Posts Tagged With: Rathbone

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

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John Wilkes Booth in the Woods: Parts 1 – 3

For about four and a half days between April 16 – April 21, 1865, John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice, David E. Herold, hid from federal troops in the southern Maryland woods.  Near the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, I undertook a project to reenact, as accurately as possible, this often forgotten part of the assassin’s escape route. My hope was to gain a better understanding of Booth’s conditions and the impact those days in the woods had on his state of mind.  The follow videos are parts of a series I’m calling “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” which documents my endeavor.

I’m very pleased to present the first three parts of the “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” project for your viewing pleasure:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:


As editing of the footage continues, new parts will be uploaded and released here on BoothieBarn.  Stay tuned for much, much more!

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Alonzo Chappel’s The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln

After being fatally shot at Ford’s Theatre, the unconscious body of our 16th President was carefully carried across the street to the home of William Petersen.  He was brought into the bedroom of boarder William Clark, who was out of town for the night, and laid diagonally across the bed.  It would be in this room that Abraham Lincoln would pass away at 7:22 am the next morning.  During the almost nine hours that Lincoln spent in the Petersen boardinghouse, dozens of Washington’s elite made an appearance at his death chamber to pay their last respects.

Room In Which Lincoln Died

 Those who have visited the restored Petersen House across from Ford’s know that the room the President died in is small.  It measures 9′ 11″ wide by 17′ 11″ long.  Despite its small size, the room in which Lincoln died has gained the moniker of the “Rubber Room”.  This is due to the way in which the small room stretched to unrecognizable proportions in the various engravings, lithographs, and prints that were made following Lincoln’s death.  There’s a wonderful chapter in the edited book, The Lincoln Assassination: Crime & Punishment, Myth & Memory by Lincoln authors Harold Holzer and Frank Williams that explores the “Rubber Room” phenomenon in detail.  In summation, the various artists of deathbed illustrations were forced to make the room appear larger and larger in order to cram more and more dignitaries  into one, defining scene.  Here are just a few depictions of how the small bedroom photographed above became a massive hall for the mourners.

Death of Abraham Lincoln Kellogg

Death bed of Lincoiln Brett

Death of Lincoln Ritchie

As fancifully large as these depictions are, they all pale in comparison with the magnitude of a painting by Alonzo Chappel.  His piece was a collaboration with another man by the name of John B. Bachelder, who served as the massive painting’s designer.  Entitled, The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln, Chappel and Bachelder wanted to depict all of the notable people who visited Lincoln that night at the same time and, in doing so, stretched the rubber room into unparalleled proportions:

The Last House of Abraham Lincoln by Alonzo Chappel (Click to enlarge)

The Last House of Abraham Lincoln by Alonzo Chappel (Click to see an enlarged view)

In all, the painting contains the images of 47 people in the back bedroom of the Petersen House.  The room has grown so much to accommodate all of these souls, that the walls started duplicating themselves.  It appears that the known lithograph that hung in the room “The Village Blacksmith” gave birth to a smaller, mirrored version of itself as the walls stretched out:

The Village Blacksmith & son Chappel

Just for fun, let’s say that all of the individuals pictured in Chappel’s painting were present in Lincoln’s death room at the same time.  Using modern measurements, William Clark’s room has an area of 177 square feet.  We’ll subtract 20 square feet for the bed on which Lincoln died since that is the only piece of furniture that we know had to remain in the room.  That leaves us with 157 square feet.  We’ll divide that by the 46 visitors in Chappel’s painting (we’re not including Lincoln since he was laying on the bed).  That gives everyone in the room a cozy 3.4 square feet all to themselves.  To give you some perspective, in a well ventilated, outdoor setting like a crowded rock concert, the accepted bare minimum amount of space per person is 7 square feet. For many interior settings the common rule of thumb is at least 9 square feet per person.  If everyone in this painting tried to get into William Clark’s room at the same time, they would be literally crammed together like sardines in a can.   What’s more, this imaginary calculation does not include the other furniture in the room, the large amount of space that the women’s hoop skirts would require, and the measurements by Osborn Oldroyd which, if correct, would lower the room’s original square footage from 177 sq. ft. to 161.5 sq. ft.

Despite the laughable morphing power of the small bedroom, Chappel’s painting was considered one of the best depictions of the death chamber of Abraham Lincoln.  The details for each person were exquisitely done and so life like.  Of course, there was a very good reason why Chappel was able to paint such realistic versions of the many people who visited Lincoln that night.  The designer of the piece, John Bachelder, had convinced many of the people in the painting to sit for photographs in the poses that Chappel wanted to paint.  Notable figures like Andrew Johnson, Edwin Stanton and even Robert Todd Lincoln posed in Mathew Brady’s studio in ways that the painting would later recreate.

