History

LincolnConspirators.com Silent Auction!

There is something indescribable about being able to put your hands on a piece of history. It is a physical connection with the people and times of the past. Relics have an almost magical way of connecting us to the past in a way that mere words and knowledge cannot. During my trips and adventures in history, I have always sought to find something tangible that I can take home with me in order to help me surround myself in this shared past. I hadn’t realized how much I had taken to collecting until last year, when Jen and my friends helped me pack up my things for my move to Texas. Over my 9 years living in Maryland, I had amassed enough of a collection that we labeled a whole moving box as “Dave’s Bricks and Wood”. Along with these relics, I have also managed to acquire several period newspapers and images connected to the study of Lincoln and his assassination over the years.

Well since that move I’ve gotten married (well actually, Jen and I secretly eloped after two months of dating and then announced the fact via a game at our wedding reception exactly one year later, but that’s another story) and I have settled happily into the life of a family man with my amazing wife and two stepsons. In an effort to raise some money for my family here in Texas, I have decided to auction off a part of my collection.

As many of you know, my career had been that of an elementary school teacher and so you won’t find anything too expensive listed below. I don’t have a piece of Laura Keene’s blood stained dress or a John Wilkes Booth Wanted Poster in my collection. However, I do have a nice selection of photographs, relics, and period newspapers, that I think will appeal to many of you. While I could put this stuff up on eBay and sell things that way, I wanted to offer these relics to an audience who would appreciate and know about them. While others would look at one of my relics and just see a rock, fellow history buffs can appreciate the rarity of a rock from the dugout home in Cloud County, Kansas where Boston Corbett, the slayer of John Wilkes Booth lived. While my goal is, of course, to raise some money to help with bills, I also want to share these unique pieces with others who will appreciate them.

The format of my auction is different than others. I’m not running it through eBay or any auction website. Instead, it is going to take the form of a traditional silent auction as seen at school fundraisers (like I said, my background is that of a teacher). The big difference is that this silent auction will be online and the different bids will be tracked using Google Forms. There are a total of 28 lots for auction and I have created different Google Forms for each one. I invite you to peruse each lot, read its description, and look at the provided pictures. Each lot has a modestly set “Starting Bid” which is listed on the last line of the description.

If you are interested in placing a bid, you can click the hyperlink between the description and the pictures. This will take you to the Google Sheet which contains the current bid for the item. To place your higher bid, simply return to the lot’s Google Form, enter your name and bid at the bottom, and click “Submit”. This will register your bid and the bidding list will be updated so that others can see the new bid. You’ll have to come back to check and see if someone outbids you and, if they do, you can submit a new, higher bid.

If you decide to make a bid, you will also need to fill out a Bidder Information Sheet. This form is for my eyes only and gives me the necessary information I need to contact you at the end of the auction. Without this form, I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with you about your winning bid. You only need to fill out the Bidder Information Sheet once during the auction period. Your personal information will not be shared with anyone.

As of this post’s publication, the auction is open and each lot is now accepting bids! The auction period will close at 9:00 pm central time on Friday, August 26, 2022. Each bid that comes in automatically includes a timestamp and no bids that come in after the posted close of the auction will be accepted. I will then contact the winners to discuss shipping and payment options. Winners will pay their bid plus the USPS shipping cost from Texas to their homes.

If you have any questions, please add them to comments below and I will do my best to answer them ASAP. In the mean time, I invite you to explore each of the items up for bid by clicking the lots below. If you find a lot you are interested in, feel free to put in your bid, and then fill out the Bidder Information Sheet with your information.

Thank you for taking the time to look at the lots. Even if you don’t find anything to bid on, there is still some interesting history contained in each lot’s description. My family and I thank you for your support and consideration.

Happy Bidding!

– Dave (Jen, Atticus, and Noah) Taylor


Remember, while you should come back often to see if you have been outbid on your lot and put in a higher bid, you only have to fill in the Bidder Information Sheet once.

Images and Documents

Relics and Artifacts

Period Newspapers

The auction will close at 9:00 pm central time on Friday, August 26, 2022 so get your bids in before it’s too late.

