Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Refusing to Let the Vandals Win

Peekskill, New York

Vandals defaced a train depot in Peekskill, New York. They painted swastikas on the door post and sprayed the “n-word” and other offensive language on the building, reports the Journal News.

But this is not merely a local story about vandalism or hate speech. No, the national media has picked up the story because the vandals defaced a historic building connected to Abraham Lincoln.

President-elect Lincoln visited the train depot during his trip from Springfield to Washington, D. C. The train made a brief stop at the Peekskill train depot on February 19, 1861, where a large crowd had gathered, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new president on the eve of the Civil War (contemporary sketch, pictured above left). Lincoln said a few words:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I have but a moment to stand before you to listen to and return your kind greeting. I thank you for this reception and for the pleasant manner in which it is tendered to me by our mutual friends. I will say in a single sentence, in regard to the difficulties that lie before me and our beloved country, that if I can only be as generously and unanimously sustained as the demonstrations I have witnessed indicate I shall be, I shall not fail; but without your sustaining hands I am sure that neither I nor any other man can hope to surmount those difficulties. I trust that in the course I shall pursue I shall be sustained, not only by the party that elected me, but by the patriotic people of the whole country.

In recent years, the train depot was simply used for storage, but city officials, along with the Lincoln Society, have just recently completed a $1.8 million renovation of the building. They commissioned a Lincoln statue (pictured above right) and have scheduled a dedication ceremony for this Saturday, October 27 at 11 am. Former Governor George Pataki, Peekskill Mayor John Testa, historian Harold Holzer, and sculptor Richard Masloski will be on hand for the unveiling and dedication of the new statue.

The ceremony will go on as scheduled, but the senseless act of vandalism leaves more questions than answers. “We are just absolutely sickened by this,” said the police chief. “So much has been put into this building becoming a centerpiece of Peekskill’s historical renovations and to have it defiled like this is just horrible. It’s an assault on our sensibilities.”

Though the vandalism is discouraging, I wish the people of Peekskill the best. They have worked hard and now they are ready to share their connection to Lincoln with the world.

I wish I could say the act of spraying racial epithets on Lincoln-related monuments was unique, but it is not. Springfield has had a number of cases of such acts. Vandals sprayed racist slogans and graffiti onto the Lincoln tomb in 1987. Local citizens were outraged. They volunteered to repair the damage and the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company donated $1,500 to help the cause. Ten years later, vandals returned and sprayed swastikas and obscenities onto the Lincoln tomb.

Defacing a historic site is a senseless act, but vandals who paint racial epithets onto a Lincoln-related site are especially ignorant of what the site stands for.

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