Assassination Vacation [NOOK Book]

Overview

New York Times bestselling author of The Word Shipmates and contributor to NPR’s “This American Life” Sarah Vowell embarks on a road trip to sites of political violence, from Washington DC to Alaska, to better understand our nation’s ever-evolving political system and history.
Read More Show Less
... See more details below
Assassination Vacation

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$11.66
BN.com price

Overview

New York Times bestselling author of The Word Shipmates and contributor to NPR’s “This American Life” Sarah Vowell embarks on a road trip to sites of political violence, from Washington DC to Alaska, to better understand our nation’s ever-evolving political system and history.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Bestselling essayist and NPR contributor Sarah Vowell applies her charming, contrarian wit to an unlikely subject, as she leads us on a quirky tour of sites across the country associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Along the way, she examines the landscape of American violence and unearths surprising connections between tourism and political murder.
Bruce Handy
Having made the commercially courageous decision to avoid the catnip that is the Kennedy name, Vowell restricts her gaze to America's first three presidential murders: those of Abraham Lincoln, Garfield and William McKinley. Mixing travelogue, history, personal essay and social criticism, she follows the loose formula perfected in two previous collections of magazine pieces and adapted versions of her appearances on public radio's ''This American Life,'' where she is a regular.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
Vowell visits assassination sites throughout the country to consider how political violence gets manipulated. With a 13-city tour including some of the stops along her way? Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Vowell has a perspective on American history that is definitely funny. She visits museums, historic sites, statues, libraries, anything remotely relevant to successful presidential assassins, and a few of those not so successful. This is an amusing way to learn history, but it is also an unusual look at the interconnectedness of things. Robert Todd Lincoln, "a.k.a. Jinxy McDeath," was present, or nearly so, at three assassinations-his father's, Garfield's, and McKinley's. To understand Garfield's assassin, the author spends time at the Oneida Colony in upstate New York, a religious commune that preached a combination of free love and the second coming, and connects it with Jonathan Edwards. She tracks the Lincoln conspirators through the process of plot and escape to hanging and imprisonment, even describing Dr. Mudd's enormous contribution when the plague hit the prison island of Dry Tortuga. Garfield's assassin was deeply involved in the redirection of the Republican Party after the Civil War, and McKinley's was an anarchist following, he thought, the tenets of Emma Goldman. There are family anecdotes and real scholarship in this quirky road trip. Teens will get an interesting view of one aspect of American history while picking up odd bits of information about a whole lot more. There is much to enjoy in this discursive yet somehow cohesive book.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"A learned, engagingly discursive, funny, sometimes even jolly ramble -- literally -- through the landscape of American presidential assassinations...Vowell makes an excellent traveling companion, what with her rare combination of erudition and cheek." -- Bruce Handy, The New York Times Book Review

"[Vowell's] gift is one of cosmic inclusion -- allowing the natural collision of intellect and personality, rigorous research, and generational quirks." -- Joan Anderman, The Boston Globe

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743282536
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/4/2005
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 69,093
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell is a contributing editor for public radio's This American Life and has written for Time, Esquire, GQ, Spin, Salon, McSweeneys, The Village Voice, and the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of Radio On, Take the Cannoli, and The Partly Cloudy Patriot. She lives in New York City.

Biography

Sarah Vowell has turned her gimlet eye -- and razor-sharp tongue -- toward everything from her father's homemade (and life-size) cannon and her obsession with the Godfather films, to the New Hampshire primary and her Cherokee ancestors' forced march on the Trail of Tears. Vowell is best known for her monologues and documentaries for public radio's This American Life. A contributing editor for the program since 1996, she has been a staple of TAL's popular live shows around the country, for which The New York Times has commended her "funny querulous voice and shrewd comic delivery." Thanks to her first book, Radio On: A Listener's Diary, Newsweek named her its "Rookie of the Year" for nonfiction in 1997, calling her "a cranky stylist with talent to burn." Reviewing her second book, the essay collection Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World, People magazine said, "Wise, witty and refreshingly warm-hearted, Vowell's essays on American history, pop culture and her own family reveal the bonds holding together a great, if occasionally weird, nation." Her third book, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, was a national bestseller and was recently released on audio CD, featuring the voices of Norman Lear, Paul Begala, and Conan O'Brien. Sarah Vowell's forthcoming book, titled Assassination Vacation and due to be published Spring 2005, is about tourism and presidential murder.

