the evenings. “He was always alone,” said Hayden Bryan, executive director for operations at St. John’s. “The president would arrive quietly and leave before the services ended to walk back to the White House. He would sit by himself. He had no aides. No security. Before the service ended, he would get up. The worshipers didn’t even know he was here.”

Lincoln’s Pew at St. John’s. Image via Juicey Ecumenism

At St. John’s the crew recorded noises from head to toe, so to speak. They climbed into the bell tower to obtain the unadulterated sound of the bell tolling – a sound Lincoln would have heard from the White House just across Lafayette Square from the church They also recorded the creaking of the “Lincoln Pew” as Byran sat and stood and the sounds of footsteps on the floor boards. “These are the actual floor boards Lincoln walked on to get to this pew,” Greg Smith, film professor at American University and sound engineer for the film, said.

At the White House, they recorded a French clock purchased during Andrew Jackson’s administration that was on the mantel in Lincoln’s executive office. The sound is used in the movie in many scenes filmed in Lincoln’s office.  Other audio effects collected from the White House included the sound of the latches as doors opened and closed, and the sound of someone knocking on those doors. As well as the sound of heavy boots on the White House floor.

The Sound of Lincoln’s Pocket Watch, Frankfort, KY

Recording Lincoln’s Watch. Image via KHS

“I could have recorded a watch that belonged to my great-grandfather, and the audience would have accepted it,” Burtt said. “But there is something sacred about working on a film about Lincoln.”   Kentuckians would agree.  As I mentioned yesterday, Lincoln is a big deal here in the Bluegrass State.

To record the ticking of Lincoln’s personal pocket watch, which is in the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS),  Smith traveled to Frankfort, Kentucky. Where, according to museum director Trever Jones at the KHS blog, historyburgoo.com, “We set up in the ‘vault’ – the quietest and most secure room in the building – and began recording. Greg [Smith] has worked on numerous films and had chosen his equipment carefully. I attached a small microphone to the watch while Bill [Bright] positioned everything just right in a box to muffle ambient noise while Greg recorded. We recorded the watch open and closed in various ways until Greg pronounced that he had everything he needed.”

Lincoln’s Pocket Watch. Image via The Lexington Herald Leader

The circa 1860 watch had not been used in decades, but watch expert and KHS curator Bill Bright, reported it to be in perfect working order after examining it.  The timepiece is a “yellow gold key-wind hunting-case pocket watch” with a porcelain dial from Tiffany and Company.  It is believe that the watch was purchased by or gifted to Lincoln after he became president. It is speculated that Lincoln may have been carrying the watch the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater.

If you want to see and hear Lincoln’s watch, it is on display in Frankfort at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.

The Sound of Lincoln’s Last Ride, South Bend, IN

Lincoln’s Carriage at the Studebaker Museum. Image via A Little Touch of History

The carriage used to transport President Lincoln and his wife to Ford’s Theater  the fateful night of his assassination is on display at the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

The audio work was done by Donnie Rogers, owner of South Bend-based  Grassroots Media. The audio session at the museum took about 30 minutes, Rogers said. To eliminate background noise, the museum shut down the air handlers on the air conditioning system and closed the overhead doors in that section of the museum. “We used a sound blanket to build a small room around ourselves,” he told the South Bend Tribune.  The sounds of the carriage doors opening and closing and the the sound of it’s metal springs and suspension were captured for use in the film.

The carriage was built in the early 1860s by Wood Brothers of New York, an upscale carriage manufacturer of that era. It has a collapsible leather hood and fabric-covered padded seats. It is believed to have been a gift to Lincoln.

It’s in fragile condition, the carriage went through a careful process to stabilize it in 2007.  During conservation, workers discovered the carriage originally wasn’t black, but rather painted dark green with burgundy, gold and white details with an elaborate cursive presidential monogram — A.L. — on each door. After Lincoln’s death, the carriage was purchased by a DC area doctor and used in his practice.

Despite all the trouble of traveling around the country recording “authentic” sound effects, the sounds in Lincoln are speculative. The creak of his pew at St. John’s Episcopal has probably changed since Lincoln last visited in the 1860s, the timbre of the bell may have changed over the 150-ish years, and his carriage certainly took years of abuse while in the doctor’s service that may have changed the sound of its springs, and suspension, and its doors opening and closing.  Even knowing that the sounds are probably not the same as the sounds that Lincoln heard, the concept is intriguing and the effort put into these details is impressive.  I know that when I watch the film, I will be listening extra close for the ticking of watches and clocks and foot steps – all the sounds that normally just blend into the background.
What you do you think about the sound extremes? Was it worth it? Have you seen/do you plan to see Lincoln?