Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Visions of America Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Rhinebeck is one of those upstate towns that time forgot. A town where family-owned shops and familiar faces line the streets, and the oldest inn in America (where, as any townie will proudly tell you, General Washington himself once laid his wigless head) still offers its comforts at reasonable prices. It's a town where people give each other homemade quilts and use woodstoves to heat their homes; and where I have witnessed, on more than one occasion, an apple pie cooling on a windowsill. (Introduction.11)
What did George Washington think of vampires? Sadly, we'll never know. Anyway, the point here is that Rhinebeck serves as something of a bridge: Henry comes from the past and he can communicate to us in the present because Rhinebeck (and the narrator) has one foot in the past. Still.
Those first American decades were ones of seemingly limitless growth and opportunity. By the time Abe Lincoln was born, residents of Boston and Philadelphia had seen their cities double in size in less than twenty years. New York's population had tripled in the same amount of time. The cities were becoming livelier, more prosperous. "For every farmer, there are two haberdashers; for every blacksmith, an opera house," joked Washington Irving in his New York periodical, Salmagundi. (1.13)
People in the past don't have iPads or computers (or all of their teeth), but the 19th century was a time of big growth and modernization. Washington Irving makes a joke about how fast things are growing and becoming civilized, but the fact that he can print a magazine with humor is a pretty big sign that things are changing—fast. After all, if everyone has to farm to survive, they're all too busy to publish Mad Magazine.
Knob Creek became a place where weary travelers on the Old Cumberland Trail could spend the night. Sarah would make up a bed for each guest in one of the outbuildings (the farm consisted of a cabin, a storage shed, and a barn), and Nancy would serve a hot meal at sundown. The Lincolns never asked their overnight guests for payment, though most made contributions, either in money or, more often, in goods such as grain, sugar, and tobacco. After supper, the women would retire, and the men would pass the evening sipping whiskey and puffing pipes. (1.36)
The narrator often gives us broad overviews of the historical period, as here, where the narrator describes how the Lincoln family deals with strangers/travelers. Although the 19th century does have a lot of stuff that we recognize from our time—railroads, guns, vampires—the idea of giving strangers a place to sleep and eating together shows how different the past is. No Motel 6's.