Robert Todd Lincoln Alonzo Chappel

In addition to the cabinet members and politicians who posed for Bachelder and Chappel, there were also two individuals whose presence at the Petersen House was never questioned but, for some reason, they did not appear in other depictions of the President’s death.  These two neglected people were Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s guests for the evening, Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris.

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (composite by the author)

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (composite by the author)

Both Henry and Clara posed for their own photographs and were worked into the painting.  Clara is given a degree of prominence in the painting standing just behind the grieving Robert Todd Lincoln:

Clara Harris in Chappel's Last Hours

Henry, on the other hand, is removed from the chair he posed in and is literally sidelined to the far left of the painting.  He is almost obscured by the dark edge and frame, perhaps an ironic foreshadowing of the darkness that would later compel him to murder Clara and try to take his own life.

Major Rathbone in Chappel's Last Hours

Alonzo Chappel’s work, The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln, is a work of contradiction.  The painting simultaneously contains the most detailed and accurate depictions of the individuals who visited the dying President while also demonstrating extreme hyperbole and imprecision with the seemingly ever expanding walls of William Clark’s bedroom.  It’s a beautiful yet unbelievable painting and it exemplifies the “Rubber Room” phenomenon in a truly unsurpassed way.

Civil War Art Entry for The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln
Library of Congress print of The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln (slight differences)
Looking For Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon by the Kunhardts
The Lincoln Assassination: Crime & Punishment, Myth & Memory edited by Harold Holzer, Craig Symonds, and Frank Williams

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The Rathbones – Lost and Found

One of the most tragic stories connected to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is that of the Rathbones.  As guests of the Lincoln’s that fateful night, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, had front row seats to the crime of the century.  The aftermath of that encounter shaped the pair and ultimately culminated in Henry Rathbone’s mental break and subsequent murder of Clara while living abroad  in Germany.

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (composite by the author)

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (composite by the author)

After Clara was buried, Henry lived out the rest of his days in a German insane asylum before he, too, joined her in the ground.  The story held that, after a lack of attention and payment to the cemetery for upkeep, the graves of Henry and Clara Rathbone were dug up and the bodies were disposed of to free the plot up for new burials.  However, recent work by researcher Eva Elisabeth Lennartz of Germany has found some exciting new information about the fate of the Rathbones’ remains.

The information was first shared on Roger Norton’s impeccable Lincoln Discussion Symposium.  Please visit both of the following links below to learn more about the Rathbones in Germany:

Major Rathbone’s accommodation in Hannover – Lincoln Discussion Symposium

Rathbone Uncovered – Lincoln Discussion Symposium

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Thoughts From Major Rathbone

When Booth’s dark deed was committed at Ford’s, no one had a closer seat to the action than the occupants of the theatre box. Mary Todd Lincoln, Clara Harris, and her fiancée and stepbrother Major Henry Rathbone, had the horror of watching the scene play out within arm’s length. Shortly after the crime, Henry Rathbone gave a lengthy and detailed statement recalling the events as he remembered them. Rathbone’s account (which can be read here) provides a wonderful description of the scene of the crime and his activities after the shot was fired. While a re-reading of Rathbone’s account doesn’t provide any ground breaking new claims, it does contain a few details worthy of address and consideration. This post will discuss two minor details set forth by Rathbone in his testimony.

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (composite by the author)

After Booth shot Lincoln, Major Rathbone, alarmed by the report of a pistol and cloud of powder in the box, raised himself and attempted to subdue the assailant. During the struggle Booth thrust at Rathbone with his knife, which Rathbone parried upwards. In the course of this parry, Rathbone received a deep cut on his left arm between his elbow and his shoulder. It was a painful blow that knocked Rathbone back a bit. At this moment, free from grappling with Rathbone, Booth moved to the front of the theatre box, and leapt over it.

Many witnesses at the time said that Booth’s jump from the box was a noticeably ungraceful one. One eye witness account stated that, “He did not strike the stage fairly on his feet, but appeared to stumble slightly.” Immediately following the events, several others described similar stumbles Booth made upon reaching the stage.

A quite ungraceful engraving of Booth’s jump from the box

Granted, the distance he leapt was twelve feet off the ground and it can be a hard landing for any man to make properly. In his act of jumping, Booth disturbed the flags decorating the box. This, of course, makes perfect sense. The flags decorating the box were merely attached to the outside and weren’t expected to be moved during the President’s attendance. Instead of jumping straight from inside the box down to the stage in a hurdler’s motion, Booth likely leapt over the railing of the box, paused briefly on the small ledge on the other side, and then jumped down. This small ledge is where many flags were resting and draped about. A witness at Ford’s described that, during the jump, Booth, “partially t[ore] down the flag”.

