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John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. The Confederacy had fallen five days earlier.

John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. The Confederacy had fallen five days earlier.

John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, 1838-1865. Born into a famous acting family, his father named him after an English rebel and encouraged in him an anti-establishment nature.

John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, 1838-1865. Born into a famous acting family, his father named him after an English rebel and encouraged in him an anti-establishment nature.

For 12 days, Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was a fugitive, successfully eluding Union manhunters who were combing the countryside south of Washington, D.C.,  in search of him. With a painful broken left leg, Booth rode and walked through Maryland, rowed across the Potomac River, and landed in Virginia. He hid in underbrush, Confederate safe houses, and pine thickets. But time was running out on him when he reached Virginia’s shores. Booth had committed the most foul crime, the murder of our president. Abraham Lincoln had been dead for 11 days then. The country was plunged into deep mourning. The people -from both the North and South – agitated for justice. The Union manhunters hot on Booth’s trail were not turning back, not until they’d brought in their prey – dead or alive.

They finally caught up with Booth and his assassination coconspirator Davey Herold at 2 a.m. on April 26, 1865. Union cavalry surrounded a tobacco barn at Richard Garrett’s farm outside Port Royal, Virginia, where Booth and Herold were inside sleeping. They were 60 miles south of Ford’s Theater in Washington.

Booth's escape route

Booth's escape route

Herold quickly surrendered, marching out of the barn and submitting to being tied to a tree. But Booth refused to come out of the barn. Gathering straw and brush, the soldiers set the barn on fire. Still Booth would not surrender. Through knotholes and cracks in the barn’s walls, the soldiers watched him moving around inside the barn, hobbling around on a crutch, holding a carbine. By sunrise, though, Booth was dead, killed by a shot fired through his neck by soldier Boston Corbett aiming through the barn walls and acting on his own accord. Booth did not die instantly but lingered near death lying on the grass near a locust tree. He was later moved to the porch of the Garrett farmhouse, where he died.

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was pronounced dead at 7:15 A.M. April 26, 1865. He was not killed instantly. He lingered near death on the grass then later on the porch of the Garrett farmhouse in Virginia (illustrated here). After his death, a search of his body turned up a pair of revolvers, a belt and holster, a knife, some cartridges, a file, a war map of the southern states, a spur, a pipe, a Canadian bill of exchange, a compass with a leather case, a signal whistle, an almost burned-up candle, photos of five women - four actresses (Alice Grey, Helen Western, Effie Germon, and Fanny Brown) and his fiancée, Lucy Hale (the daughter of ex-Senator John P. Hale from New Hampshire), and an 1864 date book kept as a diary.

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was pronounced dead at 7:15 A.M. April 26, 1865. After his death, a search of his body turned up a pair of revolvers, a belt and holster, a knife, some cartridges, a file, a war map of the Southern states, a spur, a pipe, a Canadian bill of exchange, a compass with a leather case, a signal whistle, an almost burned-up candle, photos of five women - four actresses (Alice Grey, Helen Western, Effie Germon, and Fanny Brown) and his fiancée, Lucy Hale (the daughter of ex-Senator John P. Hale from New Hampshire), and an 1864 date book kept as a diary.

By 8:30 a.m., Booth’s limp body was sewn into a horse blanket, placed on a plank serving as a stretcher, and loaded onto a wagon that was then driven to Belle Plain. From there, it was loaded onto a steamship then a tugboat and transported up the Potomac to the Washington Navy Yard. There  it was transferred to the anchored ship, the Montauk. Booth’s remains were laid on a bench. The horse blanket was removed, and a tarp was placed over the corpse. Many witnesses were gathered to identify the body:
140px-John_Wilkes_Booth_wanted_poster_new

One of these people was Dr. John Frederick May. Some time prior to the assassination, Dr. May had removed a large fibroid tumor from Booth’s neck. Dr. May found a scar from his operation on the corpse’s neck exactly where it should have been. Booth’s dentist, Dr. William Merrill, who had filled two teeth for Booth shortly before the assassination, pried open the corpse’s mouth and positively identified his fillings.