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The Lincoln Assassination on this Day (August 8 – August 14)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

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The Lincoln Assassination on this Day (August 1 – August 7)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (July 4 – July 31)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

This post is an especially long one, comprising of almost an entire month of tweets. It will take quite a long time to load.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (June 27 – July 3)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (June 20 – June 26)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

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Edman Spangler: “I am entirely innocent”

On June 24, 1869, the New York World published the following account from Edman Spangler, the Ford’s Theatre carpenter and scene shifter who had recently returned home after an almost four year prison sentence at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas. While we have quite a bit of material from Spangler’s two other surviving peers in the form of Dr. Mudd’s letters to his wife and Samuel Arnold’s later memoir, there is little out there regarding the thoughts and experiences of the sole innocent “conspirator” who suffered at their side. The following article is one of the precious few pieces we have from Ned and covers his arrest, imprisonment, trial, and life at Fort Jefferson. Spangler devotes much of his space, as Arnold will later do, bringing attention to the horrible treatment of prisoners at Fort Jefferson, going so far as to name names in an effort to shame those who took part in acts of torture. While a long read, the article provides an intriguing look at the “justice” that Ned, and the other conspirators were forced to endure.


[From Our Special Correspondent.]

Washington, June 23.

Edman Spangler, who was tried and sentenced by a military commission in May, 1865, on a charge of being engaged in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln, and pardoned by President Johnson, has prepared the following statement, asserting his innocence of all knowledge of the crime, and detailing the cruelties practised on the prisoners before and after conviction. Spangler was a scene-shifter at Ford’s Theatre, and was on the stage when John Wilkes Booth shot Mr. Lincoln and jumped from the box. He also at times took care of Booth’s horse. The evidence against him was of the flimsiest character, not being even circumstantial, for it did not appear in that trial, or in the subsequent civil trial of Surratt, that Spangler had any connection whatever with any of the other so-called conspirators. Most everybody believed him innocent then, and the Military Commission doubted his guilt by sentencing him to six years at the Dry Tortugas, and giving the others a life term. The Military Commission was organized to convict, and it convicted. Abundant testimony is now at hand to show the vast amount of perjury of that trial – perjury exacted by fear and dictated by malice. Spangler’s allusion to the witness Weichman being in the abduction plot is important. Weichman’s testimony, it will be remembered, hung Mrs. Surratt. The following is the statement sworn and subscribed to:

Statement of Edman Spangler.

I have deemed it due to truth to prepare for publication the following statement – at a time when I hope the temper of the people will give me a patient hearing – of my arrest, trial, and imprisonment, for alleged complicity in the plot to assassinate the late President Lincoln. I have suffered much, but I solemnly assert now, as I always have since I was arraigned for trial at the Washington Arsenal, that I am entirely innocent of any fore or after knowledge of the crime which John Wilkes Booth committed – save what I knew in common with everybody after it took place. I further solemnly assert that John Wilkes Booth, or any other person, never mentioned to me any plot, or intimation of a plot, for the abduction or assassination of President Lincoln; that I did not, in any way, so help me God, assist in his escape; and I further declare that I am entirely innocent of any and all charges made against me in that connection. I never new either Surratt, Payne, Atzerodt, Arnold, or Harold, or any of the so-called conspirators, nor did I ever see any of them until they appeared in custody. While imprisoned with Atzerodt, Payne, and Harold, and after their trial was over, I was allowed a few minutes’ exercise in the prison yard. I heard the three unite in asserting Mrs. Surratt’s entire innocence, and acknowledge their own guilt, confining the crime, as they did, entirely to themselves, but implicating the witness, Weichman, in knowledge of the original plot to abduct ! and with furnishing information from the Commissary of Prisoners’ Department, where Weichman was a clerk.[1]

I was arrested on the morning of the 15th of April, 1865, and with Ritterspaugh (also a scene shifter) taken to the police station on E street, between Ninth and Tenth. The sergeant, after questioning me closely, went with two policemen to search for Peanut John (the name of the boy who held Booth’s horse the night before) and made to accompany us to the headquarters of the police on Tenth street, Where John and I were locked up, and Ritterspaugh was released. After four hours’ confinement I was released, and brought before Judges Olin and Bingham, and told them of Booth bringing his horse to the theatre on the afternoon of the 14th of April (1865). After his investigation I said: “What is to be done with me?” and they replied: “We know where to find you when you are wanted,” and ordered my release. I returned to the theatre, where I remained until Saturday, when the soldiers took possession of it; but as the officer of the guard gave an attache and myself a pass to sleep there, we retired at 10 P.M., and at 1 A.M. a guard was placed over me, who remained until 9 A.M. Sunday morning, when I was released. I did not leave the theatre until Sunday evening, and on our return this attache (Carland by name) and myself were arrested by Detective Larner. Instead of taking us to the guard-house he said he would accompany is home to sleep there, but we all went to Police Headquarters on Tenth street, and when Carland asked if we were wanted, an officer sharply said “No.” I returned to the theatre that night, and remained the next day till I went to dinner, corner of Seventh and G streets. That over I remained a few minutes, when Ritterspaugh (who worked at the theatre with me) came, and meeting me, said: “I have given my evidence, and would like now to get some of the reward.”

