Dover Days to put spotlight on nation’s 16th president

DOVER — In the annals of American history, few years are remembered like 1865.

Pivotal events from that year continue to shape the nation, and the world at large, 150 years later.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of both the end of the Civil War and the death of Abraham Lincoln, the Kent County tourism office has chosen the martyred president as the theme for this year’s Dover Days. Last year’s festival had a “Downton Abbey” theme.

Lincoln scholars

Larry Koch (left) and Daniel Pritchett have both studied Abraham Lincoln for years and consider the 16th president of the United States a superb strategist and leader.

The office has partnered with the Dover Public Library to promote the event in the weeks leading up to kickoff on May 1.

Several Lincoln historians will speak at the library throughout April and Dover Days also will include a number of Lincoln-related events.

Larry Koch and Daniel Pritchett, both former teachers, are moderating discussions on Lincoln’s life, presidency and assassination.

The two have for decades been fascinated with the man commonly considered one of America’s greatest presidents, although Dr. Koch joked his interest initially came from a very non- scholarly perspective.

“The teacher said, ‘Boys and girls, boys and girls, we have no school on Monday because of a great American.’ And I said, ‘Obviously a great American, we have no school,’” he said in recollection of an event from his childhood.

“And then the teacher said his name was Abraham. And I said, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’ve got two Uncle Abrahams.’” Turning serious, he said he respects America’s 16th president because of how he guided the nation through one of its biggest crises.

The series began Wednesday with a film and discussion on Lincoln as a young man, focusing on his law practice and courtship of Mary Todd.

Since his assassination, Lincoln has become a legend, larger than life and greater than any “normal” man.

Dr. Koch believes the more he learns about Lincoln, the more human the icon becomes. In that vein, he will host a discussion on Saturday centering on little-known facts and seeming con­tradictions about Lincoln. Those include that he was kicked in the head by a horse as a child and fell into a brief coma, and that many historians believe he battled depression throughout his life.

Despite receiving less formal education than most presidents, Lincoln was a self-taught lawyer and a “master politician,” according to Mr. Pritchett.

LincolnOn Wednesday, a day marking the anniversary of Lincoln’s death, Mr. Pritchett will present a documentary and speak on the assassination that changed history. Shot after 10 p.m. on April 14, Lincoln languished until the following morning, when he passed into “the ages,” as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is reported by some to have said.

Had the president not been killed, Reconstruction would have unfolded in a radically different fashion, Mr. Pritchett believes.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, fought efforts to grant newly freed blacks guaranteed rights and clashed with Congress.

“We went from what I consider out greatest president to our worst president overnight,” Mr. Pritchett said.

On April 22, Dr. Koch will screen the film “Friendly Persuasion.” Made in 1956, the movie centers on a Quaker family living in Indiana in the middle of the Civil War.

Five days later, the pre-Dover Days lecture series concludes with a presentation from Mr. Pritchett on Lincoln as a person, including some of his defining traits such as his passion for reading and disdain for slavery.

Other events centering on Lincoln are set for the week prior to Dover Days. These include a display of famous illustrations and a re- enactment by a member of the American Historical Theatre, while May 2 will feature a speech by Mr. Pritchett on Lincoln’s family.

Organizers are expecting a solid turnout for the lectures in the ensuing days and weeks.

“We thought it was important to do the two different types of programs. The library has a very active film community here, so we felt there would be a certain audience for this and then the lectures,” said Michelle Hughes, the assistant library director.

For more information, see the calendar on the Dover Public Library’s website.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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