Lincoln’s Words Resonate at Chesterwood

August 11, 2016

STOCKBRIDGE >> Under the firm gaze of a seven-foot sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, actors and a politician recited the words of The Great Emancipator as part of a program at Chesterwood on Wednesday afternoon illuminating the great man’s speeches and letters.

The day was sunny and hot, but more than 80 people sat inside the studio of famed sculptor Daniel Chester French to listen to actors Jayne Atkinson, Dennis Krausnick and Chris Tucci, as well as state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli and Chesterwood executive director Donna Hassler.

And there was a special guest: Folksinger Judy Collins. Collins appeared at the end of the show to lead the crowd in Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

They all read passages from the play, “Lincoln Speaks”, by award-winning Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, who also narrated Wednesday afternoon’s event. Holzer has written a total of 52 books about the Civil War and is an acclaimed historian.

“You will hear Lincoln’s private and public words,” Hassler told the crowd in introducing the speakers.

“It’s a rare chance to hear Lincoln speaking about things that will engage you and I today,” said Holzer. He added that Lincoln’s eloquence is in sharp contrast to the raw rhetoric of today’s national candidates for president.

The first portion of the show featured letters and speeches from Lincoln’s early life and his life before he attained the presidency. Lincoln was an ungainly-looking man, and Holzer revealed that Lincoln once described himself as “being a cross between and crane and a derrick.”

“The Lord love common-looking people,” read Atkinson, quoting Lincoln. “That is why he made so many of them.”

Lincoln, noted Holzer, was a huge fan of Shakespeare.

“He loved Hamlet and Richard the third, but nothing equalled MacBeth for him,” said Holzer.

Once, following an epic Union failure in the Civil war, Lincoln, upon hearing the news, dolorously recited one of the most famous soliloquies in literature: The famous “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (which is actually the second line of the verse) soliloquy.

Holzer presented several examples of Lincoln’s wit, including a famous story of his victory in a court case by telling a judge that while his opponent “got all the facts exactly right, his conclusion was completely wrong.”

Following the verdict, which was in Lincoln’s favor, he was asked about the comment. Lincoln, according to Holzer, told this story:

“A farmer was working in his field when his son, ran out, yelling ‘Daddy, the hired hand has unbuttoned his pants and the maid has pulled up her dress! They’re going to pee on the hay!’ And the farmer responded, ‘Son, you got the facts exactly right, but you’re conclusions are completely wrong.’”

At the end of the program, Collins appeared from the rear of the room. She led the group in one final passage and then led the audience in “This Land Is You Land”.

Holzer explained after the show that Collin is “a friend, and she was in the area.”

Pignatelli commented after the show that Lincoln’s words are still inspiring.

“Think of what he said and think about what’s being said now on a national level” said Pignatelli. “Do you think that in 150 years, you’ll see something like this for these candidates?”

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.