This week has been blessed with an offering of fascinating, moving speakers. All of whom reminded the listeners of the gifts and sacrifices these individuals had given a nation.
Monday evening the Elijah Iles House Volunteer Appreciation Dinner wrapped up with a performance by Ms. Kathryn Harris as Harriet Tubman. Ms. Harris was enthralling, and educational, as she gave a overview of Harriet Tubman's life. I had known that Mrs. Tubman was a remarkable woman, but I had not realized to what extent. It was hard to conceive of several 3 months to 6 month journeys, mostly on foot, as she led her "passengers" from Maryland to either Pennsylvania or Canada. Or that she was the only woman to lead a Union ambush, and free several hundred slaves. Or that she went on to work for the Federal government, and later ran a "old folks home" - all without the ability to read or write. And that she lived till her 90's.
Then, last night, I attended the Sangamon County Historical Society's (SCHS) Pre-Veteran Day Salute, which was held out at U of I - Springfield's Brooken Auditorium.
I came in a little late, but was able to hear most of Mr. Mark DePue, Director of the Oral History program at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, interview of Mr. Kenneth "Tuck" Belton (WWII veteran), and all of Mr. Bernie Goulet's (Korean War) interview.
As I listened to these two men it was obvious that the experiences in these two wars had not dimmed in their memories. For the listeners it was like hearing of a dire movie come to life - hard to imagine anyone living through such circumstances.
How could you not be moved as you listened to these two men?
Such as when Mr. Belton, who fought with the Resistance in Holland, recounted having to stand by and watch 10 Dutch men being gunned down on the street. The only thing keeping him from reacting was the touch of a young woman's hand - warning him to hold back.
To imagine what it would be like to have to portray a deaf/mute, and refrain from any response when the enemy tested you with a loud sound.
Or when he told how he had to hide in a patch of woods in January. He said that a furry dog came by - that he wished that dog could be with him now - as the dog saved his life. He bundled the dog into his coat, and the two slept beneath those trees, in the snow, that night.
It would have to been a hard heart not to feel the grief as Mr. Goulet told of the company cooks crying when they realized their men would not come back.
Or when the officer who was Mr. Goulet's mentor, was gunned down only a few feet ahead of him.
Later there was a little reception, and I took the opportunity to thank Mr. Belton for his service. I wish I could have spoken with Mr. Goulet too, but he was busy.
And it was hard not to cry - not just at their stories - but at the fact I knew that these men were soon to be woven into the tapestry of history. Bright threads that is true, but soon all we would have is their stories.
I had the privilege of performing for the Lincoln's Tomb, "Spirits of the Civil War" last Saturday.
While the day was hot it was lovely, particularly under a shady tree not far from Lincoln's Tomb. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to hear Tom Emery's talk "Eddy: Lincoln's Forgotten Son," on Edward Baker Lincoln, but I was able to enjoy Mr. Andrew Bowman's and Mr. Khabir Shareef's performances. Mr. Bowman protrayed his grandfather, Color Sgt. Andrew Jackson Smith, who received a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2001. And Mr. Shareef protrayed Maj. Martin Delaney, who was one of the few African American officers in the Civil War.
These gentlemen are with the Storyteller's Drum, and their performances are well worth seeing.
My own performance was last, and I will admit I wished I had used the offer of a mic. My sinuses were playing havoc with my voice towards the end of the show. But, as they say, a "learning experience."
My show revolved around the experiences of immigrants coming to Sangamon County.
What I decided to focus on was the influence that travel logs, memoirs, and in particular, personal letters played in influencing the decision to immigrate. While my sources were limited to books that had been reprinted, A True Picture of A Immigrant, and Eight Months In Illinois, both being for English immigrants, I was able to give some insight into what most immigrants faced. The books, and Eliza Flowers' letters to her nephew, offered good windows into the challenges and hazards faced - from the time they went to port - to arrival in Illinois.
One story I would like to pursue further was of Mary Nagle, later wife of John Burkhardt, who sailed from Bavaria in 1841, aboard the Oceania. The ship wrecked off the coast of Jamaica, and Mary didn't arrive in St. Louis until 1842, when she learned her father had died. I found reference to her in the Unigraph edition of The History of Sangamon County.
There was a fine attendance for all performers, despite the heat, and I was sorry when it was all over. But am definitely looking forward to the full evening of history, "The Fiery Trial: Civil War Stories by Candlelight."
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.