Abraham Lincoln rides to Washington, 150 years later

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Abraham Lincoln" stepped from the gray Toyota minivan outside the Baltimore train station Wednesday, grabbed his carpetbag and leather valise and put on his stovepipe hat.

He wore a gray scarf and a watch fob and had a pair of gloves stuffed into his overcoat pocket, but he looked rumpled and road-weary. A woman with a cup of coffee brushed past him toward a cab, seeming not to notice him.

"Good morning," he said to bystanders, smiling and doffing his hat. "So good to see you." His trip from Springfield, Ill., had been uneventful, he reported: "It has not been marred by any unfortunate incidents, even here in Baltimore."

So began the federal government's commemoration of the last leg of Lincoln's journey to Washington 150 years ago Wednesday, and the National Park Service's official Civil War sesquicentennial observance.

Baltimore was his next-to-last stop. He had been on the road for 13 days, having stopped in 17 cities and addressed thousands of people across almost 2,000 miles, aides said.

But soon he would be in Washington, where his inauguration was scheduled for March 4 - 1861.

Wednesday's event was marked by historical similarities - Lincoln was portrayed by Springfield actor Fritz Klein, 62, who, like Lincoln, stands 6 feet 4 inches tall and sports real whiskers.

Klein even used folksy, Lincoln-like analogies - the tension between the nation's federal and local power is like a taut clothesline strung between poles: "You don't ever want to chop one down, or the whole thing collapses," he said.

But there were incongruities: the minivan, the graffiti on the rail bridge underpasses. Also, the midmorning train trip came under bright blue skies; the secret, high-security 1861 journey happened in the pre-dawn darkness.

The train was met at Union Station by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in his trademark black cowboy hat, and a mob of reporters. The faux Lincoln was accompanied by National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

"This is the first, most significant beginning of the Civil War sesquicentennial," Jarvis said in Baltimore before the trip started. "What we're using this opportunity for . . . is to really . . . deepen the discussion about the cause of the Civil War."

Salazar noted that the National Park Service manages Civil War and civil rights sites across the nation. "We have Gettysburg," he said. "We also have Selma to Montgomery."

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