Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A world full of surprises

Very early this year - in fact it was actually December 28 of last year I was in Washington D.C.

On a cold bright day, accompanied by someone close to me, I went to see some of the monuments, including the Lincoln Monument which plays an important part in Black Rain, when Arnold Moore gets thrown off the bridge leading to it after a meeting with an assassin.

I always find it interesting to do these after the fact on site investigations. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Not much you can do about it of course, but its an eye opener about the limits of remote research in getting the details exactly correct.

After realizing the mistakes I made were not all that damaging in this case we proceeded to see the Lincoln Memorial itself. Incredible. Moving. And as Dennis Miller once said - exactly how I want to remember the president - at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.

What surprised me were the inscriptions on the walls - everyone knows the Gettysburg address or at least some part of it (Four score and seven years ago...) not as many know Lincoln's second inaugural speech - where he laid out his understanding of why God allowed the Civil War to inflict such trauma on the nation--both North and South. And why He allowed it to go on for so long. By 1864 - the year of Lincoln's second inauguration hundreds of thousands of men lay dead, hundreds of thousands more lived without arms or legs or in a state of what we now know as PTSD. And still the war raged.

Without getting into a theological discussion let's suffice it to say Lincoln saw the war as some type of penance for centuries of slavery - not just for those who'd perpetrated it, but for those who'd turned a blind eye and tolerated it. For both the South and the North.

His words - "...if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.

At this moment I realized, as I often do, that I didn't know anywhere near as much I thought I knew. In this case about Abraham Lincoln. I reminded myself to get a book about Lincoln, the one President Obama had mentioned came to mind. And then I looked around this great enclosure made of stone: stone walls, stone floor, stone stairs and of course the huge statue carved of marble and saw a small wooden door in one corner, the type that looks like it might lead to a janitors closet or even the offices of a strangely addressed PI from the depression era.

My friend and I walked over to it and found - to our great surprise - a book store the size of a broom closet stuffed into the corner of the monument. Don't really understand it, didn't find any of my books on sale there, barely now even believe its real ( Confirmation from any others who have been there would be welcome).

We went in and among copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address I found a book entitled Lincoln's Melancholy - by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

In it, Shenk tells of Lincoln's depression, how it was documented in him and his family. How he coped with it, fought against it, bore its great burden when he could not shake it off. How it almost destroyed him and ultimately how the strength and fortitude and world view he built up while fighting it made him perhaps the one man who could save the Union that was threatened with extinction in 1861.

It's an incredible book not only for the history you'll never read anywhere else but for the insights, raw emotion and - at least in my case as one who has battled depression in his life - the feeling of personal connection it brought me to our greatest President.

I recommend it highly. I suggest it be read slowly and savored and pondered as opposed to whipped through in a race to the end. And as always I thank you for your time.

Graham Brown is the author of three novels: Black Rain, Black Sun and coming in January, The Eden Prophecy. He is also fortunate enough to be working with Clive Cussler on the NUMA Files Series, the next book of which is titled Devil's Gate and arrives in November.


Lois Winston said...

Graham, a few months ago there was a multi-part PBS American Experience series on Abraham and Mary Lincoln's life together -- Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided. Much of it centered on the state of mind of both throughout their courtship and marriage. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the psychology of Lincoln. It's available on DVD.

Meredith Cole said...

Great post, Graham! I had a summer job for a tour company in DC when I was in college (now the basis for a new mystery series) and our headquarters were at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. I spent a lot of time there, but didn't know about the bookstore...

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great post, Graham. I definitely want to read that book! I have a book I picked up at the Smithsonian bookstore called "Behind the Scenes" which is a memoir of a former slave who worked in the Lincoln White House during the Civil War. I always thought it would be a great foundation for a novel, though I have not tackled it yet.

Shannon said...

Another great Lincoln book is the one titled that, by Gore Vidal. He's a fascinating man.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Wonderful post, Graham! Next time I'm in DC (probably next summer), I'll verify that the closet/bookstore exists and doesn't take me to Narnia. And buy that book.

Graham Brown said...

Thanks guys -

Lois I will definitely check out that PBS special - they do so many good things.

Meredith - is this new series of your out yet or coming soon?

Sue Ann - Behind the Scenes sounds like a book I'll have to read and I agree, its a great set up for a novel.

Graham Brown said...

Shannon - what is the title for the Gore Vidal book?

Becky - if you end up in Narnia send us a post card

Gabi said...

It's amazing how opening a book cover can transport, amaze and inspire. The Vidal is a good biography and Lincoln is always worth a revisit. Thanks for reminding me.