Sunday, July 24, 2005

Assassination Vacation

One of the books I've enjoyed recently is Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, a jaunty venture through the minutiae associated with the assassinations of Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield. The book is part history lesson and part Addams Family-style travelogue. We join Vowell and a parade of good sports - family and friends who have clearly been through this sort of thing with her before - as she tours the country visiting gravesites, tracking down commemmorative plaques, and combing dusty shelves for glimpses of bone fragments and blood-stained garments.

One of my favorite vignettes involves Vowell's search for the site of the attack on Secretary of State W. H. Seward, which occurred on the evening of the Lincoln assassination and was part of the same plot. Her friend Bennett has been taken along on this pilgrammage, which involves setting out at 6:30 on a cold February morning to catch the Lincoln's Birthday wreath ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial before the Seward-site highlight for the day. She writes:

I lead him around the corner to the Court of Claims Building. In the coutryard, past the fountain, I point at a plaque, chirping "Ta-da! This was the site of Secretary of State Seward's house where he was stabbed in bed the night Lincoln was shot!"

Bennett looks at the plaque, then back at me, wondering, "This is my surprise? A plaque about Seward?"


He doesn't say anything for a while, just stands there reading the plaque, shaking his head...(then) looks at me, rolls his eyes, and silently trudges out of the courtyard...

"Seward plaque"... has become our synonym for disapointment. When I break it to Bennett that I'm having trouble getting Fiddler on the Roof tickets, a musical he's keen on seeing because it reminds him of this grandmother's flight from the shtetl, he answers, "Whatever. I can take it. My people have been getting Seward plaqued for millennia."

Vowell also interjects (progressive) political commentary on the current state of affairs throughout the book. She draws a particularly interesting parallel between the state of the nation around the time of the McKinley administration and during the current Bush administration. To my surprise, this is a parallel I'd alluded to previously.

Read this book. You won't be Seward plaqued.

1 comment:

kristina said...

You describe a feeling we know too well--even the sound of it ("Seward plaqued"--suggestions of the sewer? the plaque that causes cavities) lends truth to the term. kc