The Day We Almost Lost Ronnie

March 31, 2009
Reagan Just Before the Shots

Reagan Just Before the Shots

March 30, 1981 Ronald Reagan just 70 days into his first term was leaving the Washington Hilton after giving a speech. Outside a young man waited. He was fixated on actress Jodie Foster and was sure what he was about to do would impress her.

John Hinckley, Jr. was only 25 years old and was out to make a name for himself.

Outside the hotel onlookers and media pressed forward to see the president. Reagan appeared and his press secretary, James Brady stepped forward to field questions. Reagan waved. Hinckley pointed a  .22-caliber revolver and fired six shots in two seconds. Secret Service agent Jerry Parr shoved Reagan into the waiting limousine and left.

The car headed for the White House. Agent Parr noticed Reagan was coughing blood and complaining of a sore rib. He ordered the driver to head for the hospital a mile away. This quick action by the Secret Service agent almost certainly saved Reagan’s life.

There doctors revealed Reagan was bleeding “at a rather alarming rate”, this even though he walked into the hospital. To ease his wife’s fears he joked, “Honey I forgot to duck.”

One of Hinckley’s bullets had ricocheted off the car, struck Reagan’s rib, and entered his lung. The President had gone into shock by the time surgery was started. Doctors found the bullet, which had narrowly missed his heart, and stopped the bleeding. It took them almost three hours of surgery.

The most seriously injured was James Brady who was shot in the head and wasn’t expected to survive. He did survive. Also injured was a Secret Service agent who was shot while wrestling with the would-be assassin Hinckley.

At the time it seemed Reagan wasn’t injured that badly. The public didn’t realize how close a call it was. Think of how history would have been changed if instead of having Ronald Reagan as president for eight years, he served only 70 days. How quickly things can change.


The Lincoln Memorial

February 11, 2009
Lincoln Statue Inside

Lincoln Statue Inside

I have visited the capital city of the United States, Washington, D.C. on three occasions. The monument I am most impressed with in the city is the Lincoln Memorial. It also has a most interesting history.

Congress authorized it’s construction on February 9, 1911. It was dedicated on May 30, 1922 by former president and Chief Justice William Howard Taft. The ceremony was attended by Robert Todd Lincoln. He was Lincoln’s only surviving child at the time.

The architect was Henry Bacon, sculptor was Daniel Chester French, with the painter of the interior murals being Jules Guerin.

The scupture of Lincoln seated inside the memorial is the centerpiece. It is 19 feet, 9 inches tall and 19 feet wide. It was carved from 28 blocks of white Georgia marble.

The memorial has been the site of many historical events. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered on August 28, 1963 to a crowd of approximately 250,000 people from the steps of the memorial. Today the tile where Dr. King stood is engraved to commemorate the event. The following dedication appears on the wall behind the statue and over Lincoln’s head.

In This Temple
As In The Hearts Of The People
For Whom He Saved The Union
The Memory Of Abraham Lincoln
Is Enshired Forever

The memorial is depicted on the  reverse of the five dollar bill.  Since 1959 the memorial has been on the penny. That was the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Gazing up at Lincoln in that chair, reading his words on the walls, and standing on the steps is awe inspiring. As I stood there looking out over the reflecting pool a shiver came over this history buff.

Lincoln Bicentennial 1809-2009

February 10, 2009
Stamp from the 1960's
Stamp from the 1960’s

This year is the 200th anniversary of the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. To honor this event the National Postal Museum (part of the Smithsonian) has an online exhibition called “From Postmaster to President”. I think you will find this fascinating.

Here is the link,

(Click on Featured Exhibit in lower left of this page.)

I will be posting more on Lincoln in the coming days.

Inauguration 2009 – Commentary

January 21, 2009
1789, Washington Inauguration

As a Canadian watching the inaugural celebrations held in Washington and throughout the United States yesterday, one thing struck me.

Peaceful transistion of power. How many other countries in the world see the incumbant head-of-state quietly and voluntarily leave the highest post in the country, to be succeeded immediately by the next head-of-state.

I believe the Founding Fathers of the United States wanted the inauguration to be a public demonstration of the effectiveness of the Constitution. A clear message to the American people and the rest of the world that democracy is alive and well.

1981, Reagan

1981, 1st Reagan Inauguration

To the American people, you have succeeded. To the outgoing president, your service to your country is appreciated. To the incoming president, may you succeed in addressing the problems facing you.

This Canadian appreciates the demonstration of democracy by my neighbor and best friend, America.

Presidential Inaugural Firsts

January 4, 2009
Reagan Inauguration 1981

Reagan Inauguration 1981

With the inguration of a new president coming up on January 20th, I did some research and found some interesting “firsts” for this event.

January 20th is the constitutional date specified for the end of a president’s four year term. The swearing in of a president is a symbol of the smooth transistion of power in the case of a new president. In the instance of a re-elected president, it is the end of one elected term and the beginning of a new one. The Constitution also specifies the “oath-of-office” is to be taken  by the president-elect.

