Lost Lincoln - It Was 151 Years Ago Today

"Generally, when he was speakin', he was cool and quiet and things all fit together, and when you come away you was calm - but your head was workin'; but that time up to Bloomington he was like - what's that the Bible calls it? - avengin fire" - yes, sir, that's it, he was like avengin fire." Roland W. Diller, witness to Lincoln's Lost Speech.

It was 151 years ago today in my evacuation location of Bloomington Illinois that Abraham Lincoln gave the best speech of his career and nobody took notes. I went to the museum and asked if they had a copy of Lincoln's Lost Speech. Never hurts to ask. They don't.

The speech has been credited for starting the catapulting him to the presidency and kicking off the Illinois Republican Party. We know Lincoln's flatboat trips to New Orleans were part of what influenced the speech.

During one of those trips, Lincoln ran aground in New Salem, Illinois and as he figured out a way to raise the flatboat and save his cargo, locals came out to watch. They invited him to stop by on his way back through, and he ended up moving there. Lincoln probably mentioned his patented invention to lift a barge that runs aground in his Bloomington speech "Discoveries and Inventions," but the wrong date was listed in the newspaper and the location was hard to find.

A plaque next to our local cafe says so. There's something inherently midwestern about not only commemorating the site of Lincoln's "Inventions" speech, but also why it was a flop. But there is also great encouragement to be found here.

After 10 years in New Orleans, I'm back in Illinois via Katrina. The courthouse museum hosted a costume gala for our musicians' nonprofit (NOMRF). Kelly's Bakery brought the food, A. Renee brought the wine, and we helped a displaced pianist who came down from Chicago. the Lincoln statue outside was resplendent with purple, gold and green balloons.

Lincoln was encouraged here, too. His friend Jesse Fell saw him walking on that same courthouse lawn and brought him into brother's office across the street to to request an autobiography for the campaign. Fell, the grandfather of Adlai Stevenson (who also ran for president from Bloomington because there's something in the water), had been hearing the excitement out East over the Lincoln wiping the floor with Douglas, the country's best known orator at the time.

Lincoln turned him down for a year, and when he changed his mind, he asked that, "If any thing be made out of it, I wish it to be modest."

It contained the following bit of his history, " If a straggler supposed to understand latin, happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizzard-- . . . The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity--"

He downplayed his oratory skills. He once acquitted a New Salem friend's son from a murder charge in the "Almanac Case," using the height of the moon to challenge a witness. Then he refused payment out of friendship.

Lincoln told Fell as to the note's briefness, 'There is not much of it, because there is not much of me."

Fell's family's office was a wall away from our apartment, so we wake up to groups of tourists with headphones peering up at our second floor window on the new Lincoln tour. They also visit the site of the Lost Speech. Of the speech, John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat said, "I shall not mar any of its fine proportions by attempting even a synopsis of it."

By all reports, the press was either too enthralled to cover the speech, or Lincoln was censored for his early and fiery rhetoric. Whatever the case, no authenticated copy of the speech exists. Bloomington author and Illinois Supreme Court Reporter Isaac Newton Phillips in 1901 discounted a version of the speech written decades after the fact and reiterates, "We do not know what he said."

Druggist Ronald W. Diller, describes it in "Lincoln's Lost Speech, by Elwell Crissey. "I never knew exactly what did happen there. All I recollect is that a the beginnin' of that speech I was settin in the back of the room and when I come to I was hanging' on to the front of the platform. I recollect I looked up and seen Joe Medill [Chicago publisher] standin on the reporters' table lookin foolish-like and heard him say, "Good Lord, boys! I ain't took a note!"

"He knew what he was doing' that night," said Diller. "He knew he was cuttin' loose. He knew them old Whigs was goin' to have it in for him for doin' it, and he meant to show 'em he didn't care a red cent what they thought. He knew there was always a lot of fools in that new party he was joining - the kind that's always takin' up with every new thing comes along to get something to orate about. He saw clear as day that if they got started right that night, he'd got to fire 'em up, so he threw back his shoulders and lit in."

