Posts Tagged With: Lincoln

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (February 14 – February 20)

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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BoothieBarn is now!

I’m very happy to share this big announcement with all of you. From now on, this website has a brand new name and web address! Welcome to! is the perfect name for the content you’ve come to expect from this website. Under you will continue to learn about John Wilkes Booth, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Mary Surratt, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Edman Spangler, John Surratt, and the countless other people who were involved, in some way, in the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. All the materials that this site provides – from its image galleries, maps, videos, projects, posts, and pages – are still here and easily accessible under the domain. Links, shortcuts, and favorites you might have under the old name will continue to work for the foreseeable future and will automatically redirect you.

I’m sure many of you are curious as to why I’ve decided to change the name of the site. To be honest, I’ve been unhappy with the name BoothieBarn for a while. When I started this blog in 2012, it was just a place for me to put up little tidbits of knowledge that I had learned while researching and interacting with experts in the field of Lincoln’s assassination. Back then, there were only a couple of online sites where people who focused on studying Lincoln’s death could share information. As a subject, Lincoln’s assassination has not always been accepted as a true form of Lincoln research. In fact, the term “Boothie” originated with more traditional Lincoln scholars as a disparaging moniker towards those who wasted their time studying John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators. Many Lincoln scholars found it unfathomable, or even sacrilegious, that anyone would spend more than the bare minimum amount of time learning about the man who killed our country’s greatest president. An understandable division arose between the Lincoln scholars and those they deemed “Boothies”. As a result of this division, most of our modern understanding of John Wilkes Booth and his plots against Lincoln has actually come from the work of amateur history buffs and researchers, rather than academic Lincoln scholars. When, as a college student, I started doing my first real research into the Lincoln assassination, I was surprised to find the Lincoln assassination field was populated by a welcoming group of everyday people who were willing to share information without hesitation. There was no pretense or snobbery, only generosity. When the time came to decide on the name to give my fledging blog, I made sure to include “Boothie” as a symbol of appreciation to the group of people who taught me, supported me, and the only ones I thought would ever want to read it. The latter half of the site’s name was much less thought out. I figured John Wilkes Booth was killed in a barn and, well, I like alliteration. Hence, BoothieBarn was born.

While I still appreciate and love the community of “Boothies” who continue to support me and share so much, the truth is, we’re no longer the isolated or disparaged group we once were. In the last few years, I’ve seen interest in Lincoln’s assassination grow and grow. The support of this site and the hundreds of hits I get everyday shows me that people are coming to understand that the study of John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators are legitimate parts of Lincoln’s legacy. Among the greatest honors of my life has been to speak at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library about Booth and his conspirators. Lincoln scholars, and the general public, are increasingly understanding that learning about Booth is not at all the same as agreeing with him. John Wilkes Booth was, and will always be, one of the greatest villains in our history. He was a racist, white supremacist coward who shot an unarmed man in the back of the head. Booth is not a man to admire, look up to, or to venerate in anyway. Yet, he is still a crucial part of Lincoln’s story. The study of Lincoln’s assassination is the study of one of the darker moments in our history. But sometimes the darker parts of history can shed the most light on the past. While I seek to understand Booth and those he interacted with, I will never support or advocate for the beliefs that he, or the Confederacy that he supported, stood for.

By changing this website’s name, I’m hoping to encourage more study into this important, yet tragic part of Lincoln’s legacy. This website has grown so much more beyond a haven for me and my colleagues. I want to continue to develop this website to add more educational resources like the recent Trial of the Conspirators project. As an educator myself, I want teachers to be able to send their students here to learn more about the events and people surrounding April 14, 1865. The name BoothieBarn requires too much explanation and lacks professionalism. While I will miss the alliteration of the old name, perfectly defines the content this site provides.

I’ve changed a lot from from the recent college graduate who decided to start up his own niche history blog. I’ve done a lot of growing to become a more understanding, compassionate, and empathetic person. Many things have come and gone in my life and changed me in immeasurable ways. Yet even through these periods of personal growth and reflection, my interest in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln has remained constant. It’s long overdue that my website change to reflect who I am and what I want to present to the world. I am in the process of getting my Master’s in American History. Even though I know I have done a lot of good work as BoothieBarn, I want to be able to say that I am a “real” historian, a professional. I’m proud of every piece I research and write on this website, and so I want it to have a name that I can be equally proud of.

I will continue to own the old BoothieBarn domain for the foreseeable future, so all of your old links will work for the time being. If you find an old link on social media or elsewhere, it will still work and just redirect you to the same page under the domain. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I have changed my Twitter handle to @LinConspirators. However, if you are currently on Twitter and following me, you will still be following me after the change.

I’ve also updated the email address connected to this site to reflect the new name. Feel free to contact me at with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have.

I’ve been honored by the over one million of you who have read, commented, and supported my efforts. This site has grown beyond what I ever imagined. I will continue to provide the same content that you have to come to expect, now under the better and more professional name,

Thank you for continuing to join me on this journey!


Dave Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , | 27 Comments

Lewis Powell at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg is among the most well-known of all Civil War battles. While, today, many view it as an important turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg’s original notoriety was derived from the sheer number of soldiers who fought and died there in July of 1863. Over one hundred thousand men from the Union and Confederate armies fought in the foothills of Pennsylvania during the three day battle. Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln would speak at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg to honor the sacrifice of the Union soldiers who were lost during the fight. His speech, known as the Gettysburg Address, is among one of the greatest speeches ever written and it also helps to propel the Battle of Gettysburg in the minds of people today. Many wonderful texts have been written about the actions of the famous Union and Confederate officers who squared off in this pivotal battle. The movements of their units are depicted and recounted on monuments and signs throughout the Gettysburg National Military Park. In the sea of ranks, infantry, and units, it is difficult to adjust one’s view to consider the stories of individual soldiers. To each soldier who fought, Gettysburg was its own unique experience with very few being exactly alike. However, as Walt Whitman so noted, “the real war will never get in the books,” and so many of the stories of the common men and women of the Civil War are unrecorded. However, thanks to the research of author Betty Ownsbey, we do know at least some of the Gettysburg experiences of a 19 year-old private with the 2nd Florida Infantry named Lewis Thornton Powell.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Lewis Powell was a teenager living in Hamilton County, Florida. The Sunshine State seceded from the Union in January of 1861, and shortly thereafter Lewis made up his mind to enlist in the Confederate army. On May 30, 1861, Lewis Powell joined up with the Hamilton Blues which later became a company of the 2nd Florida Infantry. Powell was 17 years old at the time of his enlistment, below the age requirement of 18. To get around this, the tall and muscularly built Powell claimed to be 19 years old.

In a time before widespread identification methods, Powell was apparently taken at his word. It wouldn’t be the last time Powell would lie about his identity.