 Here are some of the tidbits I found,

1837 – Martin Van Buren was the first president to call on his predecessor, Andrew Jackson, at the White House, and ride with him to the Capitol for the swearing in. He was also the first president who was born an American citizen.

1841 – William Henry Harrison was the first president to arrive in Washington by train for the inauguration.

1841 – John Tyler was the first president who was sworn in after the death of a president. He was never elected to his own term so didn’t have an inauguration of his own.

1845 – James Polk’s inaugural address was the first one relayed by telegraph (to Baltimore).

1853 – Franklin Pierce was the first, and so far only, president to “affirm” rather than swear his loyalty to the Constitution.

1865 – Black soldiers marched in the inaugural parade for the first time.

1897 – William McKinley’s first inauguration was filmed by motion-picture cameramen.

1921 – Presidential party rode in automobiles to the inauguration for Warren Harding’s inauguration.

1925 – Calvin Coolidge’s inaugural address was broadcast on radio.

1929 – Herbert Hoover’s address was recorded for “talking pictures”.

1949 – Harry Truman’s inauguration was first to appear on television.

1961 – John F. Kennedy’s inauguration appeared on color TV.

1977 – Jimmy Carter walked back to the White House with his family after taking his oath at the Capitol.

2009 – Will this be the first broadcast live on the internet? Most likely.

Travel Writing with Emotion

May 4, 2008

The May 2008 issue of The Writer magazine has some fantastic articles on writing. One of the best is “Step by Step: A Fresh Eye and Busy Feet Make a Travel Writer” by John Smolens.

In this article he offers some out of the box ideas for writing about travel. He suggests making incidents during a trip into an article. The idea is to narrow the focus, avoid the chronological technique, and write about one moment that really strikes you for whatever reason. Emotion and fiction writing techniques should be employed according to Smolens to make the account of your experiences stand out.

I have traveled to Washington, D.C. on a couple of occasions. As a history writer it was one of my favorite and most interesting places to explore. To try out Smolens’s idea I have taken one moment on the trip and attempted to let my emotions and personal thoughts roll onto the page. The result is a short non-conventional travel story. Here it is,

(Above: Incredible photo by Josh Lane, Chicago, used with permission. Check out his Flickr site at:

“End of Innocence

The flame flickered gently in the cool summer breeze. As I watched silently my mind traversed the years.

I was a fourteen-year old high schooler at the time. Even then I was hooked on history and loved reading everything I could. I was lucky to have had a couple of history teachers who could make it come alive.

It was Friday afternoon around 2:00 p.m. and some of us had just come in from a physical education class outside. I remember coming in and being asked to sit on benches in the hall. It seems the principal had an announcement to make.

As those unbelieveable words came over the public address system that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, I was in shock. Not sure how to react some of us kidded around, then looked sheepishly at each other and silence ruled.

Now I was at his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery standing among a crowd of strangers. Like me they were quietly reflecting. We weren’t strangers in this moment. Even the young children with no idea of the event, sensed the silent reverence of their parents. As my eyes traveled over the words engraved below the flame, “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1917 – 1963”, the sense of loss was overwhelming. Here was a man I didn’t know other than through television and newspapers, but I felt like he was a friend. I missed him so much. I reached out and gently placed my hand on the stones imbedded in the site.

My mind replayed the graphic images over and over. Kennedy slumping forward, the gore of the kill shot, and his wife retrieving his brain matter from the trunk of the Lincoln. On that sunny November day a wife lost her husband, a young daughter and son lost their father. It was the end of my innocence.”
#### Steve B. Davis, May 2008

I found this experience eye-opening to say the least. I intend to try it out again. Look back through your souvenirs and photos of trips and have a try at this technique. Many thanks to John Smolens for the article.

April 30, 1789: U.S. Gets Its First President

April 30, 2008

On April 30, 1789 a 6’3″ tall George Washington arrives at Federal Hall in New York City. He is dressed in a plain brown suit and holds a ceremonial sword. Washington is impressive and solemn as he takes the oath of office on the second story balcony of Federal Hall. George Washington is the first President of the United States.

After taking the oath of office he goes to the Senate chamber, in the same building, to deliver his inaugural address. The address contains mostly generalities, but he spoke specifically of the need for a strong Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Washington took the presidency very seriously and believed he served only at the behest of the people. He served two terms and although he easily could have gained a third term, he retired. He believed presidents should only serve one term and only accepted his second term because the country needed him.

Two hundred and nineteen years later, most of the same traditions and procedures for the inauguration of the president remain intact. It is hoped the person who becomes president truly realizes the great privilege and responsibility he has been granted by the people of the United States.

Washington taking the oath on the balcony of the Federal building in NYC in 1789.

Federal building today with statue of Washington commemorating the site of the first inauguration of a U.S. President.


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