I walked out with Ritterspaugh for half an hour, and on returning to lie down left word that if any one called for me to tell them that I was lying down. Two hours after I was called down stairs to see two gentlemen who had called for me. They said that I was wanted down the street. On reaching the sidewalk they placed me in a hack and drove rapidly to Carroll Prison, where I was confined a week. Three days afterwards Detective, or Colonel, Baker came to my room, and questioned me about the sale of a horse and buggy (which belonged to Booth), and I told him all about it freely and readily. On the day following I was called into the office of the prison in order to be recognized by Sergeant Dye, who merely nodded his head as I entered and then he left. (Dye subsequently testified that he was sitting on the steps of the theatre just before Booth fired the shot, and to seeing mysterious persons about.) I was allowed on the fourth day of my imprisonment to walk about the prison yard, but from that evening I was closely confined and guarded until the next Saturday at midnight, when I was again taken to the office to see a detective, who said: “Come Spangler, I’ve some jewelry for you.” He handcuffed me with my hands behind my back, and guarding me to a hack I was placed in it and driven to the Navy Yard, where my legs were manacled and a pair of Lillie handcuffs placed on my wrists.

I was put in a boat and rowed to a monitor, where I was taken on board and thrown into a small, dirty room, between two water-closets, and on to a bed of filthy life preservers and blankets, with two soldiers guarding the door. I was kept there for three days. I had been thus confined three days on the vessel when Captain Munroe came to me and said: “Spangler, I’ve something that must be told, but you must not be frightened. We have orders from the Secretary of War, who must be obeyed, to put a bag on your head.” Then two men came and tied up my head so securely that I could not see daylight. I had plenty of food, but could not eat with my face muffled up. True, there was a small hole in the bag near my mouth, but I could not reach that, as my hands were wedged down by the iron. At last, two kind-hearted soldiers took compassion on me, and while one watched the other fed me.

On Saturday night a man came to me and, after drawing the bag so tight as to nearly suffocate me, said to the guard, “Don’t let him go to sleep, as we will carry him out to hang him directly.” I heard them go up on the deck, when there was a great rattling of chains, and other noises; and while I was trying to imagine what was going on, and what they intended to do, I was dragged out by two men, who both pulled me at times in opposite directions. We, however, reached a boat, in which I was placed, and were rowed a short distance, I could not say then where we stopped, for my face was still covered. After leaving the boat, I was forced to walk some distance, with the heavy irons still on my legs. I was then suddenly stopped, and made to ascend three or four flights of stairs; and as I stood at the top waiting, some one struck me a severe blow on the top of the head, which stunned and half threw me over, when I was pushed into a small room, where I remained in an unconscious condition for several hours. The next morning some one came with bread and coffee. I remained here several days, suffering torture from the bag or padded hood over my face.  It was on Sunday when it was removed and I was shaven. It was then replaced. Some hours after General Hartranft came and read to me several charges; that I was engaged in a plot to assassinate the President, and the day following I was carried into a military court and stood hooded before all of its members. I remained but a short time, when I was returned to my cell for another night and day and then again presented in this court. Mr. Bingham, Assistant Judge-Advocate, read the charges against me, and asked if I had any objection to the court, and I replied “No,” and made my plea of “not guilty.” They then wished to know if I desired counsel, and, when I answered affirmatively, General Hunter, the president of the court, insisted that I should not be allowed counsel. He was, however, overruled, but it was several days before I was permitted legal aid, the court in the meanwhile taking evidence with closed doors. On every adjournment of the court, if only for an hour, I was returned to my cell and the closely-fitting hood placed over my head. This continued till June 10, when I was relieved from the torture of the bag, but my hands and limbs remained heavily manacled.