Powell’s early military career was plagued by visits to base hospitals for different illnesses. Despite this, when his one year term of serviced ended in 1862, Powell chose to re-enlist for the duration of the war and claimed the $50 bounty that was offered for re-enlistment. As part of the 2nd Florida Infantry, Powell saw battle during the Peninsula Campaign and at the Battle of Chancellorsville. In the summer of 1863, the 2nd Florida Infantry became a part of the Army of Northern Virginia and were, therefore, present at the Battle of Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, Powell’s unit was part of Perry’s Brigade, which consisted of the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Florida Infantry combined. While the brigade was named for Brigadier General Edward Perry, a future governor of Florida, Perry had contracted typhoid fever during the Battle of Chancellorsville and was not present in Gettysburg. Instead, Perry’s Brigade was led by Col. David Lang.

Col. David Lang was Lewis Powell’s brigade commander during the battle of Gettysburg.

On July 1st, the first day of battle at Gettysburg, the 700 plus men of Perry’s Brigade did not see battle. They, as part of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s Division, were too far to the rear to engage with the Union. By July 2nd, the Union forces had established a fishhook line around Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill just to the southeast of the city of Gettysburg. During that morning, Anderson’s Division had moved closer to the front and took refuge in a patch of woods running from Seminary Ridge southward. Perry’s Brigade was located just north of the Peach Orchard. At 6:00 pm, Perry’s Brigade advanced forward along with the rest of Anderson’s Division. They attacked Brig. General Andrew Humphreys’ Second Division, forcing the Union to abandon several artillery guns as they retreated. Despite the push and the large number of casualties the Confederate forces inflicted on Humphreys’ Division, they were not able to advance to Cemetery Ridge as planned. The Union Infantry on the slope of the ridge prevented further advancement. Union reinforcements pressed in on their right flank and made the ground Perry’s Brigade had gained untenable. Perry’s Brigade, and the rest of Anderson’s division, were pushed back into the woods that they started from.

After pushing the Confederates back, the Union advanced, “recovered the artillery that had been abandoned and captured many prisoners and held the position during the night.”

One of the prisoners that was captured by the Second Division was a wounded Lewis Powell who had suffered a gunshot wound to his right wrist. While we do not know the exact circumstances surrounding Powell’s wounding, it is safe to say that it occurred after 6:00 pm on July 2nd, as Perry’s Brigade was making either their advance or retreat. He may have fallen on the field and not been found until the next morning, as his records state he was captured on July 3rd. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Powell was now a wounded prisoner of war. After his capture, Powell was sent about 2.5 miles to the southeast to a field hospital that had been established by the Twelfth Corps on the farm of George Bushman.

The brick building which served as the main hospital at Bushman farm still stands today. Powell was one of about 1,200 wounded soldiers brought in for triage style treatment, with the majority of these being Union soldiers not Confederate prisoners of war like himself. Powell is recorded to have been a patient in the the 12th Army Corps Hospital on July 4th. On July 6th, Powell was transferred from the field hospital to the larger makeshift hospital that had been set up on the grounds of Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College). The Confederates had seized Pennsylvania College on the first day of battle and had converted one of the buildings, Pennsylvania Hall (also known as the Edifice), into their own field hospital. When the Confederates were forced to abandon the hospital, the Union took it over.

Penn Hall circa 1878

Penn Hall, 2017

Though Powell arrived at the Penn Hall hospital for his own recovery, before too long he found his position at the hospital expanded from patient to nurse. Even with his arm in a sling, Powell started to provide assistance to the doctors and stewards in their care for other wounded Confederates. During his service at Penn Hall, Powell was described as, “good at the work, and kind to the sick and wounded.” The fact that Powell had been previously laid up in other hospitals during his early military career no doubt helped him in his assumed position.

Lewis Powell is given the title of “nurse” on this register list of Confederates in Gettysburg hospitals.

The number of casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg brought in many more volunteers hoping to provide comfort to the wounded. One of these volunteers was a woman from Baltimore named Maggie Branson. Branson was a Confederate sympathizer and she traveled to Gettysburg specifically to tend to the wounded boys in gray. Branson was 30 years-old and unmarried. Over the course of July and August, Branson and Powell worked side by side in the hospital. At the end of August, the Penn Hall Hospital was shutting down. Powell met with the Provost Marshal who decided it would be a better use of the young Confederate’s abilities to continue his work as a nurse in a hospital rather than languish away in a prisoner of war camp. Powell was transferred away from Gettysburg and arrived at West’s Buildings Hospital in Baltimore on September 2, 1863. After only a few days in Baltimore, Powell was able to facilitate his escape. Though Lewis Powell’s exploits from this date onward would eventually bring him back into the military service of the Confederacy, when he did enlist again he did so under a new, assumed name (for that story click here). For the remainder of the war the muster rolls for the 2nd Florida Infantry would record Pvt. Powell as a prisoner of war.

In time, Lewis Thornton Powell would come into contact with John Wilkes Booth. The meeting between soldier and actor would start a series of choices that would change Powell’s life forever. It led the “kind” nurse of Gettysburg to savagely and ruthlessly stab a helpless man lying in his bed. It transformed Lewis Powell from one of the countless faces in the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, into one of the most infamous criminals in our nation’s history. In his final moments, as the Confederate stared at the rope which would strangle him to death in July of 1865, one wonders if Lewis Powell wished his end had come among the foothills of Pennsylvania in July of 1863 instead.

Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy by Betty J. Ownsbey
Interactive Gettysburg Battle Map featured in A Cutting-Edge Second Look at the Battle of Gettysburg by Anne Kelly Knowles
The Battle of Gettysburg – Stone Sentinels: Perry’s BrigadeAnderson’s DivisionHumphrey’s 2nd Division, 3rd Corps

Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Assassination of Lincoln by Howard Hill

Yesterday, I posted about about Carl Bersch and his painting, Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands on the Fatal Night of April 14, 1865At the time of Lincoln’s assassination, Bersch was living across the street from Ford’s Theatre and made sketches of the chaotic scene after the assassination. He used those sketches to paint this eyewitness image of the event.

Borne by Loving Hands - Carl Bersch

While working on that post I came across another painting that shares the same subject matter. In 1872, artist Howard Hill painted his own version of the wounded President being carried across Tenth Street. His painting is called, Assassination of Lincoln, and it is currently owned by the Albany Institute of History and Art.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Howard Hill was not present in D.C. on the night of Lincoln’s assassination and therefore his painting is not based on eyewitness sketches like Carl Bersch’s painting. Still it is clear that Hill did his research and when composing this piece. Hill’s painting includes the detailed figure of not only the wounded Abraham Lincoln but also shows grief-stricken Mary Todd Lincoln.

Assassination of Lincoln by Howard Hill Mary Todd and Lincoln closeup

They are both followed by the figures of Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, the Lincolns’ guests at Ford’s Theatre that night.

Assassination of Lincoln by Howard Hill Rathbone and Harris closeup

While both Bersch’s painting and Hill’s painting show Lincoln being carried across the street to the Petersen boardinghouse where he would later die, the biggest differences between them are the secondary scenes they contain. In the darker corner of Bersch’s painting (which will hopefully be more visible in the restored painting) there is a small scene of celebration marking the end of the Civil War. In his letter home, Bersch mentions that his first sketches on April 14th captured the parades and jubilation that were occurring below his balcony. Bersch still used these sketches when completing his final painting and combined two these contrasting images, one of celebration and one of sorrow, into the single painting. Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands is not centered  on Lincoln but on the American flag, which continues to fly over everything, good and bad.

