Lincoln School, movie intertwined [UPDATED]Published 5:42am Monday, January 21, 2013 Updated 7:44am Monday, January 21, 2013
Fergus Falls natives who attended classes at the former Lincoln Elementary School on North Union Avenue, through the 1970s, are especially enthralled with the current movie about the nation’s 16th president.
As kids they learned about Lincoln’s humble beginning in a log cabin in Kentucky and his early adult life in Illinois. Later, in junior high and senior high, they learned more about Lincoln who led the nation as president during the Civil War in the 1860s.
For many of us, a highlight during a visit to the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C., includes a stop at the Lincoln Memorial. This will be especially true for the Fergus Falls High School marching band this weekend.
Now we have the classic movie about Lincoln.
Steven Spielberg directs two-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis in a drama that focuses on the 16th president’s tumultuous final months in office. In a nation divided by war, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery.
“I had some wonderful teachers at Lincoln School in Fergus,” said Bob Drechsel, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin. “I recall the old classrooms and blackboards, huge windows, the wood floors, kickball and dodgeball games on the playground and the annual Maypole celebration.”
He said that Lincoln School was a real community. Drechsel still has a Lincoln School commemorative coffee cup that he uses each summer at his summer home at Jewett Lake.
As a young man, Abraham Lincoln worked as a general store clerk. He was a person of integrity and became known as “Honest Abe.”
Allen Guelzo, director of the Civil War studies department at Gettysburg College, says that the movie Lincoln is historically exact.
“Day-Lewis captures Lincoln’s canniness and his awkwardness, his external simplicity and his internal complexity, a man easy to underestimate but dangerous in the outcome when you do,” said Guelzo. “Even odd snatches of Lincoln’s words surface, and not just in the set-piece moments like the Second Inaugural. We see Mary Lincoln’s over-budget redecorating projects and witness a recurring dream of a ship navigating toward an unknown shore.”
Guelzo praises Spielberg’s screenwriter, Tony Kushner, for sharing with the audience Lincoln’s explanation of the legal technicalities of the presidential war powers, the Emancipation Proclamation and the need for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.
“Lincoln’s rebuff to Thaddeus Stevens’ radicalism, staged between the two in the basement kitchen of the White House, is built around the image of a compass,” said Guelzo. “For Lincoln that compass has a needle that points only one way, to a clear and unfailing north.”
President Lincoln tells General Grant that he wants no hangings after the war.
“This is not a movie about the unpleasantness of democracy,” said Guelzo. “It’s about how the unpleasantness is not nearly so unpleasant as it is portrayed by democracy’s cultured despisers.”
Guelzo says the movie Lincoln is filled with robust joy in the rough-and-tumble of American politics.
“In an age when so many people complain about gridlock, lobbying, campaign money, and inefficiency, the movie Lincoln embraces all of them, and good comes out of it,” he said. “We see confidence in politics, confidence in a very skilled yet principled politician and confidence in the self-created mazes of our representative democracy.”
Guelzo says that Day-Lewis’s Lincoln, haggard but smiling, tormented and yet fundamentally serene in his knowledge of doing right, carries even the slowest and most awkward moments toward a fundamental affirmation of truth and purpose.