Grave Thursday: C. Dwight Hess

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.

C. Dwight Hess

C Dwight Hess

Burial Location: Westville Cemetery (Old Section), Westville, Indiana


Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

C. Dwight Hess was the manager and co-owner of the National Theatre in Washington D.C. The theater, also known as Grover’s Theater after Hess’ co-owner, Leonard Grover, was the main theatrical competitor of Ford’s Theatre in Washington City. As the manager of the National Theatre, Hess was very familiar with the actor turned assassin John Wilkes Booth.

On April 13th, the day before Lincoln’s assassination, John Wilkes Booth paid a visit to the National Theatre where he found Hess running lines with the stage prompter George Wren. Booth barged into the office where Hess and Wren were speaking, sat himself down, and proceeded to converse with the two men. Hess and Wren broke from their rehearsal and entertained the young actor. During the conversation, Booth inquired with Hess whether he was going to participate in the Grand Illumination planned for that evening. Hess replied in the affirmative but that he was saving his best material in order to illuminate the next night, Friday, April 14th, the anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumter. After mentioning his plan to illuminate on Friday night, Booth then asked Hess, “Ain’t you going to invite the President out?” Hess replied that, yes, he was hoping to invite the Lincolns and even thanked Booth for reminding him to do so. After a bit more conversation, Booth departed and both Wren and Hess would comment that they thought it odd that Booth would mention the President given his known dissatisfaction with the Union government. Hess was not aware that Booth was laying the groundwork for a possible assassination right inside Hess’ own theater. C. Dwight Hess did send along an invitation to Mrs. Lincoln, inviting her and her husband to his planned illumination on Friday and for the theater’s performance of Aladdin! or the Wonderful Lamp. While Tad Lincoln would take up Hess’ offer, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln would choose Ford’s Theatre for their entertainment on April 14th, and John Wilkes Booth’s plan would change venues because of it.

Hess would be present at his theater when the terrible news came in that the President Lincoln was assassinated over at Ford’s Theatre. His first thought after clearing the house was to send word to Leonard Grover who was not in D.C. at the time. Hess quickly dispatched a telegram to Grover which conveyed both his shock and relief:


Clarence Dwight Hess (who is also often recorded as Charles Dwight Hess) would later be a witness at the trial of the conspirators where he would testify about Booth’s visit to his theater on April 13th. After 1865, he continued in the theatrical business where he managed other theaters and even his own opera group which toured throughout Americas. In his later years, Hess retired to a small farm near Westville, Indiana. When he died on February 15, 1909, he was buried at the Westville Cemetery. Check out the Maps page for more details. For more information about Grover’s National Theatre and its connections to the Lincoln assassination story read the Grover’s Theatre and the Lincoln Assassination post.

GPS coordinates for C. Dwight Hess’ grave: 41.540153, -86.914445

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Grave Thursday: C. Dwight Hess


    The black font/wood background/blue links were really difficult to view – yea, near impossible for my eyes! Lol. You might consider revising, especially if I am not the only one mentioning.


    Sent from my iPhone


    • Pete,

      Occasionally the website does not load properly in different browsers. It sounds like the white background that goes between the text and the wood background failed to load for you. Try closing the browser, clearing your history and then reopening the site. Hopefully that will cause it to load properly again.


  2. Hi Dave. For several years I had the wording of Hess’ telegram the same as what you have in your Grave Thursday posting. Every book I had at that time said the same thing. But on July 17, 2012, I received the following email from Tom Bogar, and I changed what I had on my website.

    “You might want to rethink, though, your statement that, post-assassination, Dwight Hess sent Leonard Grover a telegram which stated “The President was shot at Ford’s tonight—Thank God it wasn’t ours.” I came across the original of that telegram recently in the Benjamin Butler Papers at the Library of Congress (collected as part of his congressional hearings prior to the Andrew Johnson impeachment effort), and it merely says, “The President was shot at Ford’s tonight—not at our theatre.”

    I, too, accepted the prior version at face value and used it in my last book, on American presidential theatre going. In my next book, though, on the actors, managers and stagehands of Ford’s Theatre the night of the Lincoln assassination, I am using the correct version.

    I did not take a photo of the telegram, but did copy it down verbatim.”

    • Thank you Roger for this information. Like Tom Bogar, I got the original wording, and the image thereof, from an article Leonard Grover wrote and had published in Century Magazine in 1909. I shouldn’t be surprised that his memory of the wording was slightly incorrect. His writings about Lincoln and his theater are filled with many other exaggerations and small errors. Some day I will have to consult those Butler papers for myself.

  3. Dennis D. Urban

    If that is the correctly pictured tombstone for Hess and I assume it is, I wonder if the information regarding military service is incorrect and belonging to another Clarance D. Hess. Per a CW database, the only Clarence D. Hess listed enlisted at 24 years old (thus born circa 1837) in Elmira, NY to the 13 Infty and was promoted to Captain in 1862. He was discharged for disability in 1863. Does not seem like the same person’s information. Certainly not the first time such misinformation has been posted on a tombstone.

    Excellent post about an obscure figure who must have wondered for the rest of his life about what happened to the mind of his friend, JWB. Did Hess leave any known recollections?

    • Dennis,

      I’m very confident that this is the grave of the right man. Kate and I stopped to visit Mr. Hess’ grave while driving from Maryland to Illinois this past summer.

      C. Dwight Hess was a Union veteran from New York and stated as much in his statement to the authorities on April 15th. The military record on this grave appears to be correct. What you’re probably bothered by is Hess’ birth year. For some inexplicable reason, my photograph of the grave appears to read 1828 clear as day. However, I can assure you that the real date on the stone actually says 1838. I believe the color of the stone along with the sun that was reflecting off of it, changed the stone to make it appear to say 1828, which it doesn’t. Here is another picture of Mr. Hess’ grave on the website FindaGrave that shows that the real date on the stone is 1838:

      With the seemingly inaccurate birth date rectified, all the other information falls into place. There is some debate about his true first name. The stone says Clarence but the obituaries that went out all called him Charles. He mainly went by C.D. Hess or C. Dwight Hess professionally which makes it difficult to know what his true first name was.

      As far as I know, Hess didn’t leave any personal recollections behind aside from his statement and trial testimonies. His brother-in-law and theater co-owner, Leonard Grover wrote about Hess in his recollections about Lincoln. However, according to the website I linked in the article about Hess’ operatic companies Hess’, “obituary stated that he had started to write an autobiography but did not finish it.” I have not been able to find the obituary that mentions this fact. But perhaps there is something of Hess’ writings still in La Porte County, Indiana or with his descendants somewhere.

      Thanks for reading,


  4. Wade Kirby

    I alway look forward to your posts. Thanks again for the hard work!

  5. Tim Kelly

    Thanks for the post. You have to feel sympathetic for Hess and the Grover’s, this was to be a big night for them. The president should have come there that night but they were up staged by Laura Keene. Hess upon learning of the assassination at Fords he has to announce to the patrons and to Tad his father has been shot. Also in the theatre was the Petersons who get home to find out the Presidents dying in their house. I’m not sure why you omitted Booth’s visit to the Theatre on the afternoon of the 14th where he meets fellow actor John Matthews whose in the play Our American Cousin to give him the infamous letter to the National Intelligencer.This is the one of the most significant pieces of the Lincoln Assassination.Thanks again for the post.

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