Ruth & I often talk about the great number of coincidences in our lives. One of the more thrilling occurred recently in Eureka.
At the Requa Inn we had a free evening. Our room was tiny, like a poorly lit closet with a window, so we went down to the cozy reception area where guests were reading and playing games. I found a Lonely Planet among the plentiful books and began learning about redwoods and Eureka. After the author commented on this northern California city’s historic downtown, he or she mentioned the Blue Ox Millworks and Historic Park. It sounded unusual. Hmmmmm.
Last summer, Ruth & I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, for the 1st time. I blogged about it on October 5 under the title “Meet the Lincolns at ALPLM”. While critical about some of the displays, I had to admit that it was both worthwhile and loved by hordes of visitors. I really liked its display about Lincoln’s funeral, but I couldn’t take pictures. ALPLM staff told me that this no-pic policy was about to change.
After Ruth & I admired Eureka’s Victorian grandness on 2nd & 3rd Streets, we decided to swing by Blue Ox to see what it was about. Viviana Hollenbeck graciously welcomed us and offered a tour, but we didn’t have the time. She asked if we wanted to see a current project that might explain a bit about what they do and we said, “Sure!” She took us in the back and showed us the Lincoln presidential hearse they are building. During ALPLM’s 10th anniversary year this hearse will become part of its funeral display.
Blue Ox is on an admirable, much-needed mission. Viviana and her husband Eric, a Viet Nam vet, have started a school. The local newspaper, Times Standard, accurately called it “…a traditional arts and life skills school”. The Hollenbecks invite at-risk high school students to come to Blue Ox’s extensive millworks to learn vocational skills and, hopefully, develop a genuine interest in weaving, ceramics, woodworking, etc.
The current woodworking project is the re-creation of Lincoln’s funeral hearse. Eric is focused on helping students get usable skills and a new self image, but he told me that he wouldn’t have accepted this challenging project if veterans like him were not involved.
The hearse that carried Lincoln’s body was expensive, $6,000. That would be almost half a million $s in today’s money. It was destroyed in a livery stable fire in St. Louis in 1887. There is exactly one image of it in existence. Eric is using this rare, historic photograph to build a duplicate hearse, an incredibly complex undertaking. Eric told the Times Standard that he had to reverse-engineer the dimensions by using the bill of lading, etc. Once built, it goes to Arizona for painting and eventually to Springfield for a 150th anniversary re-enactment of Lincoln’s funeral in May, 2015.
As you can see in the photo above, Eric’s project has a long way to go. To be continued as I learn more about this fascinating Blue Ox endeavor.