As a critic and reporter, Sarah Vowell has contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines, including Esquire, GQ, Artforum, The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Spin, and McSweeney's. As a columnist, she has covered education for Time, American culture for the online magazine Salon.com, and pop music for San Francisco Weekly, for which she won a 1996 Music Journalism Award. She contributed the liner notes to the CD anthology Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants. Sarah Vowell is a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU. Vowell was recently cast as the voice of the teenage daughter in The Incredibles director Brad Bird's forthcoming film about a family of superheroes from Pixar Animation Studios.

Sarah Vowell has performed her work at the Aspen Comedy Festival, Amsterdam's Crossing Borders Festival, and Seattle's Foolproof Festival. She has appeared on Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Nightline, and is a regular on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Author biography courtesy of the Steven Barclay Agency.

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 27, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Muskogee, Oklahoma
    1. Education:
      B.A., Montana State University, 1993; M.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1996

Read an Excerpt


Preface

One night last summer, all the killers in my head assembled on a stage in Massachusetts to sing show tunes. There they were -- John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz -- in tune and in the flesh. The men who murdered Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley were elbow to elbow with Lee Harvey Oswald and the klutzy girls who botched their hits on klutzy Gerald Ford, harmonizing on a toe-tapper called "Everybody's Got the Right to Be Happy," a song I cheerfully hummed walking back to the bed-and-breakfast where I was staying.

Not that I came all the way from New York City just to enjoy a chorus line of presidential assassins. Mostly, I came to the Berkshires because of the man who brought one of those presidents back to life. I was there to visit Chesterwood, the house and studio once belonging to Daniel Chester French, the artist responsible for the Abraham Lincoln sculpture in the Lincoln Memorial. A nauseating four-hour bus ride from the Port Authority terminal just to see the room where some patriotic chiseler came up with a marble statue? For some reason, none of my friends wanted to come with.

Because I had to stay overnight and this being New England, the only place to stay was a bed-and-breakfast. It was a lovely old country mansion operated by amiable people. That said, I am not a bed-and-breakfast person.

I understand why other people would want to stay in B&Bs. They're pretty. They're personal. They're "quaint," a polite way of saying "no TV." They are "romantic," i.e., every object large enough for a flower to be printed on it is going to have a flower printed on it. They're "cozy," meaning that a guest has to keep her belongings on the floor because every conceivable flat surface is covered in knickknacks, except for the one knickknack she longs for, a remote control.

The real reason bed-and-breakfasts make me nervous is breakfast. As if it's not queasy enough to stay in a stranger's home and sleep in a bed bedecked with nineteen pillows.

In the morning, the usually cornflake-consuming, wheat-intolerant guest is served floury baked goods on plates so fancy any normal person would keep them locked in the china cabinet even if Queen Victoria herself rose from the dead and showed up for tea. The guest, normally a silent morning reader of newspapers, is expected to chat with the other strangers staying in the strangers' home.

At my Berkshires bed-and-breakfast, I am seated at a table with one middle-aged Englishman and an elderly couple from Greenwich, Connecticut. The three of them make small talk about golf, the weather, and the room's chandeliers, one of which, apparently, is Venetian. I cannot think of a thing to say to these people. Seated at the head of the table, I am the black hole of breakfast, a silent void of gloom sucking the sunshine out of their neighborly New England day. But that is not the kind of girl my mother raised me to be. I consider asking the Connecticut couple if they had ever run into Jack Paar, who I heard had retired near where they live, but I look like I was born after Paar quit hosting The Tonight Show (because I was) and so I'd have to explain how much I like watching tapes of old programs at the Museum of Television and Radio and I don't want to get too personal.

It seems that all three of them attended a Boston Pops concert at Tanglewood the previous evening, and they chat about the conductor. This, I think, is my in. I, too, enjoy being entertained.

Relieved to have something, anything, to say, I pipe up, "I went to the Berkshire Theatre Festival last night."

"Oh, did you see Peter Pan?" the woman asks.

"No," I say. "Assassins!"

"What's that?" wonders the Englishman.

