Program and Menu for Whitman's Seventieth Birthday - CARLI Digital Collections Featured Image

From Manuscripts and Special Collections (University of Illinois at Springfield) in CARLI Digital Collections.

A menu and program from the May 31, 1889 celebration of Walt Whitman's 70th birthday tells us that the guests dined on a "Feast of Reason" and considered "The Flow of Soul" afterwards. The eight course extravagant meal must have been planned will in advance to honor the renowned poet. Loving's biography of Whitman tells us that more than 150 people attended the party, at $5 a head. Whitman, being in poor health, arrived in time for the dessert course and stayed for the speeches.

Politicians and other dignitaries (Garrison, Abbett, Cattell) and men of letters (Garland, Smith, Gilder, Hawthorne) gave remarks, speaking both to and about Whitman. Speeches and accolades delivered at the party from friends and colleagues present in Camden and from those far away sent via letter are testimony to the esteem in which contemporaries held the great poet and to the love they must have felt for him. Loving reports that Whitman enjoyed the event, saying "I felt better & more something like myself, and nearer chipper, than for a year."

Whitman died almost three years after the party, on March 26, 1892.

Written by Laurie Sauer, Information Technologies Librarian, Knox College

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