Hill’s painting, on the other hand, does seem to center more on the figure of Lincoln and the men carrying him. But our eyes are also drawn to the top right corner of the painting where a different scene is playing out. Hill depicts the horseback figures of David Herold and John Wilkes Booth fleeing from the tragic scene. Booth is riding away when he seems to look back at his handiwork. As he does this a legion of demons reach out to him as he effectively rides into their grasp and into hell.

Assassination of Lincoln by Howard Hill Booth closeup

David Herold follows Booth’s course, but his attention is drawn to a premonition of the gallows that he will face for his crime.

Assassination of Lincoln by Howard Hill Herold closeup

Strangely this gallows shows the execution of five people rather than the four that actually occurred. Perhaps one of the bodies is meant to symbolize Booth’s death as well.

Howard Hill’s Assassination of Lincoln shares a similar theme with Carl Bersch’s Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands but the compositions differ in their focus and details. The inclusion of the celebratory revelers and the focus on the American flag in Bersch’s painting evokes the prospect of hope in our darkest times, while Hill’s visions of doom for the assassins emphasizes the importance of justice. Taken together, these two paintings demonstrate the complex feelings that emerged after Lincoln’s assassination.

Additional facts about the artist, Howard Hill

Howard Hill was born in England in 1830. In 1851, he married his wife, Ann Patmore, in London. Hill always considered himself an artist and normally recorded himself as such on census records. However, to make ends meet, he would also work as a house painter, his father’s trade. In 1858, Hill brought his family over to America. The Hills would live in Yonkers, NY and Hoboken, NJ. Hill originally got a job with Currier and Ives as one of many nameless English artists who created the iconic prints that so captured the spirit of America. He left this job after a short while, likely unhappy with the day to day life as a menial worker. In his own paintings, Hill was very fond of painting birds. His most common images feature ducks and quails in scenic landscapes, but he also enjoyed painting farmyard scenes as well. In 1865, four of Hill’s bird paintings were exhibited at the National Academy of Design, which was a prestigious opportunity. Sadly, true success never found Hill. He continued to paint and sell his paintings to make ends meet. Hill apparently painted Assassination of Lincoln in 1872, which was a subject quite different from most of his work. Whether it was commissioned or a piece Hill completed on his own is unknown. It was owned by an American Legion Post in Albany before it was donated to the Albany Institute of History and Art in 1961. It’s ownership prior to the American Legion Post is unknown. When a financial depression began in 1873, Hill  took to visiting the homes of well to do farmers, offering to paint scenes of their farm and livestock. He also used his six children to help him create an assembly line of painters. Howard and each of his children would each complete a select part of a painting allowing him to effectively mass produce paintings to sell. Though financial difficulties caused Howard to drink more, he was instrumental in teaching all of his children the art of painting. In 1886, Howard lost his wife and artist son within a span of four months. This increased his depression and for the next year he lived the life of a vagrant, moving from boardinghouse to boardinghouse and trying to get painting commissions for money. Howard Hill eventually died on March 6, 1888, likely from a stroke. He was buried in an unmarked grave next to his wife in Yonkers.

Though Howard Hill never achieved fame for his work as a painter, it seems that he did pass on a considerable talent. Howard’s daughter, Mary Ann “Nancy” Hill, learned how to paint from her father and she would pass that love of painting down to her son. That boy, Howard Hill’s grandson, was the great American painter, Norman Rockwell. Though Rockwell never knew his grandfather (Hill died 6 years before Rockwell was born), he still felt his grandfather’s work influenced him. Rockwell was quoted as saying, “I’m sure all the detail in my grandfather’s pictures had something to do with the way I’ve always painted. Right from the beginning I always strived to capture everything I saw as completely as possible.”

Other work by Howard Hill

Albany Institute of History and Art
The biographical information on Howard Hill comes from American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands on the Fatal Night of April 14, 1865

On the evening of April 14, 1865, a 30 year-old German artist by the name of Carl Bersch was enjoying the celebratory mood that permeated the city of Washington. With General Lee’s surrender to General Grant just a few days earlier, the Civil War was effectively over. Washington had just conducted a grand illumination the night before and it seemed people were still celebrating. From his rented room on Tenth street, Bersch observed the festivities and joy that occurred around him:

Carl Bersch's balcony is visible on the right-hand building in this drawing from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly 5/20/1865.

Carl Bersch’s balcony is visible on the right-hand building in this drawing from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly 5/20/1865.

“All Washington was celebrating, delirious with joy. Houses were lighted up and hung with bunting. Parades marched through the streets, waving flags and carrying many transparencies. Women with wide skirts, and wearing large poke bonnets, were about as numerous as men. President Lincoln was known to be at Ford’s Theater, so Tenth street was on the line of march. I observed no rowdyism, just a crowd of jubilant people, crazed with joy. The scene was so unusual and inspiring, that I stepped out upon the balcony in front of my windows, with my easel and sketch papers, determined to make a picture of the whole scene and transfer it to canvas. The very weirdness of the scene— aside from the historic nature of it— appealed to my artistic sense. Quickly, but very accurately, I made detailed drawings. I had more than an hour in which to do this.”

Sadly, however, a tragic act that occurred right across the street from Bersch’s residence would put an end to the jubilant atmosphere.

“Shortly after 10 o’clock a silence fell upon the surging crowd of revelers. The marching line halted. A loud cry came from a window of the theater, ‘President Lincoln has been shot; clear the street,’ soldiers and police attended to that. In the course of 10 or 15 minutes, out of the north door of the theater appeared a group of men, carrying the prostrate form of an injured man on an improvised stretcher. They stopped a few moments at the curb, hastily debating where to take the injured man to give him the best attention most quickly. They observed lights in the house, of William Petersen, my next door neighbor, and a young man, Willie Clark [sic], whom I know very well, standing on the topmost step of the winding stairs, leading to the Petersen house.  Clark [sic] was beckoning to those who had charge, to bring the injured man right in. This was done as quickly as the soldiers could make a pathway through the crowd.”

Bersch makes a mistake here in his letter written right after the assassination. The man who beckoned for the soldiers to bring Abraham Lincoln into the Petersen boarding house was not Willie Clark, but another boarder named Henry Safford. You can read more about Safford and about how Willie Clark was not even present at the Petersen House when Lincoln was there by clicking here.

Bersch goes on and notes how he was in the unique position to document this solemn occasion:

“My balcony being 12 or 14 feet above the sidewalk and street, I had a clear view of the scene, above the heads of the crowd. I recognized the lengthy form of the President by the flickering light of the torches, and one large gas lamp post on the sidewalk. The tarrying at the curb and the slow, careful manner in which he was carried across the street, gave me ample time to make an accurate sketch of that particular scene; make it the center and outstanding part of the large painting I shall make, using the sketches I made earlier in the evening, as an appropriate background. A fitting title for the picture would, I think, be ‘Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands on the Fatal Night of April 14, 1865.’ Altogether It was the most tragic and impressive scene I have ever witnessed. I am already busy with palette and brush and hope to transfer to canvas what may be one of the strangest pictures of all time.”