To make up for the fact that I've been clammed up and moping I speak too fast, merrily chirping, "It's the Stephen Sondheim musical in which a bunch of presidential assassins and would-be assassins sing songs about how much better their lives would be if they could gun down a president."

"Oh," remarks Mr. Connecticut. "How was it?"

"Oh my god," I gush. "Even though the actors were mostly college kids, I thought it was great! The orange-haired guy who played the man who wanted to fly a plane into Nixon was hilarious. And I found myself strangely smitten with John Wilkes Booth; every time he looked in my direction I could feel myself blush." Apparently, talking about going to the Museum of Television and Radio is "too personal," but I seem to have no problem revealing my crush on the man who murdered Lincoln.

Now, a person with sharper social skills than I might have noticed that as these folks ate their freshly baked blueberry muffins and admired the bed-and-breakfast's teapot collection, they probably didn't want to think about presidential gunshot wounds. But when I'm around strangers, I turn into a conversational Mount St. Helens. I'm dormant, dormant, quiet, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the slopes of my silence and then, boom, it's 1980. Once I erupt, they'll be wiping my verbal ashes off their windshields as far away as North Dakota.

I continue. "But the main thing that surprised me was how romantic Assassins was."

"Romantic?" sneers a skeptic.

"Totally," I rebut. "There's a very tender love scene between Emma Goldman and Leon Czolgosz."

Blank stares.

"You know. He was the anarchist who killed McKinley. Buffalo? 1901? Anyway, the authorities initially suspected Goldman had helped him, but all it was was that he had heard her speak a couple of times about sticking it to The Man. He'd met her, but she wasn't his co-conspirator. Anyway, the play dramatizes the moment they meet. He stops her on the street to tell her that he loves her. The guy who played Czolgosz was wonderful. He had this smoldering Eastern European accent. Actually, he sounded a lot like Dracula -- but in a good way, if you know what I mean." (They don't.)

"He told her, 'Miss Goldman, I am in love with you.' She answered that she didn't have time to be in love with him. Which was cute. But, this was my one misgiving about the performance, I thought that the woman playing Goldman was too ladylike, too much of a wallflower. Wasn't Emma Goldman loud and brash and all gung ho? Here was a woman whose words inspired a guy to kill a president. And come to think of it, one of her old boyfriends shot the industrialist Henry Frick. Maybe I'm too swayed by the way Maureen Stapleton played Goldman in the film Reds. She was so bossy! And remember Stapleton in that Woody Allen movie, Interiors? Geraldine Page is all beige this and bland that so her husband divorces her and hooks up with noisy, klutzy Maureen Stapleton, who laughs too loud and smashes pottery and wears a blood-red dress to symbolize that she is Alive, capital A. Wait. I lost my train of thought. Where was I?"

Englishman: "I believe Dracula was in love with Maureen Stapleton."

"Oh, right. I haven't even mentioned the most touching part. Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley sing this duet, a love song to Charles Manson and Jodie Foster. Hinckley and Squeaky sang that they would do anything for Charlie Manson and Jodie Foster. And I really believed them! Squeaky's like, 'I would crawl belly-deep through hell,' and Hinckley's all, 'Baby, I'd die for you.' It was adorable."

Mr. Connecticut looks at his watch and I simultaneously realize that I've said way too much and that saying way too much means I might miss my bus back home. And I really want to go home. I yell, "Nice meeting you!" and nearly knock down the teapot collection in my rush to get away from them. Though before I can leave, I have to settle up my bill with the friendly B&B owner. His first name? Hinckley.

On the bus home, I flip through my Assassins program from the night before and read the director's note. Of course talking about the murders of previous presidents is going to open the door to discussing the current president. That's what I like to call him, "the current president." I find it difficult to say or type his name, George W. Bush. I like to call him "the current president" because it's a hopeful phrase, implying that his administration is only temporary. Timothy Douglas, the Assassins director, doesn't say the president's name either, but he doesn't have to. Clearly, Douglas is horrified and exasperated by the Iraqi war. He writes,

Proportionate to my own mounting frustrations at feeling increasingly excluded from the best interests of the current administration's control in these extraordinary times helps me toward a visceral understanding of the motivation of one who would perpetrate a violent act upon the leader of the free world. My capacity for this depth of empathy also gives me pause, for I have no idea how far away I am from the "invisible line" that separates me from a similar or identical purpose....Please allow me to state for the record that I am completely against violence of any kind as a way of resolving conflicts.

