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258 pages, Paperback
First published March 1, 2005
Somewhere on the road between museum displays of Lincoln’s skull fragments and the ceramic tiles on which Garfield was gunned down and McKinley’s bloodstained pj’s it occurred to me that there is a name for travel embarked upon with the agenda of venerating relics: pilgrimage. The medieval pilgrimage routes, in which Christians walked from church to church to commune with the innards of saints, are the beginnings of the modern tourism industry. Which is to say that you can draw a more or less straight line from a Dark Ages peasant blistering his feet trudging to a church displaying the Virgin Mary’s dried-up breast milk to me vomiting into a barf bag on a sightseeing boat headed toward the prison-island hell where some Lincoln assassination conspirators were locked up in 1865. (9)Her humor is irreverent and often sly, hidden in sentences of historical facts.
Like director Tim Douglas, my simmering rage against the current president scares me. I am a more or less peaceful happy person whose lone act of violence as an adult was shoving a guy who spilled beer on me at a Sleater-Kinney concert. So if I can summon this much bitterness toward a presidential human being, I can sort of, kind of see how this amount of bile or more, teaming up with disappointment, unemployment, delusions of grandeur and mental illness, could prompt a crazier narcissistic creep to buy one of this country’s widely available handguns….I am only slightly less astonished by the egotism of the assassins, the inflated self-esteem it requires to kill a president, than I am astonished by the men who run for president. These are people who have the gall to believe they can fix us—us and our deficit, our fossil fuels, our racism, poverty, our potholes and public schools. The egomania required to be president or a presidential assassin makes the two types brothers of sorts….The assassins and the presidents invite the same basic question: Just who do you think you are? (7)I really enjoyed Assassination Vacation. It’s funny, informative, interesting and Vowell’s prose is very personable and friendly. I feel like I could sit down next to her at the bar and discuss over cocktails how Trump deserves to be impeached, but if he’s out, that leaves us with Religious Freak Whitest Man Ever President Pence. And frankly, he scares the shit out of me even more than Trump. Overall, even if you don’t agree with Vowell’s politics (or her bold declaration of atheism—hooray!), it’s not necessary to enjoy her fun trip through historical assassinations. I look forward to reading more of her books.
My head tells me autopsies after murders are routine, that before Ford’s Theater turned into a shrine it was a crime scene, that of course the evidence of the crime was analyzed, then archived, that Abraham Lincoln was not just a martyr or a myth but a case file, what the pros nowadays call a “vic.” So the evidence here calls up the corporeal presence of Lincoln (pieces of his head—gross—and Booth, who bought this very bullet, put said bullet in his pistol, then into Lincoln, which struck the skull, thereby chipping off these little pieces of it, mashing the bullet itself. These well-labeled, well-lit artifacts also suggest the existence of: the autopsy surgeon, the file clerk who catalogued and stowed them, the curator who decided to put them on display, the carpenter who built the display case, etc.