Photograph of the box shortly a day or two after the assassination. Notice the partially pulled down flags.

Another witness had a similar account about his riding spur getting caught up in the decorations, causing his awkward fall. The American mythos of the assassination states that, while jumping, Booth was tangled in an American flag causing him to land poorly onto the stage and breaking his leg. In his diary, the vain Booth, probably attempting to save face for his less than perfect “performance”, claimed that in jumping from the box he broke his leg. Most Boothies accept this as fact while also entertaining the idea set forth by author Michael Kauffman that Booth broke his leg later that night, when his horse fell on him during the rough ride south. With it being impossible to prove one theory over another, historians just pick the idea they like better and concede that differences of opinion exist on the matter.

What is not really debated is that Booth fell uneasily upon the stage, making one of his worst entrances ever. While the flags generally receive the attention for causing Booth’s missteps, Rathbone’s account provides another possible reason:

“The man rushed to front of the box and [I] endeavored to seize him again but only caught his clothes as he was leaping… The clothes, as [I] believe, were torn in this attempt to seize him.”

While Rathbone gets credit for struggling with Booth and sacrificing his own arm attempting to subdue him, is it possible that Rathbone was also the reason Booth landed so hard upon the stage? As Booth was making his jump, could the grasp of Major Rathbone on his clothes have thrown the actor’s balance off and caused his clumsy landing? Further, if this is indeed when Booth broke his leg, effectively slowing down his escape, could it be Rathbone and not the flags, that deserve the credit? These questions and the overall scenario produced by them are merely items to contemplate and I make no claims of them being in anyway definitive.

A second item Rathbone mentions in his testimony is about the set up of the box itself. From the beginning Rathbone gives a wonderful description of the box and the locations of the parties therein. From his description the following diagram of the box seems to correct display the set up:

Booth entered the box through the outer passageway door marked H on the diagram. Remember, during normal nights the box in which the President’s party occupied severed as two boxes. A partition would separate it into two smaller boxes. That is why there are two doors inside the passageway. The door marked as G, was actually the closest door to the President, but was closed during the whole night. It was the entrance to Box 7. The Presidential party and Booth all entered the box through door F. That was the door to Box 8.

This inner door to Box 7 is on display at in the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

This door has a unique feature as it has a peep hole bored into. For many years it was written that this hole was bored by John Wilkes Booth on the morning of the assassination. After learning about Lincoln’s attendance that night, Booth did enter the theatre and found a wooden bar with which to jam the outer door so that it could not be opened. The wooden bar can be seen in the above picture sticking out from the bottom of the door. It was assumed that during this prep work, that he also bored a hole into the door in order to have an eye on the President before entering the box.

A letter written by Frank Ford (son of Harry Clay Ford, the theatre’s treasurer) denounced this idea. Frank stated that his father ordered the hole to be bored into the door so that the President’s guard, and others employed in their duties for the government or theatre, could look in on the President and his party instead of barging in straight away and disturbing them. Frank quotes his father as saying, “John Booth had too much to do that day other than to go around boring holes in theatre doors.” However, a period statement from Harry Ford has him saying, “Did not notice a hole in the door or in the wall. Did not take particular notice of the wall or door however.” So the mystery regarding the hole remains.

Even if this hole was bored at the bequest of the Ford’s, Booth still used it to eye the President before making his move, right? Not necessarily. According to Rathbone:

“The distance between the President as he sat and the door was about four or five feet. The door, according to [my] recollection, was not closed during the evening.”

Rathbone claims that the door to Box 8 was never closed during the performance. If this is the case, Booth may not have used the peephole to spy on the President through Box 7. After entering the passageway door, Booth stealthily put the wooden bar in place to “lock” the outside door, and either peered through the slightly open Box 8 door into the box, or just waited until the lines of the play were right to bust in and get his first real view. With all eyes directed on stage and not towards the rear, it seems that Booth could have been standing in the shadows of the passageway eyeing the President for some time before he acted. If Rathbone is to be believed and the door was open during the performance, the image of Booth before he shot Lincoln could change. Instead of a man hiding behind door 7 nervously peeking at his target through a hole, Booth becomes a shadowy figure, standing motionless in the doorway to box 8 eyeing his prey. To me the latter image is in line with Booth’s brazen persona. He brought an unreliable single shot derringer to kill the President, assured that he would succeed. I have no problem picturing this arrogant Booth, lurking near an open door a few feet away from the President, coiled like a viper waiting to strike.

Again, these small pieces of Rathbone’s account are posted here merely to initiate contemplation and conversation. Feel free to post your thoughts about them by clicking on the “comment” button below.

The Lincoln Assassination – The Evidence by William Edwards and Ed Steers
We Saw Lincoln Shot by Timothy S. Good

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