This was table-jumping, string bean Lincoln. All cheekbones because he had not yet taken an 11-year old's advice to grow a beard to lend him gravitas. Possibly the first campaign image consultant, and she did a bang-up job. The Lost Speech did not survive to be dissected, and it could have referenced anything. The courthouse burned to the ground at the turn of the century, much of the Lincoln lore burning with it.

It probably wasn't a religious speech. Upon finding out most of Springfield ministers polled against his candidacy he once said, "I am not a Christian -- God knows I would be one but I have carefully read the Bible, and I do not understand this book. These men well know that I am for freedom in the territories, freedom everywhere as far as the Constitution and the laws will permit, and that my opponents are for slavery. They know this, and yet, with this book in their hands, in the light of which human bondage cannot live a moment, they are going to vote against me. I do not understand it at all.'

There isn't much Lincoln was afraid to talk about. He shared a bed with his friend for years, as he later commented on to Congress when nominating James Speed for Attorney General. Lincoln said he didn't know James as well as his brother. "That is not strange, for I slept with Joshua for four years, and I suppose I ought to know." Historians are still arm-wrestling over the significance of the general storekeeper inviting Lincoln to share his bed when he came in to buy bedding. Don't know, don't care, but Honest Abe indeed.

A 19th Century candidate could be an acknowledged agnostic with a long-term bunk buddy, turbulent marriage, well of genius, streak of melancholy and love of poetry. But when you first ignited a firestorm against slavery, the pencils fell silent.

Some clues to the Lost Speech content may be found in this earlier letter to Joshua. "How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes"

"When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy," the letter concludes.

These thoughts were rising to the surface the year before the speech. He was running against the Know-Nothings so that part of the speech probably wrote itself. I like to think that at some point he said, "Stop owning people now," but it's all pure conjecture.

"His speech was full of fire and energy and force. It was logic; it was pathos; it was enthusiasm; it was justice, equity, truth, and right set ablaze by the devine fires of a soul maddened by the wrong; it was hard, heavy, knotty, gnarly, backed with wrath," said Lincoln's last law partner William Herndon who described it as the best speech of Lincoln's career.

"In ten minutes he was about eight feet tall; his face was white, his eyes was blazin' fire, and he was thunderin, 'Kansas shall be free!' 'Ballots, not bullets!' 'We won't go out of the Union and you shan't.'" Diller described. That last line is the only part of the speech universally agreed upon.

"Generally, when he was speakin', he was cool and quiet and things all fit together, and when you come away you was calm - but your head was workin'; but that time up to Bloomington he was like - what's that the Bible calls it? - avengin fire" - yes, sir, that's it, he was like avengin fire," Diller added.

Slavery has long been abolished but every era has its elephant in the room. At the dawn of this year's hurricane season, New Orleans could use another great orator with the Mr. Go oil barge canal aimed like a bullet into the heart of our city. And hundreds of thousands of us are not home.

A New Hampshire music festival this fall benefiting the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund will be up the road from the Primaries No matter who makes the speeches this time, I promise to take notes.

Because we are long overdue for more avenging fire.


Jazzfest Pictures Worth 1000 Blogs

It took a month of Sundays, we're slow unpackers, but here's our festival season photo series. NOMRF's Gambit Big Easy Award recognition, a Katrina-delated artist's wedding reception, Jessie Hill Day, Musician Open Houses, froglegs with Wardell, it's all in there.

We welcome any summer benefits you can dream up, but first put on a festive song, pop a cold Abita and play the slideshow. It is dedicated to Richard Spector, whose friends missed him at the Fest.

New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Slideshow.


Mother's Eye

* Reprinted from the Huffington Post

I've been meaning to compile a Mother's Day tribute, and just pulled into my Midwest evacuation location after a productive New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund month back home at Jazzfest.

My mother has always been funny, odd, unpredictable - there aren't enough adjectives. She could kick a football across our half-acre front yard. She can still kick as high as a Rockette for no apparent reason. My husband points out that I do the same thing.