On one Sunday, while I was confined at this place (the Washington Arsenal), I was visited by a gentleman of middle stature, rather stout, with full beard and gold-framed spectacles. He noticed my manacles and padded head. I afterwards learned that he was Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War. It is proper to state that when the hood was placed on me, Captain Munroe said it was by order of the Secretary of War. My first thought was that I was to be hung without trial, and the hood was preparatory to that act.

The first time I ever saw Mrs. Surratt was in the Carroll Prison yard, on Capitol Hill. I did not see her again until we were taken into court the first day at the arsenal. My cell was on the same corridor as hers, and I had to pass it every time I was taken into court. I frequently looked into her cell, a small room about four feet wide by seven feet long. The only things in her cell were an old mattress laid on the bricks and an army blanket. I could see the irons on her feet, as she was generally lying on the mattress, and was the last one brought into court. She occupied a seat in court near the prison door. The seat was twelve inches high, and the chains between the irons on her feet were so short that she always had to be assisted to her seat. She was so sick at one time that the court was compelled to adjourn.

On the 17th of July, about midnight, I was conveyed to a steamboat, and arrived the next day at Fortress Monroe, and was thence taken to the gunboat Florida. The irons on my arms were temporarily removed, but Captain Dutton, in charge of the guard, ordered heavy Lillie irons to be placed on me, when General Dodd, chief officer in charge, more humanely countermanded his order and had the irons again removed from my arms. I was placed for security in the lower hold of the vessel, and compelled to descend to it by a ladder. The rounds were far apart, and, as the irons on my feet were chained but a few inches apart, my legs were bruised and lacerated fearfully. The hold where I was confined was close and dirty, but after two or three days I was allowed on deck in the daytime, but was closely guarded. I was allowed to speak to no one of the crew. We arrived at Fort Jefferson, on the Dry Tortugas, and were handed over to Colonel Hamilton, commanding, who placed me until the next day in a casemate. The next day I was brought before Colonel H., who informed me that he had no more stringent orders concerning me than other prisoners confined there.

I managed to get along comfortably for a while, though to some of the prisoners the officers were very cruel. One man by the name of Dunn, while helping in unloading a government transport, got hold of some liquor and imbibed too freely: for which he was taken to the guard-house and tide up to the window-frame by his thumbs for two hours. General Hill then ordered him to be taken down and be made to carry a thirty-two pound ball, but as the hanging had deprived him of the use of his thumbs, he was unable to obey. The officers, however, put two twenty-four pound balls in a knapsack, and compelled him to carry them until the sack gave away from the weight of the iron. He was then tied up by the wrists and gagged in the mouth by the bayonet from 8 P.M. till the next morning. He was then taken down and thrown into the guard-house, but was so exhausted that he had to be removed to the hospital. It was decided to amputate three of his fingers, but this was reconsidered. He lost, however, the use of his thumb and two fingers. This punishment was inflicted by Major McConnell, officer of the day, and was carried out by Sergeant Edward Donnelly.

Another poor prisoner named Brown, was once excused by the doctor from work on the plea of illness, but the Provost Marshal insisted and finding him too ill and lacking strength made him carry a thirty-two pound ball. He staggered under the weight and was compelled from weakness to put it down. He was then taken to the wharf and with his legs tied behind him, a rope was placed around him and he was thrown into the water and then dragged out. This was done three or four times, he begging for mercy most piteously. He was finally jerked out of the water and ordered to return to his ordinary work. The poor wretch crept off apparently thankful or any escape from such torments. Captain Jos. Rittenhouse was officer of the day, and his orders were carried out by Corporal Spear.

During the latter part of last [sic] October I was placed in irons and compelled to work with an armed sentinel over me. I did not know the reason for this, for I was unconscious of having given offense, and had conformed to every regulation. I was then closely confined and allowed to communicate with no one for four months. The pretence for this, I afterwards learned, sprang from an attempt of Dr. Mudd to escape.

