Sunday, April 19, 2015

Springtime Humor from Harvey Peake

Born in 1866 in New Albany, Indiana, Harvey Peake was a jack-of-all-trades. Cartoonist, illustrator, postcard artist, poet, author, humorist, and creator of syndicated features, Peake and his work were regulars in the nation's newspapers and magazines for decades. Here is his clever take on Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" set in a springtime garden. Unfortunately the illustration is not his, but one by M. Peckham. The date is March 23, 1913. 

Here instead is one of Harvey Peake's own cartoons, "The Easter Parade in Squareville" from the same page of the New York Sun. This was Peake's typical style: simple geometric patterns in black and white.

Harvey Peake was one of a kind and one of Indiana's great unsung cartoonists and humorists. He lived nearly a century and died in 1958. Peake is buried in the city of his birth.

Captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Abraham Lincoln by John Tinney McCutcheon

One hundred fifty years ago today, an assassin shot Abraham Lincoln as he was watching a play in Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Carried across the street, Abe died early the next morning. His shooter likewise fell with a bullet to the head eleven days later.

The Civil War had effectively come to a close only a few days before the president was shot, when General Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy surrendered to General U.S. Grant's Union Army at Appomattox. The war had begun a little over a month after Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. The official end to the insurrection came a little less than a month after his death. This season, we are busy observing the sesquicentennial of the end of a war in which hundreds of thousands of Americans perished so that millions more might be free.

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. He was the second child of Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, their daughter Sarah Lincoln, born in 1807, being the first. The Lincolns were what might be described, perhaps in a condescending manner, as poor. The conditions of their lives became the subject of John T. McCutcheon's cartoon of February 12, 1929, shown above.

Abe Lincoln--nicknamed "Honest Abe" and "The Railsplitter" and "The Great Emancipator"--was born in Kentucky but spent his formative years in Indiana. His mother died there and lies buried in Indiana soil. John Tinney McCutcheon, the cartoonist, was also a Hoosier. He came into the world on a farm near South Raub on May 6, 1870, about halfway through Reconstruction and only three months after the Fifteenth Amendment, the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments, was ratified. His father, John Barr McCutcheon, had fought in the Civil War. The younger McCutcheon, known as the dean of American cartoonists for his longevity, died on June 10, 1949.

John T. McCutcheon drew his cartoon in observance of Abe Lincoln's birth. His commentary is thick with irony. Lincoln rose up from his humble origins to be one of our greatest presidents and one of the greatest men in American history. In this anniversary week of the surrender at Appomattox and the death of the president, I would rather celebrate his life than mourn his death, a life that began in a backwoods Kentucky cabin and against any odds made by poverty or disadvantage, which proved to be of no great significance at all.

Abraham Lincoln's life began with unlimited potential, as all lives do. The irony in the cartoon is that the Lincolns' new baby--despite his birth into humility and poverty--would go on to preside over a nation at war against a great moral evil, the defining moral issue of the nineteenth century in America. There is an added irony in that McCutcheon's cartoon--without his intent or awareness--also touches on the great moral issue of our day, an issue with more than a few parallels to slavery.

In February 1862, at about the time of Abe's fifty-third birthday, The Atlantic Monthly printed Julia Ward Howe's lyrics for "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The first stanza and the first refrain end with the same words: "His truth is marching on." Abraham Lincoln carried the banner of truth. He has fallen, but we can take up that banner and carry it forward, and those after us can do the same. With or without us, truth will, nonetheless, march on.

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley