Here is the Statue of Albert Woolson the last living soldier to survive the Civil War parked in Gettysburg National Park. Its likely I heard that that the statue rested there but, if so, I’d long forgotten it. The statue came up in a three and half hour catch-up conversation I had yesterday with an old political sympathizer. We talked about our respective trips to France, Republican history, Duluth politics and Albert Woolson.
When John was a kid living near Mankato, Minnesota, my old haunting grounds, he found himself taken to Duluth in the 1950’s and some occasion honoring Mr. Woolson the last soldier and a resident of Duluth. The two of them shook hands. This honor was not unlike the several decade long mania at the turn of the 19th century to find someone who had shaken President Lincoln’s hand in order to shake hands with them. It must have been like passing some invisible torch of democracy through the generations. “I shook the hand of a man who shook the hand of President Lincoln.” I’ve googled the phrase for you. Long before our current Chief Executive became famous for firing people Americans wanted to touch a real piece of Americana if only by proxy.
Years later when John was taking a tour of Gettysburg he found his tour guide leading his group to this statue about to explain its significance. John was so excited that he blurted out that he had shaken the old soldier’s hand. The young tour guide and all the group looked at John as though he had claimed to have Roman flogging scars on his back and the stigmata on his palm. He was too flustered to say anything else as everyone in the crowd began edging away from him.
As we parted company John offered his hand so that I could claim to have shaken the hand of a man who had shaken the hand of the last living Civil War soldier. Of course, the way things are coming unglued in America today I may end up someday shaking hands with all sorts of survivors of a new Civil War.
And here’s the Woolson statue in Duluth and a short KDAL TV STORY about the man.
Its a considerably happier honor for our dear city than the fact that Duluth hosted the the most northerly lynching of innocent black citizens in all of the United States. John also met a man who’s Dad took him there to see all three of the men swinging from a lamp post.