That crafty explanation slaps me in the forehead with all the force of "duh." Until that moment, I hadn't realized that I embarked on the project of touring historic sites and monuments having to do with the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley right around the time my country iffily went to war, which is to say right around the time my resentment of the current president cranked up into contempt. Not that I want the current president killed. Like that director, I will, for the record (and for the FBI agent assigned to read this and make sure I mean no harm -- hello there), clearly state that while I am obsessed with death, I am against it.

Like director Tim Douglas, my simmering rage against the current president scares me. I am a more or less peaceful happy person whose lone act of violence as an adult was shoving a guy who spilled beer on me at a Sleater-Kinney concert. So if I can summon this much bitterness toward a presidential human being, I can sort of, kind of see how this amount of bile or more, teaming up with disappointment, unemployment, delusions of grandeur and mental illness, could prompt a crazier narcissistic creep to buy one of this country's widely available handguns. Not that I, I repeat, condone that. Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot.

I am only slightly less astonished by the egotism of the assassins, the inflated self-esteem it requires to kill a president, than I am astonished by the men who run for president. These are people who have the gall to believe they can fix us -- us and our deficit, our fossil fuels, our racism, poverty, our potholes and public schools. The egomania required to be president or a presidential assassin makes the two types brothers of sorts. Presidents and presidential assassins are like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City that way. Even though one city is all about sin and the other is all about salvation, they are identical, one-dimensional company towns built up out of the desert by the sheer will of true believers. The assassins and the presidents invite the same basic question: Just who do you think you are?

One of the books I read for McKinley research was Barbara Tuchman's great history of European and American events leading up to World War I, The Proud Tower. Her anarchism chapter enumerates the six heads of state who were assassinated in the two decades before Archduke Ferdinand was murdered in 1914: McKinley, the president of France, the empress of Austria, the king of Italy, a couple of Spanish premiers. Her point being, it was an age of assassination. Well, I can come up with at least that many assassinations off the top of my head from the last two years alone as if playing some particularly geopolitical game of Clue: Serbian prime minister (sniper in front of government building in Belgrade), Swedish foreign minister (stabbed while shopping in Stockholm), the Taiwanese president and vice president (wounded when shots were fired at their motorcade the day before an election), two Hamas leaders (Israeli missile strikes), president of the Iraqi Governing Council (suicide bomber). And, in May 2004, an audio recording surfaced from Osama bin Laden promising to pay ten thousand grams of gold (roughly $125K) to assassins of officials in Iraq representing the United States or the United Nations.

"I'm worried about the president's safety," I said at a Fourth of July party in 2004 when this guy Sam and I were talking about the upcoming Republican National Convention here in New York. "I think you've seen The Manchurian Candidate too many times," said Sam. Guilty. Still, I dread bodily harm coming to the current president because of my aforementioned aversion to murder, but also because I don't think I can stomach watching that man get turned into a martyr if he were killed. That's what happens. It's one of the few perks of assassination. In death, you get upgraded into a saint no matter how much people hated you in life. As the rueful Henry Adams, a civil service reform advocate who marveled at his fellow reformers' immediate deification of President Garfield after that assassination, wrote, "The cynical impudence with which the reformers have tried to manufacture an ideal statesman out of the late shady politician beats anything in novel-writing."

Somewhere on the road between museum displays of Lincoln's skull fragments and the ceramic tiles on which Garfield was gunned down and McKinley's bloodstained pj's it occurred to me that there is a name for travel embarked upon with the agenda of venerating relics: pilgrimage. The medieval pilgrimage routes, in which Christians walked from church to church to commune with the innards of saints, are the beginnings of the modern tourism industry. Which is to say that you can draw a more or less straight line from a Dark Ages peasant blistering his feet trudging to a church displaying the Virgin Mary's dried-up breast milk to me vomiting into a barf bag on a sightseeing boat headed toward the prison-island hell where some Lincoln assassination conspirators were locked up in 1865.

