Parting Glances: Trip(p)s in Time

Charles Alexander
By | 2018-01-15T17:18:27-04:00 July 14th, 2005|Opinions|

The July 4th issue of Time magazine is devoted to Uncovering the Real Abe Lincoln, and suggests that “– just as in all previous times — modern America will insist on seeing Lincoln on its own terms.”
As one example, the article cites C. A. Tripp’s research that Lincoln was gay: “His book ‘The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln’ begins with the fact that Lincoln during his late 20s and 30s shared a bed with a young man named Joshua Speed. As President, Lincoln may have shared his bed with a captain of his guard unit in Washington.”
Time’s disclaimer: “But for men to share beds in the mid-19th century was as common and as mundane as men sharing houses or apartments in the early 21st. [Ferndale, mundane?] Tripp’s claim proceeds from what [gay historian] Jonathan Ned Katz calls, ‘epistemological hubris and ontological chutzpah’.”
“A scholar of 19th century sexuality, Katz explains the terms homosexual and heterosexual did not exist in Lincoln’s time, and the fact is just one piece of evidence that concepts of gender, sexuality and same-sex relationships were radically different in Lincoln’s world.
In those days, men could be openly affectionate with one another and verbally, without having to stake their identity on it.”
(It’s called whistling Dixie down low.)
Whether or not Honest Abe liked to Tripp the light fantastic with male bundlers, there was one gay man at Ford Theater on Good Friday 1865, when the president was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
That man was Peter George Doyle, former Confederate soldier and, at the time, a Washington, D.C. streetcar conductor. He was also the lover of poet Walt Whitman, whose poems “When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! My Captain!” remain heartfelt tributes to the slain president, and as literary works, like the immortal Lincoln, “now belong to the ages”.
Doyle, born in Ireland, came to America as a boy, with his mother and sisters (father and brothers arrived earlier). The shipboard trio nearly lost their lives during a violent storm that also took place on a Good Friday.
Of Lincoln’s murder Doyle later wrote, “There was a great crowd in the building. I got into the second gallery. There was nothing extraordinary in the performance. I saw everything on the stage and was in a good position to see the President’s box. I heard the pistol shot. I had no idea what it was, what it meant–it was sort of muffled. I really knew nothing of what had occurred until Mrs. Lincoln leaned out of the box and cried, The President is shot!
“I saw Booth on the cushion of the box, saw him jump over, saw him catch his foot, which turned, saw him fall on the stage. He got up on his feet, cried out something which I could not hear for the hub-hub and disappeared. I suppose I lingered almost the last person. A soldier came into the gallery, saw me still there, called to me: Get out of here! we’re going to burn this damned building down! I said: If that is so I’ll get out!”
Doyle met Whitman on the streetcar route. He was 18; the poet, 46. Attraction was mutual. “I put my hand on Walt’s knee,” Doyle recalled. “We understood. He did not get out at the end of the trip — in fact went all the way back with me.” They were together for eight poetic — hubris-free — years.

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Charles Alexander