Saturday, April 14, 2012

An April assassination on Good Friday

On this date in 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

You know the tale. He and Mary Todd went to see Laura Keene star in the comedy "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre. Their companions were Henry Rathbone and his fiance, Clara Harris. It was Good Friday.

At the moment that always brought the play's loudest laugh, renowned actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth stepped into the presidential box, put a .44-caliber single-shot derringer to the president's head and mortally wounded the best friend the South would have had during Reconstruction.

If you don't believe me, read what happened after April 14, 1865. I recommend Eric Foner's book.

Across town, Secretary of State William H. Seward was also attacked. He would survive.

Taken to the Petersen House across the street from the theater, Lincoln died about 7:22 the next morning.

"Now," Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton said, "he belongs to the ages."

"The Pale Horse had come," Carl Sandburg later wrote. "To a deep river, to a far country, to a by-and-by whence no man returns, had gone the child of Nancy Hanks and Tom Lincoln, the wilderness boy who found far lights and tall rainbows to live by, whose name even before he died had become a legend inwoven with man's struggle for freedom the world over."

I saw the blood-stained pillow, and that disgusting derringer, in 1998. I have forever been haunted by both.

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