I remembered that my friend Jack Hitt had written a book called Off the Road in which he retraced the old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. So I floated my pilgrimage theory to him in an e-mail and he wrote back that at one point on his Spanish trip, he saw "the flayed 'skin' of Jesus -- the entire thing, you know, with like eyeholes and stuff, mounted on a wooden frame." Cool. His e-mail went on to say that in the Middle Ages,

Relics were treasured as something close to the divine. Often when a great monk died and there was a sense that he might be canonized, the corpse was carefully guarded in a tomb -- often twenty-four hours a day. Visitors could come to the tomb. Most of the funeral vaults of potential saints had a small door, like you might have in your suburban house for cats. Visitors could poke their heads in the little door and breathe in the holy dust. Most people thought that such dust had curative powers since it was associated with a near-saint whose corporeal matter had been directly blessed by God. So, getting near a relic, touching it, being near it was considered extremely beneficial and treasured.

Curative powers? I wondered how taking the train to Philadelphia to look at a sliver of the Garfield assassin's brain floating in a jar is supposed to fix me. "There was a late Renaissance king of Spain whom I loved," Jack went on.

He was so inbred and crazy, incapable of eating food or reproducing that he was called El Hechizado -- the bewitched. He was probably retarded. After destroying the world's largest empire (ever, in all history) and bankrupting a nation drowning in New World gold, he came to die. Half the College of Cardinals arrived to recite prayers over his feeble frail body. They split a live dove over his head every morning. And they had brought with them the most powerful curative tool then known to man, the putrefying, stinking rotting corpse of Saint Francis of Assisi, then (and maybe now) the greatest saint ever. It was laid in the bed next to El Hechizado and for the rest of his days, the King of Spain shared his bed with the greatest relic ever in the hopes that it would restore his health and grant him the potency to generate an heir. Neither happened and the empire eventually dissolved into warfare with England around 1588 and became a backwater.

I can relate. (Not to being retarded, though it has been my experience that if you go on your historical pilgrimage while wearing your Jackass: The Movie ball cap some people look at you like you are.) I crave my relics for the same reason Señor Bewitched bunked with the late saint. We're religious. I used to share the king's faith. And while I gave up God a long time ago, I never shook the habit of wanting to believe in something bigger and better than myself. So I replaced my creed of everlasting life with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "I believe in America," chants the first verse of one of my sacred texts, The Godfather. Not that I'm blind to the Psych 101 implications of trading in the martyred Jesus Christ (crucified on Good Friday) for the martyred Abraham Lincoln (shot on Good Friday).

One thing the Spanish king's Catholicism and my rickety patriotism have in common, besides the high body count, is that both faiths can get a little ethereal and abstract. Jesus and Lincoln, Moses and Jefferson can seem so long gone, so unbelievable, so dead. It's reassuring to be able to go look at something real, something you can put your hands on (though you might want to wash them afterward). "What's that smell?" wondered the bewitched king. Actual Saint Francis, staining the sheets. Did a fellow as shrewd and sad and poetic and miraculously the right man for the right job at the exact right moment as Abraham Lincoln truly walk the earth until gunned down? Well, come along on one of these We Cannot Escape History weekend escape packages and we'll genuflect before the bone from inside his head and the hats he wore on top of his head. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War -- when I really think about them they all seem about as likely as the parting of the Red Sea. But somehow, jumping up a foot to stare at my own face framed in Lincoln's Springfield shaving mirror makes the whole far-fetched, grisly, inspiring story of the country seem more shocking and more true. Especially since when I jumped up to the mirror, I set off a super-loud alarm.

Jack's e-mail about the relics ended with an aside about how he had just been shopping on eBay and stumbled onto "a guy selling tiny specks of 'George Washington's hair.' Literally, these clippings were nothing more than single strands of hair less than a quarter of an inch long. They came in little ampoules and with documentation."

I looked away from my computer and over at a frame on my wall and wrote Jack back that my twin sister Amy had given me a teensy eyelash-size hair of John Brown as a Christmas present. She settled on the more affordable tresses of the abolitionist guerrilla warrior Brown because Lincoln's hair was out of her price range. That is the kind of person I have become, the kind of person who rips open a package in snowman wrapping paper to discover that her only sibling has bought her an executed slavery hater's hair. (I got her a DVD player.)