After finishing this letter to his family, Carl Bersch did complete his painting of Lincoln being carried across the street from Ford’s Theatre. The large format painting was kept by the family for many years. It was not until 1932 that Bersch’s daughter, Carrie Fischer, loaned the painting to the newly created Lincoln Museum inside of Ford’s Theatre. When the museum opened on February 12, 1932, the anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday, Bersch’s painting was publicly displayed for the first time.

Borne by Loving Hands - Carl Bersch

This painting hung in the Lincoln Museum for some time, and the Lincoln Museum even sold a postcard with the painting on it:

Borne by Loving Hands Postcard

It is not known how long Bersch’s painting was on display at Ford’s Theatre the first time. It was a loan and therefore subject to the will of Bersch’s descendants who were still the owners. The ownership of the painting passed from Carrie Fischer to her daughter Gerda Vey, upon Carrie’s death in 1955. Then, when Gerda died in 1977, she willed the painting to the White House. The White House decided against keeping it but transferred it to the National Park Service instead where it ended back up at Ford’s Theatre. It was on display at some time during the 1980’s – 1990’s but, eventually, it was put into storage.

Then came 2015, the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Lincoln. Increased interest in Lincoln’s assassination motivated the National Park Service to conduct restoration on the painting for the first time since 1980. A wonderful article appeared in the Washington Post detailing the efforts to conserve this painting:

HYATTSVILLE, MD - APRIL 8: The National Park Service museum has a painting by an eyewitness of Lincoln being carried from Ford's Theater after being shot, on April, 08, 2015 in Hyattsville, MD. Pictured, from left, Lyndon Novotny, materials handler, Bob Sonderman, Director & regional curator, and Laura Anderson, National Park Service museum curator for the National Mall. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The National Park Service museum has a painting by an eyewitness of Lincoln being carried from Ford’s Theater after being shot, on April, 08, 2015 in Hyattsville, MD. Pictured, from left, Lyndon Novotny, materials handler, Bob Sonderman, Director & regional curator, and Laura Anderson, National Park Service museum curator for the National Mall.
(Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Conserving Borne by Loving Hands WaPo 2015

Over the many years of display the painting had accumulated dirt and grime, darkening the colors and obscuring details. The article from October 2015, spoke of the future hope to put the painting back on display at Ford’s Theatre once the restoration of the piece was done.

It appears that the restoration process has been completed and currently the museum in the Ford’s Theatre basement is being  remodeled to make room for Carl Bersch’s painting. A tweet from Heather Hoagland, the Ford’s Theatre Society’s Exhibitions & Collections Manager, shows the work that is being done to prepare a place for this large, yet meaningful painting:

In the not too distant future, Carl Bersch’s “Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands” will return to the Ford’s Theatre Museum, eighty four years after its initial debut. It is a unique painting from an eyewitness to the events outside of Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865 and deserves to a be a fixture at Ford’s Theatre once again.

Additional facts about the artist, Carl Bersch

Carl Bersch was born on May 3, 1834 (year is disputed) in Zweibrücken, Germany which is located near the border with France. He originally studied theology at the University of Munich before taking up art. He came to America around 1861 and is said to have worked in Matthew Brady’s photography studio. He married his wife, Angelica Bode, in 1865. Together they had one child, Carrie. Bersch worked in Tennessee, Ohio, D.C., and Baltimore. He was a successful portrait artist in Baltimore and also briefly tried his hand at his own photography studio in the early 1880’s. Between artistic commissions he hired himself out as a German tutor. Bersch died on May 1, 1914 at the age of 80 and is buried with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, in Baltimore’s Govans Presbyterian Churchyard.

Other work by Carl Bersch

Graves of the Bersch Family (from

Carl Bersch’s letter quoted in The Washington Star, April 16, 1932
“Lincoln assassination emerges in painting from 150 years of grime” from the Washington Post, October 5, 2015
The biographical material on Bersch comes from his obituary in the Baltimore Sun, May 3, 1914.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln

Julia Ann Wilbur was born in Avon, NY on August 8, 1815. She was brought up in a middle class Quaker household and became a teacher in the Rochester school system. In 1862, at the age of 47, Wilbur was asked by the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society to go south as a relief worker to aid escaped slaves. She relocated to Alexandria, Virginia where she distributed food, clothing, and supplies to the newly free. She also set up schooled, organized orphanages, and solicited for financial support for her projects from the elites in Alexandria and nearby Washington, D.C. In February of 1865, she moved to Washington, D.C. and would live there until her death in 1895. In the post Civil War years, Wilbur would work for the Freedmen’s Bureau before spending more than 30 years as a clerk in the Patent Office.

Source: Haverford College

Julia Ann Wilbur, Source: Haverford College

In addition to her fine work as a relief worker and, later, suffragette, Julia Wilbur was a detailed diarist. She kept journals spanning practically her entire life.  Not only would she keep small daily journals which allowed for a few lines per day, but Wilbur also maintained diaries of her own construction which allowed her the freedom to write as much as she desired for a set day. The originals of her diaries are housed at Haverford College in Haverford, PA, donated there by Wilbur’s great-nephew, a professor at Haverford.

Wilbur’s small daily diaries were initially microfilmed and sent to other institutions after their donation in the 1980’s. However, her larger, self constructed diaries containing far more detail were not “re-discovered” until about 2013. Using funds donated by Alexandria Archaeology and the group, Friends of Alexandria Archaeology, Haverford College scanned and digitized the large format Wilbur diaries from 1860 – 1873. From there, the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology group, headed by Wilbur researcher Paula Whiteacre, transcribed Wilbur’s 1860 – 1866 diaries into a searchable format.

At this past weekend’s Society for Women and the Civil War conference, Ms. Whiteacre presented an excellent history of Ms. Wilbur and the plethora of historical insight that is to be gained from her diaries.  After consulting Julia Wilbur’s diaries for myself, I discovered that Julia Wilbur had many interactions with aspects of Lincoln’s assassination. Two different pieces have been composed utilizing the Wilbur diaries. These piece contains the details of Julia Wilbur’s diaries in which she recounts the news of Lincoln’s assassination and subsequent funeral events in D.C.. A second post recounts her insight on the saga of the Lincoln assassination conspirators.

Witness to History: Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln

The following are excerpts from the diary of Julia Wilbur, detailing the news of Lincoln’s assassination and the memorial events that took place in Washington, D.C. following his death.

Alexandria Reacts to Lincoln’s Death

Though Julia Wilbur had moved to Washington, D.C. in February of 1865, she was not actually in the city on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. She had traveled and spent the night at her old home of Alexandria. Therefore, on the morning of April 15th, Julia Wilbur witnessed how the news of Lincoln’s assassination settled over Alexandria:

“Alexandria VA. Apr. 15 th
93 Cameron St. 10 o clock A.M.

