Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation

Katherine Hitchcock

I know rationally that I have walked in the footsteps of an ordinary man. At age eight I travel with my third grade classmates to the unpretentious Indiana hamlet where Lincoln first witnessed death up close, the loss of a beloved mother inscribing in him devotion to completing the “unfinished work” begun by those who sacrifice for us. My ninth birthday takes me to Springfield, where I participate in the good luck ritual of rubbing the nose of the Lincoln statue outside the president’s tomb but also find myself sobered in the Lincoln Museum by the tableaux of what the teenage Abe witnessed his first trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans—the auctioning of human beings, regarded, due to the bad luck of birth in the early 1800s as an African-American, as being far below the level of the ordinary, impoverished observer. By my eleventh birthday I have walked in the shadows of the Daniel Chester French rendition of Lincoln, not a glorious equestrian statue of a warrior leading troops into battle but rather an oversized sculpture of an ordinary man, pensive, wearied by his constant struggle to measure up to the trials of a “great civil war” and “a great task remaining before us,” the challenge of preserving a nation and rededicating “to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Before my seventeenth birthday I journey to follow the footsteps of the ordinary man into a Pennsylvania cemetery and a nearby battlefield, where 272 ordinary words resonate extraordinarily today. I realize that we Americans walk together in the footsteps of an ordinary man, tried by circumstances, and made extraordinary. Katherine Hitchcock Signature School Evansville, IN