Last month when I was checking mom into an Alzheimer's ward, she thought it was a girls' dorm because my dad's Alzheimer's ward is on the other side of the hallway. "I'm a basket case," she whispered. "Then you're finally going to right place!" I said and it seemed to cheer her up. Before checking into the facility, she asked for a 5 minute head start to make a break for it and run for the woods. The woods wouldn't know what hit them.

Here are four things I'd like to thank Mom for. They've instilled my values, for better or worse.

Trips to the wars.

Johannesburg and Soweto as Apartheid was ending. Jerusalem and Beirut during the Arab Israeli conflict. Rhodesia and Zambezia when they were having the war over Victoria Falls. Now it's Zimbabwe.

Most of my childhood trips involved at least one moment of thinking, 'Now, this ain't right."

Thanks for the disaster evacuation preparation.

The roller rink.

Our small town rink closed in the summer and mom stored the candy and soda in a basement freezer. For the most part, snacks were fish from our pond or whatever the farmers were planting in the side field that year - rolled wheat, soybeans or raw sweet corn. But all summer long, I'd sneak down to the freezer which wasn't grounded and get a jolt of electricity every time I reached in for a Snicker's bar.

Thanks for the diet help.

A pony.

Her name was Pepper, my dad being a doctor and a would-be gentleman farmer with 40 acres and one horse. Not unlike kids who promise to take care of a dog but don't, the winters got longer and colder, and we hated the hike through the snow. A horse can probably tell when you're over it, and Pepper trotted over to the neighbor's field one day and they kept her. She got to hang out with other horses and we all got to wave when we drove by.

Thanks for the practice in letting go.

The Eye Thing.

Mom is unlucky in the kitchen. One time she sliced through her arm cutting frozen meat and drove to the doctor with the knife still in her arm. Another time our pressure cooker blew up and scalded her eye. The eye was red, oozy, crusted over, and Mom called me on the fact that I couldn't look at it. "It's not that bad," I lied while looking down at the tablecloth.

Later that night, I heard rustling at my window. At first I thought it was tree branches outside, but eventually opened the curtain to check. Pressed up against the window was my mother's hideous eye. I screamed jumped back from the curtain to lock my door.

All she said at breakfast the next day was, "Not that bad, huh?"

Thanks for preparing me for life's surprises.


Lord Willing

Our friend Joe Topping has posted his beautiful song, "Lord Willing" on the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund MySpace.

For friends and family of musicians including Alvin Batiste, as well as anyone who lost a loved one to the storm, it is a comfort.


The Ocean Moving All Night

Stay with us. Don't sink to the bottom like a fish going to sleep.
Be with the ocean moving steadily all night, not scattered like a rainstorm.
The spring we're looking for is somewhere in this murkiness

See the night-lights up there traveling together, the candle awake in its gold dish.

Don't slide into the cracks of the ground like spilled mercury.
When the full moon comes out, look around.

- Rumi

Rest In Peace, Dr. Ray Earl Dalton
4/8/26 - 5/12/07

I love you dad.


When Wardell Gets His Due

Today is your chance to meet Wardell Quezergue, the Creole Beethoven, at the Lagniappe Tent on the Fairgrounds. He's getting his all-star tribute on the paddock and the man can eat some serious oysters so look for the legend surrounded by shells.

We first got to know him at a Chicago Dr. John benefit to help him out with living expenses, and have stayed in touch and become friends. That's the worst part of this year's fest. Too many friends make it impossible to actually make it to very many stages to hear music. It's a fair trade.

Last night we went out for Frogs Legs brought back from the Bayou by a New Orleans music legend whose name I can't mention or all his friends will be hitting him up for legs. Jaeger's cooked them up in two giant dishes, along with fried blue catfish roe, and Wardell still managed to get one of my Oysters in a fair trade for a chunk of catfish. I am now officially fat.