Oh. the bells are giving forth the saddest sound that I ever heard. Tolling, yes, tolling for what seems to us now as the greatest calamity that could have befallen us.

Wilbur Diary Lincoln is DeadPresident Lincoln is dead! Assassinated last night at the theater shot in the head by a person on the stage. The president lingered till 7 this A.M. so all hope is over. And Secretary Seward had his throat cut in bed in his own house, but he was alive at the last despatch. It is said an attempt was made on Sec. Stanton but he escaped. Many rumors are afloat, but the above is certain.

No boat not even a [?] is allowed to leave Alexandria & even Gen. Briggs was not allowed to go on the train this morning. I now regret exceedingly that I did not return to W[ashington, D.C.]. last night, but I remained to see the illumination. But there are precious few Union folks here if the houses of all such were illuminated last night. I never saw a city so dark before not even the lamps were lighted. There were to be fireworks on the cor. of King & Washington, but they were all exploded at once accidentally; & as we walked that way people were gathering in every direction, some were hurt. Hallowell Hosp. & hosp. opposite are illuminated very handsomely, & there was a bonfire in King St. & light appeared from a few dwellings. Many of the houses were entirely closed but through the crevices of others we could see people inside.

I was very, very tired last night. I slept with Mrs. Fish. About 6 o’clock this morning the sad news came to us. I could not believe it. Capt. Gale of Gen. Slough’s staff came from W. in the night. Every soldier is on duty now, & none are to be seen in the city. No persons are allowed to leave the city. It was raining hard but I thought I must go on the 8 o’clock boat, & did not learn till I had nearly reached the wharf that no boats were allowed to leave. I then came to see Mrs. Belding. Found her and Mr. B. at breakfast. Their smiling faces, looked out of place to me. They had not yet heard the bad news. Mr. Baker has been to the Telegraph office and learned that the President died at 7 this morning. I have been so fortunate as to get a paper, & all the particulars that have transpired are given. Mr. Belding has just come in and & says the secesh are being arrested. The military authorities have been very lenient with secesh lately. No passes have been required for a month or more.

Mr. B. says a wood train has just come in on the Orange & Alex. road, & report a large number of rebel cavalry at Burke’s Station. These are probably some of Lee’s men & horses that were given up by Grant or that Grant allowed Lee to retain. Mrs. Belden is not able to go out, I helped Mr. B. fix drapery over the windows. I called at Magnolia House. Mrs. P. & Mr. G. had just procured some black cambrick & were arranging it over the bow window.

…The Soldiers go to every secesh house & make the occupants put something black on the doors or windows. Then went to Dangerfields, & told them to put crape on the door, & after they left it was taken off. The soldiers went back & made them put it on again & told them if they took it off they would pull the house down. Then Dangerfield wrote to Gen. S. to ask to be excused from doing this, but the Gen. sent a piece of black cloth to him & said it must be put over the door. It would have been better if the soldiers had waited till all the Union folks had draped their houses, & then obliged the secesh to do the same, but they could not wait for orders. The soldiers have shot 2 or 3 men today expressing joy that Lincoln is dead.—The Mayor, Mr. Ware said to Mrs. Dogan today that “Lincoln died serving the devil”. This reached Gen. S. & he had an interview with Ware & there were some sharp words.

Evening. Sec. Seward is comfortable, & may recover, his son Frederick is in a very critical condition, his son Clarence has only flesh wounds & is able to be about the house. There is a report that Boothe has been taken; that his horse threw him on 7th st. & he was taken into a house.— There is no doubt that it was intended to murder the President, the Vice Pres. all the members of the cabinet and Gen. Grant. & that the managers of the theater knew of it.”

“Alexandria. Sunday Apr. 16.

Very bright. windy. Slept with Mrs. Fish & took breakfast with her this morning. Then I went to call on Aunt Lucinda. She was the picture of sorrow. She said she was all tore up, could’nt work, could’nt do any thing. She would put black on her house if it “took the last cent in her pocket.” I went around among the houses of the colored people. It was a touching sight to see a piece of black cloth on every cabin, shanty & shed. On some a simple bit of woolen or cotton, but the best they had. A young man spoke to me & the tears came into his eyes & said he, “I would rather have been shot myself than to have had our President killed. I would rather lose all my relations, I would rather lose my mother than to have him killed who sustained the country.” I am not ashamed to say that I wept with him. The colored people feel it so deeply. Every face is sad. They realize that they have lost a friend. They are in the habit of calling him Uncle Sam, & they now speak of “Uncle Sam’s being killed,” of Uncle Sam’s being shot by secesh.”— I think every dwelling house in the city has more or less black upon it. I called on Mrs. Dogan & she repeated to me what the Mayor said. She is so indignant.— I went with Louisa J. to Grace Ch. Hos. & to L’Ouverture. They all feel so deeply. They cannot express their feelings any more than we can. We all feel that we have lost; personally have lost a friend. There is no consolation to offer. We all suffer alike.”

Washington Reacts to Lincoln’s Death

On the afternoon of April 16th, Ms. Wilbur was allowed to catch a train into D.C. She compares how the reaction of Lincoln’s death was different between the two cities:

“How differently W. looks from Alex. only part of the houses are draped. People are going to & fro. talking & laughing. The air seems full of treason.

… One house on the Avenue was illuminated as soon as the President was shot, Officers went to the house but as the occupants were only women they were not arrested. Too bad. They should not have stopped to think whether they were men or women. Numbers have been heard to say that they are glad, that Lincoln ought to have been shot years ago. & they have not been arrested either. They would’nt stand much chance in Alex.”

“Monday, Apr. 17th, 1865,

… The houses in Georgetown are very generally hung with black. All the cabins & shanties of the colored people are. It was a nice ride, & it is refreshing to see green fields. & flowers, & trees beginning to look green. We brought home violets, houstonia & azalias. F. & I took walk on Avenue as far as President’s House. The pillars are covered with black, Mounted guards at the street gates allow no one to enter the grounds. — It looks like a sepulcher

Before this black never meant anything to me. I believe in it on this occasion. We passed Seward’s House. A guard is placed all around it. & on the walk we were not allowed to go between the guard & the house.

Wilbur diary Seward not told of Lincoln's death

He was not told of the President’s death until yesterday. He seems to be improving. No news in particular. No trace of the murderers…”

Viewing Lincoln’s Body in the White House

Julia Wilbur was one of the individuals who viewed Abraham Lincoln’s body as it lay in state in the White House:

“Tuesday, Apr. 18, 11 A.M.

We have taken a last look at the mortal remains of Abraham Lincoln.

The public will be admitted to day from half past 9 till 5 P.M.— Frances & I went shortly after 9. People were already waiting at the gates, & a line of 2 abreast was formed on the walk in front of the House & were to enter by the western gate. We were told that unless we fell into line we wd. not be likely to go in at all. So we placed our selves in the rear of several hundred people & waited for the time. This arrangement is very proper, for all is orderly & quiet & all; black & white have an equal chance. At 40 min. after 10 the gate was opened, Officers are placed all along the line. There are no black hangings until we reach the E. Room. We passed through the ante room, the hall & the Green room.