As I learned that morning at the bed-and-breakfast while I was going on and on about the singing Squeaky Fromme, most people don't like to talk about violent historical death over muffins. I would come to find out that's also true about lunch and dinner too. When my friend Bennett and I were trying to decide where to have brunch he suggested a dim sum place in Chinatown. He asked me if I had ever tried bubble tea. I said yes, that I think a better name for the tea afloat with tapioca globules is tea 'n' dumplings and that I had it at the Chinese restaurant in D.C. that used to be the boardinghouse where Booth and his co-conspirators met to plan the Lincoln assassination.

Bennett asked, "You know that Kevin Bacon game?"

"The one where he can be connected to every other movie star?"

"Yeah, that's the one. Assassinations are your Kevin Bacon. No matter what we're talking about, you will always bring the conversation back to a president getting shot."

He was right. An artist pal, marveling at the youth of a painter in the Whitney Biennial was subjected to the trivia, "Well, John Wilkes Booth was only twenty-six when he killed Lincoln." A gardener friend, bragging about his lilacs, was forced to endure a recitation of Walt Whitman's Lincoln death poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."

As Johnny Cash put it about how his Garfield assassination ballad went over at Carnegie Hall in 1962, "I did 'Mr. Garfield,' which isn't very funny if you're not on the right wavelength, and nobody was." Once I knew my dead presidents and I had become insufferable, I started to censor myself. There were a lot of get-togethers with friends where I didn't hear half of what was being said because I was sitting there, silently chiding myself, Don't bring up McKinley. Don't bring up McKinley.

The bright side to researching the first three presidential assassinations is that my interest is optional, a choice. One man who makes cameo appearances in all three stories was not so lucky. Abraham Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was in close proximity to all three murders like some kind of jinxed Zelig of doom. The young man who wept at his father's deathbed in 1865 was only a few feet away when James A. Garfield was shot in a train station in 1881. In 1901, Robert arrived in Buffalo mere moments after William McKinley fell. Robert Todd Lincoln's status as a presidential death magnet weighed on him. Late in life, when he was asked to attend some White House function, he grumbled, "If only they knew, they wouldn't want me there."

On July 2, 2003, the 122nd anniversary of the Garfield assassination, my friend Nicole and I rented a car and drove up to Vermont to visit Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln's estate in Manchester. His mansion is a museum with landscaped grounds where, in the winter, there is cross-country skiing.

I find it hard to stop myself from being unfair to Robert. Shown around the house, climbing the graceful staircase a guide proudly points out Robert himself designed, it's impossible not to compare him with his father: Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, Robert Lincoln bought a nice ski lodge.

The person I'm really treating unfairly is Nicole, for talking her into the eight-hour round-trip drive to Hildene. I guess learning trivia about when the colossal William Howard Taft came to visit he slept on the floor because he was afraid of breaking the bed in Robert Lincoln's guest room isn't enough for Nicole, because at the end of the day, she pronounces the trip "kind of a bust." Ever polite, she hastens to add, "You brought really good snacks, though."

When we return the rental car on Thirty-fourth Street, the block is crawling with people filing into a concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom. The Foo Fighters are on the marquee. I walk Nicole to the subway, hoping she doesn't notice who's playing, because then she might remember tagging along as my plus-one to a Foo Fighters show seven years earlier, when I was still making a living as a rock critic, which I fear might remind her what I was like before I went off the historical tourism deep end, when tagging along with me to work used to be fun.

President Warren G. Harding, beware: the elderly Robert Lincoln was the guest of honor at the dedication ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. (Harding, also in attendance, returned to the White House unscathed.) Robert died in 1926, but for the rest of his life, he made it a point to visit the memorial often, gazing into his father's marble eyes, saying, "Isn't it beautiful?"

A pilgrimage needs a destination. For medieval Christians, that was usually the cathedral of Saint James in northern Spain. This tour of the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley ends up at the Lincoln Memorial because that's where I'm always ending up. It is the closest thing I have to a church.

On the National Mall in Washington, next to the Reflecting Pool, that shallow, rectangular pond in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the National Park Service has posted a sign. It features a picture of the protesters in the March on Washington listening to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I have a dream" speech from the memorial's steps. The sign says, "The Pool reflects more than the sky and landscape. It mirrors the moods of America, from national celebrations to dramatic demonstrations." This reminds me of a photograph of the memorial's Lincoln sculpture that my tour guide held up at Chesterwood, Daniel Chester French's studio in the Berkshires.