Colonel St. George Leger Grenfel, aged 65 years, was taken sick and went to the Doctor to get excused from work. The Doctor declined to excuse him. He then applied to the Provost-Marshal, who said that he could not excuse him if the Doctor couldn’t. Grenfel then tried to work and failed. They then took him to the guard-house, tied him up for half a day, and then took him to the wharf, tied his hands behind him, tied his legs together, and put a rope around his waist. There were three officers, heavily armed, who drove spectators from the wharf; I could see and hear from my window. The Colonel asked them if they were going to throw him into the water, and they answered, “Yes.” He then jumped in, and because he could not sink, they drew him out and tied about forty pounds of iron to his legs, and threw him into the water again, and then compelled him to go to work. The officers who had him in hand were, Lieutenant Robinson, Lieutenant Pike, and Captain George W. Crabb, assisted by Sergeant Michael Gleason, and assistant military storekeeper G. T. Jackson, who tied the iron on his legs. Captain Samuel Peebles tied up Grenfel for saying that “ he was capable of dong anything.” Colonel Grenfel was forced to scrub and do other menial work when he proved he was so ill as to have refused to eat his rations for a week. All of the officers hated Grenfel on account of a letter which appeared in a New York paper, which they said Grenfel wrote, about tying up the prisoner Dunn – which letter was truthful, as others and myself were witnesses to the details it related. One very stormy night Grenfel, with four others, escaped in a small boat and was evidently drowned near the fort. His escape was discovered but the storm was so severe that it was deemed too dangerous to pursue them, although a steamer was at the wharf. Grenfel frequently declared his intention of running any risk to escape, rather than, to use his own words, “to be tortured to death at the fort.” These are only two or three instances of the many acts of cruelty practiced at the fort. During my imprisonment at Fort Jefferson I worked very hard at carpentering and wood ornamental work, making a great many fancy boxes, &c., out of the peculiar wood found on the adjacent islands; the greater portion of this work was made for officers. By my industry in that direction, I won some favor in their eyes. I was released in March of the present year by executive clemency.

(Signed) Edman Spangler


[1] It’s interesting that Spangler states that all three male conspirators who were executed professed that Mary Surratt was innocent. While Lewis Powell is noted for having spoken in favor of Mrs. Surratt’s innocence, defense attorney William Doster, later wrote that David Herold expressed frustration during the trial that Mrs. Surratt’s defense seemed to be going so well. According to Doster, during the trial Herold remarked, “That old lady is as deep in as any of us.”

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A Coming Storm

In April of 1865, New York City was awaiting the opening of a brand new palace for the visual arts, the National Academy of Design. The cornerstone of this new building to art and sculpture had been laid in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Despite the difficulties in sourcing materials and labor for the institution, work had managed to continue on the edifice. The design of the building was unique in Manhattan, taking inspiration from the Venetian Gothic style in order to create a truly eye catching spectacle. The interior of the structure contained galleries, a library, and a grand staircase supported by beautiful marble columns. The total cost to build this palace to the arts during wartime was $220,000. Among the subscribers to the Academy’s fellowship fund was Edwin Booth, who donated $100.

Even as the building was being completed, arrangements were made regarding the first exhibition to grace the new gallery’s walls. Paintings were requested from notable artists and collectors for the grand opening exhibition. This was meant to be an exhibit of contemporary art showing the works of current and up-and-coming artists. By early April, the edifice and exhibition were ready to go and it was announced that the National Academy of Design was to open on Monday, April 17.

On Friday, April 14, three days before the art gallery was to open in New York, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, D.C. by John Wilkes Booth. This tragic event, coming just days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, plunged the entire country into deep despair. On April 15, the governing council of the National Academy of Design voted to postpone the building’s opening in light of the national calamity that had occurred, and, like many other organizations, published the record of their grief in the newspaper.

“Resolved, That the council of the National Academy of Design hear with profound grief of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the late beloved President of the United States.

Resolved, That we cherish a deep reverence for his great character and inestimable services to our country and the cause of freedom throughout the world.

Resolved, That we devoutly pray Almighty God to save out country from disaster while suffering from the affliction of this base and cowardly murder, the natural fruit of treason and slavery.

Resolved, That, in respect for the memory of our late honored chief magistrate, the ceremony of the inauguration of the academy building, and the opening of the exhibition, be postponed.

Published by order, T. Addison Richards Con. Sec., N.A.”

Like countless other buildings across the country, the Academy building was draped in black mourning bunting. In addition, a red, white, and blue shield was covered in crape and hung over the doorway of the building.

On April 24, Lincoln’s remains arrived in New York City as part of his nationwide funeral train procession. No doubt members of the National Academy of Design were among the around 120,000 people who gazed upon the face of the President as he lay in state at the city hall. The only known photograph of Lincoln in death was taken during this stop:

The Lincoln funeral train departed New York City on the morning of April 25, en route to Albany and then points west, on its long journey home to Springfield, IL.

