Sunday, August 15, 2010

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

I first encountered Sarah Vowell on the This American Life podcasts. She is scholarly, interesting, wry, quirky and has an amazing sort of 11 year old girl/munchkin voice. You may well have heard it - out of the blue she was called up and asked to do the voice of Violet, the daughter in The Incredibles movie. If you haven't heard her, she's a little bit Lisa Simpson-y.

Which would be relevant if I was consuming this work in its audiobook form - one day I would love to do that, as apparently its got all sorts of guest stars doing cameos as famous dead people. Now though, I am merely reading the printed book.

But, its a cracker of a book. She is a memorial addict - she spends all her holidays travelling around the many, many sites related to the four* assassinated presidents. She is an assassination expert  - at home she has a dedicated book collection in what she calls her Assassination Nook. Apart from reading all the books, she has visited all the sites, talked to the guides, and actually listened to the guides, which probably not many people do. She says she is always either the youngest or the oldest on the tours - which are otherwise made up of either senior citizens or schoolkids.

*Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy. President Warren G. Harding died in office of food poisoning, however it has since been widely rumoured that he was bumped off by his wife.

Two fabulous facts I want to share with you;

1. John Wilkes Booth, who shot Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was from a famous acting family. His elder brother, Edwin Booth, was America's foremost Shakespearean actor. During the US Civil War, years before Lincoln's death, he was at a train station in New Jersey, when a young man fell onto the tracks. Edwin Booth saved the young man's life. The young man was Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest child of Abraham Lincoln.

2. Although Lincoln is widely venerated today (with some scary but interesting exceptions), he was a controversial figure in his lifetime. The current state song of Maryland, describing Lincoln as a "despot", was written during the civil war. Although Maryland stayed in the union, and was notionally on the Northern side in the war, sympathy for the Confederate cause and antipathy to Lincoln ran hot. Incredibly, the song was not chosen officially as the state song until the 1930s, and despite pressure to modify it, it never has been. So now, sing it with me! (to the tune of O Tanenbaum). Some of the nine verses are omitted, but  feel free to look up the whole thing.
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Hark to an exiled son's appeal,
Maryland! My Maryland!
My mother State! to thee I kneel,
Maryland! My Maryland!
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!
I see the blush upon thy cheek,
Maryland! My Maryland!
For thou wast ever bravely meek,
Maryland! My Maryland!
But lo! there surges forth a shriek,
From hill to hill, from creek to creek-
Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
Maryland! My Maryland!
I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!


Nobody said...

I've just come over all QI'ish, and I believe the following is correct:

The Doctor who treated Wilkes Booth for the leg injury he aquired during the assassination was called Mudd. He was then despised by all for helping out the assassin, hence the expression, "His name is mud".

chris.dadness said...

Yes, she mentioned that - I think you're right. AGAIN.