Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Better Angels of our Nature Live On

Today was the second opportunity for me to give my special program on the "Better Angels of our Nature" as Joshua Chamberlain at the Lincoln Memorial. As you may remember, when I did it the first time two weeks ago, things did not go the way I had expected, not poorly, but not the way I had thought they might. Today, however, was a completely different story.

First of all I was in my complete Civil War uniform, all the pieces having arrived in time. It was a lovely hot muggy day today, but there were clouds, so it was bearable. I tragically had to abandon the mustache because between the wind whipping at it and the sweat pouring down my face it just wasn't going to stay on. But I think it still came out looking pretty good! I have included a few of the pictures that one of the other rangers took for me today. She offered to take them, which was really nice because now I have a record, not only of what I looked like, but also of me actually doing the program! 

When I went out for the first time at 11:00 this morning I really didn't know what to expect. What I found was a very different situation from two weeks ago. I had placed my advertising signs more prominently, and was also doing the program up on the higher landing where I normally do the MLK program (I was down in the plaza last time) and these two changes, combined with the full uniform seemed to make a notable difference. I was immediately mobbed very much as a character at Disneyland might be, particularly by foreign visitors, which is always funny to me. But most of them knew that I was a Civil War soldier, which impressed me. Several Americans, on the other hand, most assuredly did not know who I was! 

I actually finally had to cut people off from taking pictures with me so that I could actually do the program. I had 39 people for that first one, many of whom stayed for the entire time. It was much more fun that way because I got much more into it and begin to give a true performance. Things connected and my memory worked reasonably well to keep all of the information and quotations straight. It wasn't perfect, but it was good, and people seemed to appreciate it. 

There were only two of us stationed at Lincoln today and the other ranger has never done the MLK talk, so I ended up doing that talk as well, only I was still dressed as a Civil War soldier. I took off the coat and weapons and switched my hat for the park service ball cap, and just explained to people before and after the talk why I looked so unusual. It seemed to work okay. I had a great crowd for that talk today, and people were really into it. I really enjoy giving that program, and today was especially unique since I was dressed in such an unusual fashion! 

So after finishing that program I quickly ran back inside where I donned the rest of my uniform and came right back out to the same spot to do my 2:00 and 3:00 special programs. Several of the people from the 1:00 MLK program stayed for the other, which was exciting. And many more people came besides. Several of them had seen the signs and came on purpose to hear the program. Others saw me in uniform and were drawn in that way. And once I started talking the crowd grew even more, so that I had a good 60 people for both of the latter programs. That was really fun and I put on a good show. I had both the gun and sword out on several occasions as I told the stories of Chamberlain charging down Little Roundtop, being wounded at Petersburg, and saluting the confederates at the final surrender of Appomattox. And people were actually interested and very engaged in the program!

I successfully used the quotations I had wanted to, which included reciting the entirety of the Gettysburg address, quoting Lincoln's 1st and 2nd inaugural speeches, as well as quoting the psalm 8, Hamlet, Walt Whitman, and Chamberlain extensively. It was quite the challenge for my memory, but my study and practice really paid dividends out there today. People erupted in applause at the completion of both programs, and many came up to me afterwards, which I always consider to be the sign of an effective presentation. All in all it was an awesome experience, one that will definitely go down in the memory books!  

~Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

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