Meeting Twain, Lincoln and Today’s Times

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We are officially halfway across the country.  When I write that I imagine myself in a cone shaped party hat, American flag in one hand and a handful of confetti in the other that I toss up as I blow a party horn in my mouth.  It is my own little celebration.  Including CA, we’ve crossed 8 states.

Matt flew into Kansas City to meet us this past week.  We were able to spend his birthday weekend  with two of the greatest Americans that ever lived – Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.

At Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Mo.,  there were endless quotes I wanted to sear into my brain. Some familiar, some new.

Here’s one that stood out:

“A man’s experiences in life are a book. There was never yet an uninteresting life.  Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.”  – Mark Twain’s notebook and “The Refuge of the Derelicts”

Much of the purpose of this trip is to learn the story of America.  The famous people we are learning about from the past, as much as the everyday folk we meet that have made this experience so rich.

Also in Hannibal, we heard a woman who stayed in character as a slave telling stories.  This made a lasting impact on the kids because while they have heard stories about slaves, this woman was so real, explaining how she was separated from her 9-year-old, I was grateful she gave the story flesh, breath and tears.

Of course we all took our turn “painting” Tom Sawyer’s fence.

One area of the museum was Jim and Huck Finn’s raft, which doubled as a movie theater to watch excerpts of Huckleberry Finn – there is a sign next to it that says

“Huck eventually realizes he must oppose society’s values to help Jim. In doing so, Huck goes against his upbringing and follows his conscience. Join Huck on the raft as he realizes that Jim is indeed a human being and equal.”

Through “The Adventures of Hucklberry Finn,” Mark Twain made us realize that our stories cannot be told separately. We are all tethered to one another.

Only an hour and a half from Hannibal is Springfield, Ill., where Abraham Lincoln spent a large part of his life.

Aside from the Lincoln Library and Museum exceeding my expectations, the town of Springfield is very depressed.  Buildings in disrepair, no one walking around, no funky cafes or cute shops. With the exception of the Capitol, nothing particularly noteworthy in the way of architecture.  And like many larger towns a Subway (sandwiches) or Walgreens seem to be on every corner.

It is hard to believe that this was where Lincoln lived for a good portion of his life. We saw the train station where Lincoln gave his farewell speech from the back of the train the day he and his family headed to Washington D.C.

“My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

A little more than four brutal and war-ravaged years later, a funeral train brought him back to Springfield. He is in a very large tomb with his wife and three of his four sons, in what struck me as an ordinary cemetery.

For some reason because of Lincoln’s connection to Springfield, I thought the city would look more quaint or well kept, preserved or something. Not that I thought people would be walking around with stovepipe hats, but you get my drift.

The library and museum were top-notch. Painstaking research brought many everyday scenes and famous moments to life with life-size figures that look eerily real – down to the hair on Lincoln’s arms.

Lincoln and Twain lived in complex times. They both had as many enemies as followers and fans. They both had their share of drama, comedy and tragedy.  Their words will long continue to make us reflect upon, grieve, and celebrate our collective story.

You can follow the Fales’ Great American Field Trip on Jill’s Blog www.thegreatamericanfieldtrip.blogspot.com.

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