The windows of the East Room are draped with black berege[?]. The frames of the mirrors are draped with the same & the mirrors are covered with white berege, & all the gilding is shrouded in black. Chandelier also.

The catafalco is in the center of the room. It is 11 ft. high. 16 ft. deep & 10 ft. wide. The height of the base or step around the platform is 8 inches. The step is one foot in width, 2 ft. 6 in. higher is the surface upon which is placed the coffin, over this is a curved Canopy. The inside is lined with white satin fluted. The top is covered with the finest alpaca & festooned. The surface of the dais is covered with black broad cloth, bordered with heavy silk fringe. The Coffin is mahogany lined with lead & covered with black broad cloth, festooned & fastened with silver tacks, the edge has silver braid & tassels, each side has 4 massive handles & at the head & foot there are stars.

On the top is a row of silver tacks on each side. A silver plate encircled by a shield. The inside of the face lid is raised with white satin & trimmed with black & white braid & fastened in each corner with 4 silver stars. The rest of the Coffin is lined with box plaited satin. The pillow is of fine white silk.

The embalmed body is dressed in a full suit of black.

Wilbur diary Lincoln's face

His face is very white, but wears a natural expression. on the platform & surrounding the entire Coffin is a wreath of white flowers & evergreens.

We walked slowly through the room but were not allowed to stop a moment. If I cd. have stopped one minute! But the scene is one never to be forgotten although so hastily viewed.

The remains will be taken to the Capitol tomorrow. & remain there until the next morning. They are to be removed to Illinois.

When we came out on to the sidewalk the line of people extended to the corner near the State Dept. Colored people were mixed all the way through. & I heard nothing said that was out of place, all wore an air of seriousness. & no loud words were heard.

12 o’clock, Miss Moore has just come in. She succeeded in seeing the President, but was almost crushed in doing so. The pressure was immense. The Navy Yard Employees came in a body (about 2000) & they were allowed to go in. & the line of people on the side walk had to wait. There was some expressions of dissatisfaction. & some disturbance. They say the line now extends below the Treasury building.

Frances & I were fortunate in going as early as we did. There was no crowd & no pressure.

…Mr. Seward is no worse & Mr. F. Seward is improving

8 P.M. — warm. Went to Miss Flagler’s to dinner, & then walked down the Avenue to see the crowd at the gate waiting to go in & see the President. The Illinois delegation was pressing in & then the gate was shut, leaving on the outside one of the most democratic assemblages that I ever saw. There were not less than a half doz. Brig. Generals; & Majors, Colonels & Lieut. Cols. in abundance, & ladies with them all waiting for admittance. Some of these pushed through to the gate. Gen. Rawlins Chief of Gen. Grant’s staff was one of them. Some of them made two attempts & then gave it up. Oh, such tired looking people as stood in that column. but the gate was not opened again & the people began to disperse before I left. They looked so disappointed that I felt sorry for them. While standing there I saw a person pass who fixed my attention. I asked a soldier who it was. He said “Gen. Grant.” He walked leisurely on talking with a gentleman who accompanied him. I stepped along & walked by the side of Gen. Grant for several rods, but few persons on the side walk there. & I scrutinized him closely. He is only of medium size hair, beard & complexion all of the same color.

Wilbur diary describing Grant

An inferior looking person for a Lieut. Gen. of the U.S. armies! His hat was the worse for wear. & his entire dress had a dingy look. His shoulderstraps were much tarnished. & his 3 stars were not of the first magnitude as to brilliancy by any means. I am much gratified to have seen him. I did not expect to have such good luck.

…Dr. P. says he never saw such a pressure before. Women fainted, children screamed, & there was some rough talk & some abuse of cold . people, but not by the officers. Brigadiers & niggadears were all served alike. & this was worth seeing too.”

The Funeral Procession to the Capitol

Julia Wilbur witnessed and funeral procession for President Lincoln as his remains were taken to the Capitol:

“Washington D.C. 207 I Street.
Wednesday Apr. 19, 1865

A day to be remembered.
On the 19 of Apr. was shed the first blood in the Revolution.
On the 19th. of Apr. was shed the first blood in the Rebellion.
On the 19th. of April the remains of Abraham Lincoln were taken from the White House to the Capitol, to be removed thence to Springfield Illinois.

The funeral obsequies were the most remarkable that have ever occurred in this country It seemed a National tribute to departed worth. The procession was immense. & Penn. Av. from the War Dept. to the Capitol was occupied from curbstone to curbstone by the Military, &c. while the sidewalks were filled with spectators, also the windows & roofs of buildings.

… About 10 A.M. I went out with Mrs. F. around a few squares & by the White house, The various legations have displayed the flags of different nations. I have seen from the houses of the Ambassadors the Austrian, Brazilian, Spanish, Chilian, Russian, French, &c.

Upon the whole length of the Stone coping of the iron fence in front of the President’s house & war Dept. people were seated & all of 3/4 were Colored. It was a touching sight. As far as they could they had encircled the dwelling in which lay the remains of their murdered friend & such numbers of mournful faces I never saw before. Each one had done his or her best to make a respectable appearance.

When Frances got ready about 12 M. we went out.

Wilbur diary Wanted posters

(all about are posted notices, “$20,000 reward for the apprehension of the Murderer of the President.”)

We made our way to the bend in the St. just below the Treasury. where we could see the Avenue all the way to the Capitol. I obtained a seat on the curbstone & F. was just behind me. The sun shone very hot but otherwise it was as good a place as we could get.—The procession moved at 2 & was 1 ¾ hours in passing.

I have no heart to write any more to night. I feel crushed with a great misfortune. & this seems to be a general feeling. I have not seen a drunken person to day nor heard one unfriendly remark about the President.”

Viewing Lincoln’s Body in the Capitol

Ms. Wilbur once again viewed Lincoln’s remains, this time as he lay in state at the Capitol:

“207 I st. Apr. 20. 1865.

At half past 8 Mrs. Fish & I started for the Capitol. When we reached the east side a long column had already formed & we took our places in the rear but this was only for a moment. The Column lengthened rapidly & by the time we reached the steps, the rear of the Column extended to near the place where the Metro cars stop.

There were a large number of colored soldiers, artillerists, in the Column.

The pillars & the dome are draped & the Rotunda also. The large pictures are all covered with black, & the statues are shrouded in crape, except that of Washington who has simply a black scarf on it. There is no canopy over the platform on which the coffin is placed. The camellias are wilted, & it now seems like death.

We were not allowed to pause a moment but I observed all that I could in passing through.

Wilbur diary viewing Lincoln

He lies in solemn silence & thousands of sincere mourners will take a last look at the features of Abraham Lincoln today.

Several officers, a guard of honor I suppose, are seated near the coffin, & numerous guards are stationed all about. A great man has gone from us. & a nation feels the loss.

