Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Abraham Lincoln. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Abraham Lincoln. Show all posts

Friday, March 27, 2015


I came across this quotation from honest Abraham Lincoln.

In fact you’ll find it spread all across the Internet like chicken pellets.  Sometimes it's "backwards" rather than "backward," sometimes it appears as "I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards."  Whichever way it is, I have yet to find the source where honest Abe said or wrote it, and in some cases he isn’t even attributed.

In any case it strikes me as a pretty dumb thing to say or write, and an even dumber thing to celebrate.  What the hell’s wrong with walking backwards?  I suspect people think it means “never retreat,” but that’s not much better - sometimes retreating is a very wise thing to do. 

And now wonderfully, amazingly, I have found that Mr. Lincoln didn’t always practice what he preached.  Here is a recollection of Lincoln at the 1856 Republican Convention, by William Pitt Kellogg, a lawyer from Illinois:
         “When he came forward to speak of course there was much excitement. … From time to time, as he reached some climax in his argument, he would advance to the front of the platform as he spoke, and with a peculiar gesture hurl the point, so to speak, at his audience, then as the audience rose to their feet to cheer, he would walk slowly backward, bowing …”
          It probably wasn’t a Michael Jackson style moon walk, but it was very definitely a bit of stage craft. He may be doing something similar here in Gettysburg.

In fact there are various sources that say walking backwards is terribly good for you – they’ve even got a name for it retro-walking, which sounds to me like you’d go out strolling in loon pants and tie dye tee shorts, but that’s just me.

According to Severine Koch, PhD, of the social and cultural psychology department at Radboud University, in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, writing in 2009 “backward locomotion appears to be a very powerful trigger to mobilize cognitive resource”.  And it’s easy enough to believe that walking backwards tones up a different set of muscles than walking forward and would probably be good for improving balance and coordination.  The problem is more where you could actually do this backwards walking – not in any place where there are a lot of people, obviously.  They’d think you were an idiot and they’d point and laugh at you, and then you’d walk into them.

Not that this has deterred Mani Manithan (above) who has been walking backwards since 1989 in order to end world violence.  He’s still at it 25 years later and has apparently now forgotten how to walk forwards. Of course he’s doing this in India, where they’re extremely tolerable of eccentric holy men. 
All of which brings us very, very indirectly to Flannery O’Connor.  When she was a child, in Savannah, Georgia, she trained a chicken to walk backwards.  It appeared on a Pathé news reel and now you can see it right there on Youtube:


Thank you Internet, maybe you’re not solely an instrument of the devil.

Flannery O’Connor is often, lazily, described, and occasionally patronized, as a writer of “Southern Gothic,” but it’s all too seldom mentioned just how damn hilarious she is.  In the book Conversations With Flannery O’Connor she says, "When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”

O’Connor was afflicted with lupus which eventually killed her, but she didn’t blame lupus for all her problems didn’t.  In 1954 she wrote to Elizabeth Hardwick, “… it galls me to have supported the lupus for four years and then to be crippled with rheumatism (a vulgar disease at best) of the hip.  I am not able enough to walk straight but not crippled enough to walk with a cane so that I give the appearance of merely being a little drunk all the time.”  
In due course she used a cane and then crutches.  She also kept peacocks, though I don’t believe she taught them to walk backwards.