Charles Dawson, the clerk at the National Hotel where Booth was staying, examined the remains, saying “I distinctly recognize it as the body of J. Wilkes Booth – first, from the general appearance, next, from the India-ink letters, ‘J.W.B.,’ on his wrist, which I had very frequently noticed, and then by a scar on the neck. I also recognize the vest as that of J. Wilkes Booth.” …Seaton Munroe, a prominent Washington attorney who knew Booth, viewed the body and said that he “was very familiar with his (Booth’s) face and distinctly recognize it.” Alexander Gardner, a well-known Washington photographer, and his assistant, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, were also among those called to the Montauk to identify Booth’s corpse. (1)

As for the tattoo, it was on John Wilkes Booth’s left hand. His sister, Asia Booth Clarke, wrote about it in her published memoirs, The Unlocked Book, John Wilkes Booth, a Sister’s Memoir. Asia felt her brother possessed both great charm and physical beauty, including his hands:

“He had perfectly shaped hands, and across the back of one he had clumsily marked, when a little boy, his initials in India ink.” (2)

Though innocent of any crime, Asia’s husband was one of a hundred people rounded up and imprisoned after the Lincoln assassination, implicated by association with John Wilkes Booth. After her husband’s release from jail and exoneration from criminal activity, Asia, her husband, and their children (8 total, 2 of whom became actors) emigrated to England, away from the unwanted notoriety brought about by her brother’s heinous crime.

(1) Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination
(2) Steers, Edward, Jr. Blood on the Moon. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

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Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Major John A. McClernand in an 1862 photo by Alexander Gardner following the Battle of Antietam. Pinkerton was the head of Union Intelligence Services then. It was alleged that, in 1861, his Pinkerton Detective Agency uncovered an assassination plot against the president in Baltimore on his way to the inauguration. Thanks to Pinkerton's warning, Lincoln changed his travel itinerary and the plot was foiled. On the 3-story Chicago building of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, their logo, a black-and-white eye, says "We Never Sleep." This was the origin of the slang term for detective "private eye."

Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Major John A. McClernand in an 1862 photo by Alexander Gardner following the Battle of Antietam. Pinkerton was the head of Union Intelligence Services then. It was alleged that, in 1861, his Pinkerton Detective Agency uncovered an assassination plot against the president in Baltimore on his way to the inauguration. Thanks to Pinkerton's warning, Lincoln changed his travel itinerary and the plot was foiled. On the 3-story Chicago building of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, their logo, a black-and-white eye, says "We Never Sleep." This was the origin of the slang term for detective "private eye."

Since he stepped foot into the White House, President Lincoln was dogged by rumors of assassination and kidnapping. Threatening letters arrived on an almost daily basis. Lincoln stuffed them away in a bulging envelope marked ASSASSINATION. (1)

Abe’s friends were worried. “I long ago made up my mind that if anyone wants to kill me, he will do it,” he told a newspaper reporter. “If I wore a shirt of mail, and kept myself surrounded by a bodyguard, it would be all the same. There are a thousand ways of getting at a man if it is desired that he should be killed.”

Nevertheless, soldiers camped on the lawn of the White House, the cavalry escorted him on his afternoon carriage rides, and private detectives served as bodyguards.

In early April of 1865, just before the fall of Richmond and the end of the Civil War (and less than two weeks before his assassination), Lincoln had a troubling dream he related to friends:

“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered.

a catafalque is a raised platform supporting a body or coffin

a catafalque is a raised platform supporting a body or coffin

There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully.

‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers.

‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’

Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”

 

(1) Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1987)

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Willie Lincoln

Willie Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was deeply interested in psychic phenomena. Following the death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, (1850-1862) of typhoid fever, Lincoln was consumed with grief. He was persuaded by wife Mary to participate in several séances held in the White House. Mary believed that professional mediums could pierce the veil between this life and the next, thus allowing her and her husband to communicate with their dead son. Once Lincoln attended a seance in which a piano lifted up and moved around the room. It was in the opinion of the mediums who worked with President Lincoln that he was definitely “the possessor of extraordinary psychic powers.” (1)

Séances became popular during and after the Civil War as Americans longed to reconnect with their many loved ones killed in the violence of the Civil War

Séances became popular in the mid-to-late 19th Century as Americans longed to reconnect with their many loved ones killed in the Civil War.

The day after his first election to the presidency in 1860, Lincoln called his good friend journalist Noah Brooks (1830-1903) into his office. He had been startled by a vision of seeing two of his faces at once in a mirror and wanted to tell Brooks about it. Brooks made a written record of the conversation, later including it in his White House memoirs, Washington in Lincoln’s Time (1895). Adapted from Brooks’ work, these are Lincoln’s words:

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860

It was just after my election in 1860, when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day and there had been a great “hurrah, boys,” so that I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it (and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position), and looking in that glass I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time, plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler — say five shades — than the other.

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner, February 5, 1865

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner, February 5, 1865

I got up, and the thing melted away, and I went off, and in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home again that night I told my wife about it, and a few days afterward I made the experiment again, when (with a laugh), sure enough! the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a “sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term. 

(1) Wallenchinsky, David and Wallace, Irving. The People’s Almanac (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1975)

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