I purchased several pictures of the President, also Seward’s. Then went to Mrs. Coleman’s. She called at Mrs. Slade’s with me. Mrs. Slade is employed at the White House. & knows a good deal of its inner life. Mrs. Slade & Mrs. Keckley have been with Mrs. Lincoln nearly all the time since the murder, not as servants but as friends. Both colored women; & Mrs. Lincoln said she chose them because her husband was appreciated by the colored race; they (the colored people) understood him, Miss Josephine Slade gave me a piece of a white rosette worn by one of the pallbearers.

Since 10 o clock it has rained. How uncomfortable it will be for the people at the Capitol who are waiting to go in.

…It is now after 4 & I cannot set myself to work. I feel that a great calamity has befallen us, me, which has unfitted me for ordinary occupations.


I have read an account of the transactions of yesterday in the Chronicle, “No monarch ever had such a funeral, It was not so elaborate or ornate as the pageant of Henry VIII. of Eng. or the return of Napoleon to France, but it was the proudest tribute ever paid to the memory of an American President. The suddenness & manner of his death intensified the National sorrow & called forth a burst of popular gratitude without parallel. It was a lovely day, The air was filled with perfumes & harmonies of spring. Crowds had come from all the States. The Govt . was typified in Andrew Johnson, The Army represented by Grant & his staff, the Navy by Farragut & his sea-lions, the Judiciary by Chase & his associates; the Cabinet, the Congress, the Deptmts, the freedmen, the released prisoners, the penitent rebels (?), the Clergy, the professions, the People, the base of the mighty Pyramid.” The colored societies appeared remarkably well, & a Colored regiment from the front reached 7th. St. at 2 o ’clock, wheeled into the avenue & headed the procession from thence to the Capitol. Eminently fit & proper as this was, the papers make no mention of it.”

Missing the Train

Julia Wilbur had hoped to be present when Lincoln’s funeral train departed D.C. for its long journey to Springfield, but did not make it there in time:

“Friday, Apr. 21st 1865,

This morning Frances & I went to the Depot, but the funeral train had left a few minutes before we got there.”

Julia Wilbur would continue to occasionally mention, small tidbits surrounding the national mourning for Lincoln. She would visit Philadelphia in late April and discuss the buildings in mourning there. She documented Lincoln’s arrival in his home state of Illinois based on the newspapers’ reporting the event. However, the bulk of Ms. Wilbur’s firsthand experiences in mourning Lincoln had passed when Lincoln’s body left D.C..

Julia Wilbur’s interactions with the assassination conspirators, however, had only just begun. Click to read about Julia Wilbur and the Saga of the Assassination Conspirators.

Paula Whitacre
Transcriptions of Julia Wilbur’s Diaries from Alexandria Archaeology
Digitized pages of Julia Wilbur’s Diaries from Haverford College

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Take an Assassination Vacation!

With summer in full swing, now is the time to get out there and take a vacation. Whether it be a lengthy week long trip to a city or shore far distant, or a day’s drive to a “not so nearby” locale, there’s nothing like the thrill of going somewhere new. For the historically minded, vacations often involve adventures such as visiting a museum, rediscovering a National Park, or just taking a selfie with a historical marker off the highway. No matter what form they may take, vacations allow us to make our own marks and memories in places outside our everyday lives.

I’ve long said that the story of Lincoln’s assassination is told all over this nation. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of nowhere when suddenly I find a reference to the assassination staring me right in the face. The impact of Lincoln’s death and the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth reached around the globe. Over the last week, I have been working diligently to update the Maps section of this website in order to demonstrate how far reaching it truly is. The result has been the creation of five new maps, four which cover the entirety of the United States and a fifth map representing the rest of the world. All of these maps provide the locations, a brief description and the exact GPS coordinates of different sites related in some way to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln Assassination Maps

The maps are still in the beginning stages. The 225 locations currently marked are little more than a drop in the bucket of the potential sites worldwide. Everyday, however, new sites pop into my head and I diligently research to determine their exact GPS coordinates. I’ve analyzed Civil War era maps to determine their modern counterparts, struggled with foreign languages in order to find international sites, and I have even spent hours staring at aerial pictures of cemeteries trying to determine the exact locations of specific graves. It is very slow work, but by pinpointing these sites with GPS coordinates, we can ensure that they will never be lost. The buildings and terrain around them may change but, with GPS, where they once stood can always be found.

With this in mind, I encourage you all to check out the newly updated Maps section of BoothieBarn. See if there’s something “not so nearby” that you might want to drive and see. Better yet, if you are already planning a trip somewhere, take a look and see if you’ll be passing by something assassination related. I mean what kid wouldn’t love to make a detour on their way to Disney World in order to visit a cemetery in Geneva, Florida? “Forget Cinderella’s Castle, Mommy. What I really want to see is the grave of Lewis Powell’s skull!”

So check out the Maps section here on BoothieBarn by clicking the image above. Then get out there and have yourself an assassination vacation!

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“President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” at the Newseum

Located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street in northwest D.C., the Newseum is an impressive institution devoted to the evolution of news reporting and the importance of free press in a society. The seven floor museum contains impressive permanent exhibits relating to some of the most news worthy events in American and world history. There are also many galleries in the museum which house an array of different temporary exhibits. When I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time in 2009, I made sure to tour the Newseum due to the fact that they were displaying a temporary exhibition based around James Swanson’s book, Manhunt. One of my very first posts on this site recounted that wonderful exhibit.

Since that time (and my subsequent move to Maryland), I have made many visits to the Newseum.  Their exhibits are fascinating and it is a wonderful place to bring guests from out of town.  As you might expect, there are several permanent items on display at the Newseum related to Lincoln’s assassination that I see each time I am there.  One permanent, 80 foot long display on the top terrace overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue and recounts the history of Washington’s most famous street.

Newseum Terrace

The display also points out that the site currently occupied by the Newseum was once the home to the National Hotel, the preferred hotel of John Wilkes Booth when he was in Washington.

The Newseum collection also contains different newspapers, both physical and digital, that cover the assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

However for this year, the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Newseum has created a very special exhibition:

New York Herald Exhibit Newseum

President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” is a detailed look at how one of the most widely read newspapers in the country covered the events of April 14, 1865.  Over a period of 18 hours following the shot at Ford’s Theatre, the New York Herald would publish an unprecedented seven special editions, each with new information regarding the President and Secretary of State’s conditions and the subsequent search for their assassins.  The Newseum may very well be the only institution in the world that contains copies of each of the seven editions of the New York Herald from that tumultuous time.

Coverage Chronologically

Seven Issues of New York Herald Newseum

The current exhibit at the Newseum contains an original of each of these editions paired with large wall displays that highlight the differences and additions between them.