After a great night in which we ate the ocean, we hit Rosie's Jazz Hall for Mardi Gras Indians, Willie Tee, and too many others to list because Wardell was not ready to call it a night. I hope I party at 72.

Which is my mom's age and she's achieved a whole new level of color blindness. After telling me about her favorite nurse who is black, and she sometimes calls Mommy, I met the woman who is actually about as German as one can get. Which gives me an imaginary black grandma.

Last night we were talking about musicians in New Orleans and Wardell said the best thing. "In music, I never did worry about who was black or white. And now that I'm blind, everyone's black."

I can't wait to tell Mom!


Coming Home

If you haven't come home for good, you can imagine that you have this week.

We threw a NOMRF musicians' party at Jimmy and Sue Ford's studio / home / work in progress / cabana last night. A rotating roster of New Orleans musicians including Big Chief Alfred Ducette jammed. Crawfish boiled. Shrimp were BBQ'd. The jam got louder and, yes, the police were called. God I miss this place.

If you haven't come home for good, you can imagine that you have this week.

We threw a NOMRF musicians' party at Jimmy and Sue Ford's studio / home / work in progress / cabana last night. A rotating roster of New Orleans musicians including Big Chief Alfred Ducette jammed. Crawfish boiled. Shrimp were BBQ'd. The jam got louder and, yes, the police were called. God I miss this place.

Robin Chambliss was busy with production at Tipitina's and Rickie Castrillo is still displaced in Memphis and his gig this week fell through, but between Sue Ford of Manwitch and John Thomas Griffith of Cowboy Mouth, we had enough of a board meeting to agree to keep giving out grants to displaced musicians as long as individual donations roll in.

Rockers Sue and Jimmy are my touchstone for how to handle hardship with grace. Jimmy was Jeff's former band manager with the dB's and is hosting FordFest at the Three Ring Circus Saturday night.

They threw fund-raising concerts for years and raffled off tickets for Jimmy's Barracuda until there was enough money to construct their own ramped pool. Their sons' muscular ailments are relieved by floating in the salt water.

Jimmy called days after the hurricane to tell us the pool was finally full. Full of fish and other flotsam, but now it's the perfect salt water soak. Musician friends gathered there last night with stories of how their rebuilding is coming along. Food, music, reunions, and friends like this are why we want to come home.

Sue describes it best. "Every time you get in this pool you can feel the love that helped build it."


My Jaguar Alarm Clock

Yesterday I woke up to the metallic sound of a 15-year-old crashing a carjacked Jaguar just feet from our door.

The kid and his passenger sped past a nearby grade school and panicked when they saw a uniformed police captain leaving for work. Then they ricocheted into a series of cars, finally rolling into the one in front of our apartment. A neighbor friend and my husband ran outside to help as the officer waited for backup. The passenger got away, but the driver was booked on charges including driving without a license, resisting arrest, battery, hit and run, possession of a stolen car and reckless driving.

The Jaguar's owner told me that he was driving down St. Bernard Avenue when another driver blocked his car from a side street, then approached his vehicle and told him at gunpoint, "Give me your car or I'll kill you." A day later, he got the call about his car. Waiting for the tow-truck, he was visibly shaken as his mother waited with him.

Neighbors started to gather, like they do after a crisis. Some of their cars were blocked by the Jag. One man said his car had already been stolen twice and hit and run twice, so hopefully it's totaled and he can start over. A concerned parent walked down the street from the school and said he's heard about expanding violence and children being robbed near the playground. I hope that's only an urban legend.

This season, the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund is here as the music community puts its best festival foot forward. Crime has to be deterred so tourists will come back and fill the clubs. The clubs have to stay open so musicians who are home don't have to move away again. The music is what brings in the tourists. And that's the vicious cycle.

I last came back to town during the uptown tornadoes, and before that it was during the explosion of violence over the holidays. One of our neighbors down here wondered aloud if we're were bringing the bad luck down with us. But I'm still feeling lucky with this particular near-miss.

This 15-year-old was not carrying a gun.