Two days later, on April 27, The National Academy of Design, feeling that it was in bad taste to have a big grand opening celebration, opted instead for a soft launch of sorts. The invited guests for the debut were a large, but select group who became the first to tour the new palace to the arts and enjoy the inaugural exhibition. The opening was done so quickly, and so closely to the President’s funeral in the city, that some members of the press didn’t have time to write up their reviews for lack of space. Interestingly, the weekly New York Atlas newspaper briefly discussed the opening of the National Academy of Design while, in the same story, lamenting the seizure of photographs from the Lincoln funeral by the War Department.

Despite the reporter’s hope to see photographer Gurney’s “completed pictures” of the Lincoln funeral, the one picture of Lincoln lying in state shown above would not be publicly seen until 1952. After hearing that a photograph had been taken of Lincoln’s body, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton order the glass plate negative destroyed. This was done, but not before a single print was made and sent to Stanton. This print was later found after Stanton’s death by his son Lewis. Lewis Stanton sent the print to John Nicolay, one of Lincoln’s personal secretaries who was working on a series of biographies about Lincoln with fellow secretary John Hay. Nicolay and Hay never used the photograph in their books. In 1952, the photograph was rediscovered by 14 year-old Ron Rietveld who was looking through a collection of Nicolay-Hay papers donated to the Illinois State Historical Library. It was quite the discovery.

But back to National Academy of Design.

The debut exhibition was a great success and first the next few months visitors continued to visit and remark about the impressive contemporary paintings. Some of the paintings on display were:

North and South by Constant Mayer

The Hill of Alhambra, Granada by Samuel Colman

Christmas-Time by Eastman Johnson

A Picnic on the Hudson by Thomas Rossiter

Looking Down the Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt

The Antiquary by Charles Coleman

There was even a painting of Edwin Booth in the exhibition. It was painted by John Pope in celebration of Booth’s 100 nights of Hamlet which he had just completed in New York City on March 22. Below is an engraving of the painting.

Even the painting of Edwin could draw in an audience. In one reporter’s visit to the Academy he noted that, “Here a lady with deep Italian eyes forgets herself to the marble before Pope’s portrait of ‘Edwin Booth as Hamlet,’ fascinated by the memory of his magnetic beauty…”


Among the patrons of the Academy’s first few week of operation was the noted novelist, Herman Melville.

The author of Moby Dick lived not far from the newly erected Academy and while visiting the new exhibition, he found himself transfixed by a particular painting. It was an 1863 piece by Sanford Gifford called A Coming Storm.

A Coming Storm by Sanford Gifford (click to enlarge)

The painting shows a forested lake in the Catskill mountains on an autumn day. A group of Native Americans sit, almost camouflaged, with their teepees near a large rock on one side of the lake. On the other side, a black thunder cloud is breaking over a mountain though it has not yet has not yet blotted out the sun. Melville was not the only one impressed by Gifford’s painting. According to one reporter, “As a landscape there is nothing finer in the exhibition.”

Yet, it was more than artistic beauty that drew Melville’s eye. The exhibition’s catalog noted that while Sanford Gifford was the painter, he had not loaned the piece to the Academy himself. Gifford had already sold the painting to a friend of his who allowed it to be borrowed for the exhibit. That friend was Edwin Booth.

Edwin had been introduced to Sanford in 1862 by their shared acquaintances Richard and Elizabeth Stoddard. Richard was a literary reviewer while his wife Elizabeth was a novelist and poet. The Stoddards were the center of an artistic circle in New York City which included artists of all type. Edwin Booth’s talents on the stage were acknowledged and celebrated in this group of writers, poets, painters, and sculptors. Edwin gained many friends in this group and, in his later years, Edwin attempted to recreate this shared comradery with the creation of The Players Club. It was in this way that Edwin had come to meet Sanford Gifford and subsequently purchase his beautiful painting, A Coming Storm.

Herman Melville found himself struck by the symbolism and irony of it all. The left side of the painting, filled with its gorgeous golden colors, symbolized the light that had emerged with the end of the Civil War while the dark cloud creeping over the mountain about to blot out the sun represented the murder of Lincoln so shortly thereafter. It was a coming storm of darkness that enveloped the whole country in a massive downpour of tumult and grief. But more than the storm itself, Melville was fascinated that Edwin Booth, of all people, had been moved by this painting enough to purchase it. Edwin had somehow felt his own fate in this painting long before the storm that now drenched them all was on the horizon. To Melville, the only explanation of how Edwin Booth could have reconciled himself to an unknown storm and was, at that moment, weathering it despite unbearable personal agony, was due to his complete devotion to Shakespeare and his tragedies. John Pope’s painting hanging nearby was a testament that Edwin Booth was Hamlet and knew the deepest and darkest of grief. This training was the only thing that could give Edwin the strength to survive the storm that currently ravaged his heart.

