photo & text by nacrowe
written in the intervening years after GEORGE W. BUSH's disastrously incompetent and misguided (to put it diplomatically) decision to lead AMERICA into war with IRAQ, ASSASSINATION VACATION (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2006) by SARAH VOWELL is a memoir about her pilgrimage to sites associated with the murders of past presidents ABRAHAM LINCOLN, JAMES A. GARFIELD, WILLIAM MCKINLEY and their assassins.
yes the premise of this book is all a bit morbid, but her humor and enthusiasm for the subject is what makes this book ironically so pleasant and enjoyable. learning about MARYLAND's racist state song or VIRGINIA's often quoted state motto (by JOHN WILKES BOOTH and TIMOTHY MCVEIGH alike) makes you question the sanity of our system of government all over again. or at least have some respect for how the rancid sausage is made. furthermore, learning about the entrenched corruption and incompetence between government and business during the GILDED AGE of the late 19th century, it is difficult if not impossible not to make the connection to the BUSH ERA. furthermore having read this in 2021, from my vantage point GEORGE W. BUSH comes off as child's play next to the malice and fear-mongering that defined the recent DONALD TRUMP era (and still does to present). the real star of the show seems to be how far the party of LINCOLN has fallen. getting acquainted with GARFIELD and MCKINLEY makes you appreciate the machinations and swell of corporate interests that swayed foreign and domestic policy back then. its beyond depressing.
this is also the type of book that i found myself constantly googling photographs, statues, tombs and historical markers related to obscure figures lost to history like EDWIN BOOTH (legendary SHAKESPEAREAN actor and older brother of JOHN WILKES), ROBERT TODD LINCOLN (eldest son of ABRAHAM), ROSCOE CONKLING (REPUBLICAN NEW YORK SENATOR) and MARCUS HANNA (REPUBLICAN campaign manager). what stood out to me was the section about GARFIELD's passing at the JERSEY SHORE. being a resident of the area, i knew about SEVEN PRESIDENTS BEACH but had no idea that presidents vacationed in LONG BRANCH multiple times. to me that fact was a bit of a shock. to learn that a church ive passed numerous times was where a president was aheld before transport back to WASHINGTON D.C. is pretty interesting and something i feel cheated in not knowing earlier. not since reading BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's BORN TO RUN (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2016) have i found myself getting out and finding local spots of historic significance. i was also relieved to learn that GARFIELD wasnt shot in NEW JERSEY, that happened in D.C. he just came north to convalesce and take in the warm climate. at least he passed in pretty area.
definitely an idiosyncratic, personal and thoroughly enjoyable book that makes investigating history both humorous and absolutely devastating. highly recommended.