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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 17, 2011

Exploring Lincoln, in image and words, at the Guilderland library

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Familiar images of Abraham Lincoln — craggy face under a tall, black top hat; young man with ax in one hand, law book in the other — have come to the Guilderland Public Library in an exhibit that is traveling throughout the country.

The exhibit also captures Lincoln’s words — most famously in the Emancipation Proclamation and his Gettysburg Address.

“My key interests have always been words and images, and I was always interested in how Lincoln promulgated his own image and pushed it,” says Harold Holzer. His first book was about prints and sculptures that Lincoln sat for.

Holzer has gone on to write or edit three dozen more books about Lincoln and the Civil War. He’ll be speaking at the Guilderland library on April 1 as this year’s Carol J. Hamblin Notable Authors Speaker.

“I’m fascinated by how people use images to win elections and celebrate political heroes,” said Holzer, who has spent a good part of his own life helping New York politicians — Congresswoman Bella Abzug and Governor Mario Cuomo — get elected.

Of all the things Holzer appreciates about Lincoln, he said he is most impressed with Lincoln’s writing, and his determination as a skillful lawyer and politician, with little education.

“I think if any modern president had dared to use the kind of powers Lincoln invoked during the Civil War he would have been thrown out of the office,” said Holzer.

For his talk at the Guilderland Public Library, Holzer said he would discuss Lincoln’s history in the Albany area. He will address what Lincoln said as he traveled down the Hudson River toward New York City, and what it was like for Lincoln to enter New York State.

“This is my high season. This is Lincoln’s birthday,” said Holzer.

“A Man For All Times”

The Guilderland library has the current exhibit all month in honor of Lincoln’s Feb. 12 birthday and in honor of the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War.

The exhibit, titled “Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, A Man for All Times,” is organized by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and is provided to the library in part through a grant dedicated to expanding American understanding of human experience and cultural heritage.

“We are extremely fortunate to be one of only 40 locations the exhibit is traveling to this year,” said Mark Curiale, public information officer for the library. He said the library applied to receive the exhibit.

“I believe our library was chosen because the organization recognized that we are much more than books and movies; we are an active location and hold lots of educational programs,” Curiale said.

In addition to the exhibit, which displays speeches, letters, and images of Lincoln, the library is holding a series of programs about Lincoln throughout the month of February and into the following months.

Two of the events that already occurred, a history of the Underground Railroad and a performance of Civil War-era Irish songs, were very well-attended; each program drew in between 50 and 80 people, according to Curiale.

Other programs include photos of Lincoln’s funeral, on Feb. 17, at 7 p.m.; a community conversation with families about Martin Luther King Jr., on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m.; a presentation about resources for finding out about soldiers who served in the Civil War, on Feb. 24 at 7 p.m.; and a Lincoln Log Club, on Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m.

Lifetime passion

Holzer’s April 1 talk will be the culmination of the series.

Holzer told The Enterprise that his fascination with Lincoln began when he was 12 years old.

“I had a public school teacher, in Queens, who was interested in promoting our interest in history; we had a day when we all picked names out of her hat for a report subject, and I was lucky enough to pick Lincoln. That was it; I was off to the races,” Holzer said.

That was around the same time that the Civil War centennial was being celebrated, he said.

“I found it very engaging, even though the celebration was sort of co-opted by segregationists. I was blissfully unaware of that, I was just happy reading all the books being re-printed and watching battle scene re-creations,” he said.

Despite his interest in Lincoln and the Civil War, Holzer did not pursue history as a career. He wanted to work in newspapers, he said, and he did so for three years directly after graduating from the City University of New York. He was then appointed as Congresswoman Bella Abzug’s press secretary; Abzug was a leading feminist and anti-war activist.

After serving Abzug during her campaign, Holzer became press secretary for Governor Mario Cuomo. From there, he went to work for public television, as a public affairs director. He went back to work for Cuomo’s administration for several years, before settling at his current job, senior vice president for external affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“All through that time, I was writing books about Lincoln,” said Holzer. He said he wasn’t sure how he found the time. He began writing articles for small journals in 1975, and wrote his first book for publication in 1984.

“I don’t know,” he concluded. “I’m just crazy, I guess.”

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