French obsessed for years about how to sculpt Lincoln's peculiar face, fretting and reading and thinking before committing to the brooding, seated philosopher in the memorial. He received the commission in 1913. So by the time the memorial was finally dedicated nine years later, the sculptor was a little pent up worrying how his work would come off. Hoping to celebrate, French looked upon the final install-ation with horror. The problem with putting in a reflecting pool? The darn thing reflects. When the light off the Reflecting Pool bounced up onto Lincoln's face, it looked as if a flashlight had been held up under his chin. The Chesterwood guide described the photo as a "Halloween picture." Lincoln looks frightened, startled, confused -- Edvard Munch's The Scream by way of Macaulay Culkin's Home Alone. Apparently, "hilarious" wasn't the aesthetic French had been going for.

Along with architect Henry Bacon, French tinkered with various solutions, concluding that only electric lighting placed above Lincoln's head could correct the travesty. For years, he pestered the government to pay to fix it. I'm happy for French that he lived long enough to see the ceiling lights installed so that his Lincoln is as dignified and pensive as he intended; otherwise the man might have died of embarrassment.

But I like that picture of the panicky Abraham Lincoln. Lately, I think I might prefer it. Given what that sign says about the Reflecting Pool mirroring American moods, and given that the current mood is on the edgy side what with all the new coffins being buried every day in the Arlington National Cemetery behind the statue's back, a freaked-out Lincoln gaping at the current government might look a little more true.

Then again, in the 1860s, at least half the country loathed Abraham Lincoln for filling up too many soldiers' coffins. Which is why Daniel Chester French isn't the only reason that marble likeness sits there on the Mall. John Wilkes Booth deserves some of the credit -- a notion that would make the assassin want to throw up. After all, if no one had hated Lincoln, there would be no Lincoln Memorial to love.

Copyright © 2005 by Sarah Vowell

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 113 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(58)

4 Star

(32)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(11)

1 Star

(5)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 113 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2007

    Funny, Fascinating, Fast Reading

    This is one of my favorite books. It is a great story of history and the happen-chance meetings and situations that are woven into it. Many fascinating stories - especially enjoyable for those of us who enjoy trivia - written in a very lively, free-flowing style. Very enjoyable read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing

    So I do tend to identify with Sarah's polotics, but even beyond that...I'm obsessed with her. She is an amazing and witty writer. Reading one of her books is like having a little chat with a friend. In fact, sometimes I imagine the conversation I would have if I were at dinner with Sarah, David Sedaris, and Ira Glass. They love me; it's excellent.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 29, 2009

    Read, but with caution

    A well researched book that is entertaining. However the author's far leftist political views pop constantly throughout every chapter thus making this book more of a vehicle for her agenda than a interesting and provocative read. I suggest this book, however be forewarned of the political nonsense that is interwoven in what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable book.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 31, 2009

    I did not finish this book!

    We picked this book in our Book Club because it sounded like an interesting read. Her liberal politics and confusing writing style got in the way of, what could have been, a very interesting topic.

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2006

    Best Book I've 'Heard' in Years

    I loved this book on several levels: first, its content. I've always been interested in and have studied the Presidents, and the author did an amazing amount of research. Second, the writing itself: I'm crazy about how Ms. Vowell writes. It's wry and sly and just how I'd love to be able to write myself. And, a bonus with the audiobook is that it's read by the author herself. Her voice takes a few minutes to get used to, but once you do get used to it, you just can't imagine anyone else reading this book and doing it the proper justice. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2006

    Another hilarious selection from Sarah Vowell

    Sarah Vowell, famous for her unique '3rd grader' voice, is a history buff as well as a great writer. In 'Assassination Vacation' Sarah and sometimes her friends (she doesn't drive) travel along the country's famous and not-so-famous landmarks commemorating the assassination of 3 US Presidents. She goes every where from the Ford Theatre, to the Mudd House (now a museum) to the jail where they sent Dr. Mudd on a little island. This book is a hilarious, fast paced read sure to keep your attention!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2005

    good stuff

    I enjoyed this book. If you are interested in presidential assassinations but don't feel like nodding off in between lines of dry, academic drivel...this is the book for you. It presents the facts in a well organized way with a little humor thrown in; I should emphasize 'a little humor' because some of the jokes just are not funny. However there is an O.C. reference which saved the day for me. I also took a walk around Chelsea and checked out some of the buildings and statues. It got me excited about leader-of-the-free-world death all over again.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2010

    Great read!