2:00 AM edition:

NYH 2 am edition Newseum

3:00 AM edition:

NYH 3 am edition Newseum

8:45 AM edition:

NYH 8 am edition Newseum

10:00 AM edition:

NYH 10 am Uncovering the Plot edition Newseum

10:00 AM “Reward” edition:

NYH 10 am Reward edition Newseum

2:00 PM edition:

NYH 2 pm edition Newseum

3:30 PM edition:

NYH 3 pm edition Newseum

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Floor to Ceiling Coverage

While the “President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” exhibit is only contained in one small room of the Newseum, there is no wasted space.  Even the floor and ceiling contain displays.  On the floor is a map of Civil War Washington with labelled sites relating to the assassination:

Floor map Newseum

Meanwhile the ceiling is festooned with wonderful banners (several of which I wish I could own myself) relating to the assassination:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The Stories Behind the Story

The displays not only provide commentary on the evolving story of how the country came to learn the details of Lincoln’s assassination, but they also introduce us to the people involved in reporting the news.  One of my favorite stories is that of Associated Press reporter, Lawrence Gobright who was responsible for the very first telegraphic dispatch covering Lincoln’s assassination:

First dispatch Newseum

In 1869, Gobright would recollect his actions that night:

“On the night of the 14th of April, I was sitting in my office alone, everything quiet : and having filed, as I thought, my last despatch, I picked up an afternoon paper, to see what especial news it contained. While looking over its columns, a hasty step was heard at the entrance of the door, and a gentleman addressed me, in a hurried and excited manner, informing me that the President had been assassinated, and telling me to come with him! I at first could scarcely believe the intelligence. But I obeyed the summons. He had been to the theatre with a lady, and directly after the tragedy at that place, had brought out the lady, placed her at his side in his carriage, and driven directly to me. I then first went to the telegraph office, sent a short ” special,” and promised soon to give the particulars. Taking a seat in the hack, we drove back to the theatre and alighted; the gentleman giving directions to the driver to convey the lady to her home.

The gentleman and myself procured an entrance to the theatre, where we found everybody in great excitement. The wounded President had been removed to the house of Mr. Peterson [sic], who lived nearly opposite to the theatre. When we reached the box, we saw the chair in which the President sat at the time of the assassination; and, although the gas had for the greater part been turned off, we discovered blood upon it…

Lawrence Gobright

Lawrence Gobright

My friend having been present during the performance, and being a valuable source of news, I held him firmly by the arm, for fear that I might lose him in the crowd. After gathering all the points we could, we came out of the theatre, when we heard that Secretary Seward had also been assassinated. I recollect replying that this rumor probably was an echo from the theatre; but wishing to be satisfied as to its truth or falsity, I called a hack, and my companion and myself drove to the Secretary’s residence. We found a guard at the door, but had little trouble in entering the house. Some of the neighbors were there, but they were so much excited that they could not tell an intelligent story, and the colored boy, by whom Paine was met when he insisted on going up to the Secretary’s room, was scarcely able to talk. We did all we could to get at the truth of the story, and when we left the premises, had confused ideas of the events of the night. Next we went to the President’s house. A military guard was at the door. It was then, for the first time, we learned that the President had not been brought home. Vague rumors were in circulation that attempts had been made on the lives of Vice-President Johnson and others, but they could not be traced to a reliable source. We returned to Mr. Peterson’s house, but were not permitted to make our way through the military guard to inquire into the condition of the President. Nor at that time was it certainly known who was the assassin of President Lincoln. Some few persons said he resembled Booth, while others appeared to be confident as to the identity.

Returning to the office, I commenced writing a full account of that night’s dread occurrences. While thus engaged, several gentlemen who had been at the theatre came in, and, by questioning them, I obtained additional particulars. Among my visitors was Speaker Colfax, and as he was going to see Mr. Lincoln, I asked him to give me a paragraph on that interesting branch of the subject. At a subsequent hour, he did so. Meanwhile I carefully wrote my despatch, though with trembling and nervous fingers, and, under all the exciting circumstances, I was afterward surprised that I had succeeded in approximating so closely to all the facts in those dark transactions…”

In addition to his quick reporting and continual dispatches throughout the night, Gobright also holds a place in history due to his brief custodianship over the derringer that was used to kill Abraham Lincoln.

Edwin Pitts holding the Derringer 1

After shooting Lincoln with the single shot pistol, John Wilkes Booth immediately dropped the gun onto the floor of the theater box. Somehow it went unnoticed during the chaos that ensued in the small box as physicians entered to care for the mortally wounded president. One of the men who had entered the box along with the physicians was a man named William Kent. Kent would later claim it was his penknife that was used to cut the collar from around Lincoln’s neck. After departing the theater that night, Kent discovered he had lost his keys and so returned to the theater and gained entry into the now empty box. He was searching for his keys when his foot struck something. Lawrence Gobright had also just arrived in the box to report on the scene of the crime:

“A man [Kent] standing by picked up Booth’s pistol from the floor, when I exclaimed to the crowd below that the weapon had been found and placed in my possession. An officer of the navy — whose name I do not now remember — demanded that I should give it to him ; but this I refused to do, preferring to make Major Richards, the head of the police, the custodian of the weapon, which I did soon after my announcement.”

As stated, Gobright did turn the derringer over to the Metropolitan Police and William Kent identified it on April 15th:

William Kent statement

Don’t Believe Everything you Read in the Newspapers

The New York Herald exhibit at the Newseum also demonstrates how the newspapers covering Lincoln’s assassination made the same mistake as some modern journalists by printing unreliable or unsubstantiated claims in hopes of being the first to provide their audience with an exclusive.

Booth in custody Newseum

Rumors and speculation would fill every mouth, diary, and newspaper for the next twelve days as the entire country searched for John Wilkes Booth.

In addition to misinformation that was printed in a rush, the New York Herald exhibit at the Newseum also brings attention to later instances that have caused unintended deception.  The New York Herald’s coverage of Lincoln’s assassination was so wide spread that even many years later, the paper was still very well connected to the event in the minds of the public.  Many advertisers attempted to benefit from this connection by creating their own, custom reprints of editions of the New York Herald.  On the face of it, the reprints appeared genuine though some, like the one below, included engravings that were never in the originals.  No matter how real they looked however, hidden either in the text of the front page or within the interior pages were advertisements for the latest miracle tonic, liniment, or some other product.

Fake NYH Newseum

This type of “historical advertising” was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.  People were more likely to hold on to the advertisement if it had something compelling on it.  Another example of this type of advertising is this reproduction CDV of John Wilkes Booth’s escape on a bag for dysentery syrup:

John Wilkes Booth Dysentery Syrup

While the newspapers were well known to be advertisements in their day, as time has passed reproductions like the one above have fooled many unknowing treasure seekers into thinking they have a genuine (and pricey) piece of American history. Most of the time, however, a careful read through (especially of the interior pages which are usually just full page ads for the product) will reveal it is a reproduction.  You can see a small sampling of some of the many advertising reproductions of the assassination editions of the New York Herald here.

Plan Your Visit

I highly recommend a visit to the “President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” exhibit at the Newseum.  It is located on the 4th floor of the museum which is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  Tickets to the Newseum cost $23 for adults and allow you to return the next day for free.  While this price may seem a bit expensive compared to the federally funded museums in D.C. that offer free admission, the Newseum has many wonderful galleries and exhibits that make the price more than worth it.  This special New York Herald exhibit only runs until January 10, 2016 so be sure to visit the Newseum before it is gone.

President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination at the Newseum
Recollection of men and things at Washington during the third of a century by Lawrence Gobright (1869)
National Archives
Library of Congress

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