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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 02:11 pm

Following in Lincoln’s steps

Photographer and historian team up to produce a fine new book


Sunset over Sugar Creek between Middletown and New Holland. Lincoln crossed Sugar Creek while traveling the circuit on the Old Springfield-Peoria Road near here. On the cover: Sunrise at Little Round Top at the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania.

Rarely in publishing is there such a perfect collaboration of writer, photographer and publisher as in the new book, Abraham Lincoln Traveled This Way. The lovely landscape photographs by Illinois photographer Robert Shaw are complemented by the narrative of preeminent Lincoln scholar Michael Burlingame. Shaw used his own company, Firelight Publishing, to assure quality control in creating this deluxe hardback volume.

 Shaw, from Heyworth, south of Bloomington, wondered some 10 years ago if anyone had done such a project – documenting with photographs locales where Lincoln lived and worked. After learning that no one had, he began photographing various sites in Illinois.

 After hearing Burlingame speak about Lincoln several times, Shaw contacted the historian to see if he would collaborate on the project, and the two began their years-long journey, which led them from Illinois to Kentucky and Indiana, and on to Washington, D.C., and the East Coast. Burlingame is, of course, the Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield.

 The concept of this book is fascinating, and the book itself is just beautiful. The photographs are very well done, and Shaw spent countless days waiting for the right light and the right weather to get his shot. It took him numerous trips to Springfield over two to three years to get the warm twilight on the Old State Capitol to suit him, for example. And numerous longer trips to the battlefield at Antietam in Maryland to make the stunning photo of the Burnside Bridge at sunrise (p. 13).

 Firelight Publishing used first-class paper and printing techniques, which makes this book rather extraordinary. The cover has a French fold (oversized paper folded over at both top and bottom of the book jacket) and a dull surface, which makes it feel wonderful in one’s hands. The book is “100 percent made in the USA,” Shaw said. “When you have a book on Lincoln, you have to print it in the United States.”

Warm sunlight on the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln first declared that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

 The book is full of Lincoln’s speeches, letters and other writings, all printed in his signature handwriting. All writings come from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln and reveal what a fine writer Lincoln was.

 “You have to read the last paragraph in Burlingame’s epilogue,” Shaw told me. As the author explains, this is why Lincoln is such a compelling figure.

Burlingame wrote, ”Few people will achieve his world historical importance, but many can profit from his personal example, encouraged by the knowledge that despite a childhood of emotional malnutrition and grinding poverty, despite a lack of formal education, despite a series of career failures, despite a miserable marriage, despite a tendency to depression, despite a painful midlife crisis, despite the early death of his mother and his siblings as well as of his sweetheart and two of his four children, he became a model of psychological maturity, moral clarity, and unimpeachable integrity….”

Shaw will be at a book signing 4-8p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, at the Tinsley Dry Goods shop at 209 S. Sixth St. for the Downtown Holiday Walk, also 1-3 p.m. Thursday, Dec 22, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Store and on Sat., Dec. 31, from 11-1 at the Lincoln Home Visitor Center. Abraham Lincoln Traveled This Way will be sold locally at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, the Illinois State Museum and the Lincoln Home Visitors Center.

Shaw said he wanted the sales commissions initially to go to local organizations rather than a corporate bookseller. The price of $36 for such a special book is definitely a bargain. John Warner IV, whose ancestors fought in the Civil War and spent time with Lincoln, helped underwrite the cost so the book could be affordable. This book will appeal to just about anyone, and buying it is a great way to shop local.

Contact Ginny Lee at ginnylee2011@gmail.com.

Lincoln traveled this stretch of the Sangamon River north of New Salem many times via canoe, flatboat and steamboat.

Early morning fog moves into the valley at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace near Hodgenville, Ky.

The Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland. Lincoln likely crossed the bridge with Gen. George McClellan while touring the battlefield.

Along the Sangamon River near the Thomas Lincoln family’s first home in Illinois, west of Decatur.

The photographer waited years to get this photo of Lincoln’s home in a snowstorm at twilight. He is always checking weather reports to make photographs with just the right light and conditions.

Michael Burlingame, historian

Robert Shaw, photographer


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