Lincoln Lecture Ticket

It’s no secret that Walt Whitman was infatuated with Abraham Lincoln. The two men had very similar beliefs and were committed to the union. The horrors of war did not shake his confidence in the president. The war was necessary, some citizens resented the president for his actions but most adored him. Following Lincoln’s assassination, Whitman was overcome by sorrow and expressed his adoration for the president in many poems. In addition to the poems, Whitman also toured the north east giving lectures on Lincoln’s life and death from 1879 to 1890. The tickets for these concerts are flimsy in appearance and plain in detail but the content that they offered was second to none.

Fourteen years after Lincoln left this life, Whitman decided to bring him back into the hearts of the people. He attempted to do so a year before in 1878 but fell ill and had to cancel the planned lecture. So, in 1879 Whitman’s life long dream of being an orator came true. The first lecture was held in New York. Whitman’s lectures revolved around Lincoln’s life and death as he experienced it. At the time of the assassination, Whitman was staying with his mother in Brooklyn. He recalls that very morning in Specimen Days, “The day of the murder we heard the news very early in the morning. Mother prepared breakfast-and other meals afterward-as usual; but not a mouthful was eaten all day by either of us. We each drank half a cup of coffee; that was all. Little was said. We got every newspaper morning and evening, and the frequent extras of that period, and pass’d them silently to each other” (p735-736).

Whitman’s lectures were a success because Lincoln was loved by most Americans. The lectures took the audience on an eye witness account of Lincoln’s death. Whitman used his famous descriptive imagery to captivate his audience and place them in the moment.  Some of the lectures were held in small town halls primarily those in the Camden County area, but others were held in large theatres such as the Madison Square Theatre in New York.

Although Whitman himself never met the president he was close friends with Pete Doyle. Doyle attended the play at Ford Theatre the day of his assassination. Whitman took advantage of Doyle’s eyewitness account noting every minute detail. The lecture was unlike “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” where Whitman relied on abstract symbolism.

Whitman’s most notable association with Lincoln’s assassination is the lilac flower. In his speeches he would recall, “I remember where I was stopping at the time, the season being advanced, there were many lilacs in full bloom. By one of those caprices that enter and give tinge to events without being at all a part of them, I find myself always reminded of the great tragedy of that day by the sight and odor of these blossoms. It never fails” (p1065). As the years progressed so did his lectures. Although his audiences never exceeded more than a thousand, they did increase, and the attendees became more notable.

To attend these lectures was never much in cost. The most expensive was at New York’s Madison Theatre. Regular admission was a mere dollar and to reserve the seat another 50 cents. The day after that lecture on April 15th 1887 Whitman allowed George Cox to photograph him in celebration of the successful lecture. Its rumored he didn’t pose for a single photo, only spun around in his chair taking his hat on and off. It is this picture that Whitman is now most identified with. In regards to the picture, Whitman stated “it seems to me so excellent-“so to stand out from all the others”. He would later refer to the picture as “The Laughing Philosopher”.

whitman pic

Whitman’s last lecture was given in Philadelphia. Toward the end of his tour his attendees became more notable and more abundant. His podium was in much larger arenas, unfortunately at the same time his health began to give. Two years before his last lecture Whitman suffered a second stroke. And two years after his Philadelphia lecture Whitman passed away. Whitman devoted the better part of his later years making sure Lincoln’s memory remained fresh in our minds.

The Lincoln lectures were filled with meaningful words of admiration to the president. It’s because of Whitman’s love for Lincoln that he was able to verbalize what he meant to him and to the entire nation. He was more than their president, he was one of them. Whitman eloquently sums up the presidents life and impact in a line taken from a reading copy of his lecture “with the first breath of a great historic triumph and in murder and horror unsurpassed Abraham Lincoln died. But not only the value he gave the New World in life survives for ever, but the value of his death survives forever”.

Lincoln Philly ticket

lincoln ny ticket


Cox, George C. New York 15 April 1887 Pictures and Sound Gallery of Images ” title=”” target=”_blank”>…

Kaplin, Justin.Whitman Poetry and Prose. The Library of America Edition. Copy right 1996. Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Prose Works. 1892. I. Specimen Days, 21.The Stupor Passes-Something Else Begins p735-736

Kaplin, Justin.Whitman Poetry and Prose. The Library of America Edition. Copy right1996. Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Prose Works. 1892. II. Collect 9. Death of Abraham Lincoln p1060-1071

Whitman, Walt. Walt Whitman’s Lecture. Death of Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia  April15, 1880 Printed tickets Manuscript Division(34a,b )

Whitman, Walt. Reading copy “Death of Lincoln” Lecture ” title=”” target=”_blank”>…

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