Melville, who had spent the last few years composing poetry rather than writing novels, found himself compelled to write the following poem about his experience with Edwin Booth’s Coming Storm:

“The Coming Storm:”

A Picture by S. R. Gifford, and owned by E.B. Included in the N. A. Exhibition, April 1865.

All feeling hearts must feel for him
Who felt this picture. Presage dim-
Dim inklings from the shadowy sphere
Fixed him and fascinated here.

A demon-cloud like the mountain one
Burst on a spirit as mild
As thus urned lake, the home of shades.
But Shakspeare’s pensive child

Never the lines had lightly scanned,
Steeped in fable, steeped in fate;
The Hamlet in his heart was ‘ware,
Such hearts can antedate.

No utter surprise can come to him
Who reaches Shakspeare’s core;
That which we seek and shun is there-
Man’s final lore.

Melville published “The Coming Storm” in 1866 in his collection of Civil War related poetry called, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. Reviews of Melville’s foray into poetry were mixed. Richard Stoddard, Edwin’s friend, was one of the kinder reviewers but still wrote that, “The collection of battle-pieces exemplifies the fact that the poetic nature and the technical faculty of poetry writing are not identical.” Stoddard enjoyed the poetic nature of Melville’s collection, but found his rhythm and rhyming to be lacking. The book sold poorly with less than 500 copies being sold within two years.

A century later, however, Melville’s collection found greater appreciation as an example of Civil War poetry. The poem that just precedes “The Coming Storm” in the book is called “The Martyr” and, rather than focusing on the grief of Lincoln’s death as so many other period poems did, Melville, instead expresses the anger of the people.

The Martyr

Indicative of the passion of the people on the 15th of April, 1865

Good Friday was the day
Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm—
When with yearning he was filled
To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

He lieth in his blood—
The father in his face;
They have killed him, the Forgiver—
The Avenger takes his place,
The Avenger wisely stern,
Who in righteousness shall do
What heavens call him to,
And the parricides remand;
For they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness.
And his blood is on their hand.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

From a lyrical standpoint, The Martyr reads a bit better than “The Coming Storm”. Yet the two still contrast each other nicely. The Martyr is overt in its anger while “The Coming Storm” is perplexing in its acceptance of fate. The poems, next to each other in the volume, provide strikingly different interpretations of the same tragic event. The Martyr is the voice of the public at large while “The Coming Storm” considers the personal torment of the Booth family.

After the National Academy of Design’s debut exhibition closed in 1866, A Coming Storm was returned to Edwin Booth. The actor held onto it as he spent a fortune in the creation of his own theater in New York City. Construction on Booth’s Theatre started in 1868 and the first performance in his state of the art theater occurred on February 3, 1869.

Edwin had spared no expense on his dream playhouse and for the first few years he found success. Soon however a Coming Storm of a different nature appeared on the horizon. A severe financial panic swept the nation in 1873, decreasing the number of patrons visiting theaters and plunging Edwin severely into debt. With the mortgage on his beautiful theater due and the banks unwilling to negotiate, Edwin was forced to sell all interests in his namesake theater and declared bankruptcy. To help pay some of his creditors, much of Edwin’s personal theatrical wardrobe, props, library, and paintings were seized for auction. It was during this time that A Coming Storm left Booth’s possession as it was necessarily auctioned off.

In 1876, the then owner of A Coming Storm once again exhibited it in a public gallery. This time it was displayed by the Brooklyn Art Association where it was noted as being one of “the most effective” landscapes in the exhibition. In 1880, Sanford Gifford, the artist of the piece, bought his own painting back and did a little retouching on it. He also re-dated it from 1863 to 1880. Sanford Gifford died in 1881 and the painting went back into private hands. Eventually it was loaned to, and then purchased by, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Today the 28 x 42 inch painting formerly belonging to Edwin Booth is on display in the museum’s American Gallery, continuing to impress and inspire others to ponder the coming storm in their own lives.

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