    Fun, entertaining, educational, and very well written. Love books that make me laugh outloud!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 25, 2010

    Sarah scores again

    This was a great, quick read. There were a lot of laugh outloud moments and neat little factoids. I love how Sarah Vowell makes you feel like you're right there with her, along for the all the excitement in the discovery of our shared past.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 9, 2009

    Learned a Lot!

    This is on my list of favorites. It is funny, and I learned so much. I have added some other books related to this one to my B&N wishlist. I never thought of Abe Lincoln as "interesting" however I do now.
    This book would have been uselful when I was in school, and American History was as fun as a trip to the dentist! I'm giving it to my daughter to use as a reference for school.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2006

    A Definite Must-Read

    This is one of those books that I could easily read more than once (and actually, I have). Like all of Sarah Vowell's other books, it is well written and engaging. If only all history books were this interesting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2006

    slightly morbid travel log and excellent history

    Can't put Assassination Vacation down! Sarah's prose takes the reader into her world of history and makes it come alive! Would be an excellent book for a teenager disinterested in History Book history. It might have been nice had she and the publisher included books for further reading and/or source notes. Otherwise its huge fun and you can learn lots too!! Such a bargan

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2005

    Great book, even for the non-History expert

    The latest offering from Sarah Vowell fails to dissapoint. It is an amazing book, that is 100% history, but 100% of Sarah's unique writing and humor. I highly recommend it to everyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2005

    Very good!

    This is a very good book -- plenty of actual history, with great wit and style to really make things interesting. I really enjoyed it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2005

    A Read to Die For

    I highly recommend this book, as a former Thanatology student and American History buff I found this book very intersesting and extremely witty. (Although I disagree with Ms. Vowell's politics) Sarah concentrated on three Republican Presidential assassinations which has me a bit curious. You will definitely enjoy this book !

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2005

    Garfield who?

    I bought this book because I saw her interview on the Daily Show on Comedy Central, and I thought it interesting that there was a book written by such a young woman about the assassination of one very well-known president, Lincoln, and two less-known presidents, Garfield and McKinley. Her dedicated interest in the subject peaked mine...and I could relate to her eloquent nerdiness. The book is a great narrative that weaves in and out of modern and historical politics, and draws intriguing lines of coincidence and not-so-coincidental stories between each assassination. Being a reader who mostly enjoys fiction, this book was able to keep me entertained throughout - I even laughed out loud once or twice on the train during my morning commute. Her enthusiasm and fascination with these events made the book that much more fun for me to read because as I was following along on her pilgrimmage, I was taking notes on what I would do on mine when I go to visit my sister in DC this July. Good stuff!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2005

    Not 'Cannoli,' but...

    Even at her most disjointed, Sarah Vowell never ceases to make a reader laugh out loud or think. 'Assassination Vacation' is not the best thing she has ever written, not by a longshot, but this tour through some of our country's more unknown (and sometimes morbid) historical sites is a long, meandering wander through Ms. Vowell's psyche as well. It's worth the trip. Oh, and you'll never utter the phrase 'Seward Plaque,' without thinking of her and you will utter it, trust me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2014

    A flaming atheistic liberal using every opportunity to sarcastic

    A flaming atheistic liberal using every opportunity to sarcastically slime any opinion that she does not hold.  Tries to build herself up by pulling others down  

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2013

    Not for me

    could not get thru 30 pages

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 27, 2013

    Funny History

    Sarah Vowell has staked out a unique niche. She writes about subjects that would interest a historian but writes in the arch style of a Mencken-like satirist. Visiting the sites associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley is loopy and obsessive idea, but she gets away with it, and her tidbit on Robert Todd Lincoln--- that he was in some way connected to each--- is a real historical coincidence, certainly more real and creepy than, for example, the number of letters in the names of Lincoln and Kennedy which some pseudo-conspiracy buffs seem to get off on.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 113 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)