Death of a president

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The Michigan History Magazine (March/April 2000) featured an article “Our Lincoln Is Dead” by author Roger L. Rosentreter. The article is featured on the magazine’s cover with an illustration by Bruce Holwerda (see photo above). The opening storyline to the article really says it all:

“On April 15, 1865, prominent Detroit entrepreneur John J. Bagley arrived home after closing his store. With tears in his eyes, the thirty-three-old Bagley sat down in his parlor. One of his young daughters saw him and wondered, “Papa, what’s the matter?”

Bagley responded, “Mr. Lincoln is dead.” “What, papa? Our Lincoln?” “Yes,” the future governor of Michigan responded, “Our Lincoln is dead.”

The article goes on to note how Michigan responded to the death of Abraham Lincoln. Various cities held meetings, churches and schools tolled their bells, places of business closed (in response to Washington declaring April 19-a national day of mourning), preachers gave sermons on the meaning of the death, and politicians delivered speeches. There was much more, to be sure. The article mentions a diary entry by a man named Charles M. Cleveland. He summarized the effect of the loss of Lincoln by writing “…the clouds dropped tears of sorrow.”

The clouds dropped tears of sorrow. History has had many occasions for such an expression to be aptly appropriate. In my lifetime, the assassination of JFK and also the terrorist 9/11 attack. It is appropriate and healthy to mourn at such times. We grieve as individuals and as nations. Those of us that were alive during those terrible events probably remember the days they occurred very well. “It’s something you never forget,” commented a Pearl Harbor survivor. I had struck up a conversation with him at a Memorial Day Observance. “I can still hear in my ears the sounds of those Japanese fighters flying over.”

Thankfully, life isn’t all tragedy. Yes, there are awful moments. But there are beautiful and wonderful times also. Our task is to relish the good memories and events, while not forgetting the heartbreaking ones. We wouldn’t be able to forget anyway. “The fighters still fly in my head,” my World War Two friend said. We all have our “fighters.” Stay strong. Be brave. Carry on.

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One Response to “Death of a president”

  1. Donna says:

    Thank you for posting this. It is very encouraging.

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