Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lincoln Assassination 150 Years Ago

One hundred and fifty years ago tonight, at about 10:20 PM (EST), Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth during a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC.  He will die the next morning at 7:22 AM (EST).  This event, as well as those leading up to and following, have fascinated me - and many others - for the past 40 years.

What began as a failed attempt at a kidnapping ended in the first assassination of a sitting U.S. President.  Lincoln certainly was not popular during his presidency, but his death made him a martyr and he has since been elevated to greatness because he fought for what was right.  In some ways, his life is an allegory of Christ:  born in modest and meager surroundings, lifelong student and teacher, champion of the downtrodden, leader of people, eschewed personal sacrifice for the greater good, put to death publicly for a cause in which he believed.  The more I continue to read about him, the more he guides my moral compass. His death is one of the more fascinating pieces of a life filled with adversity and challenge.

During the past 40 years, I've read about 30 books on the subject, visited Ford's Theater & Museum an uncountable number of times, visited Lincoln's home, office, grave site, and Presidential Museum in Springfield, IL, seen the gun with which he was shot as well as the chair in which he was sitting, the room in which he died, and even the bed in which he drew his last breath inside the Petersen House.

I've also visited both the boyhood home and eventual grave of Booth, as well as found the spot where Booth died, which is now a nondescript site in a median strip along Route 5 in Southern Maryland.  I've even seen the vertebrae removed from his neck during his autopsy, which is now  held in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, MD.

I've ridden Booth and accomplice Davy Herold's escape route a few times including visiting the Surratt Tavern in Clinton, MD, and the home of co-conspirator, Dr. Samuel Mudd in Bryantown, MD.  And in December 2013, I visited Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, the prison where 4 of the conspirators lived and died.  I've visited the graves of 6 of the 8 co-conspirators as well as a few of their homes.

I've done all of this to get as close to and learn as much about this event and this man as possible.  To say I am fanatical is fair, but what is cool is that those who know me well cannot hear the name Lincoln and not think of me, if even for a flash of a second.  My friends and family have showered me with books, magazine, pamphlets, movies, documentaries and many trinkets that I hold dear - all now prominently displayed in our new home.

So tonight at 9:20 PM (CST) I will pause to offer reverence for one of the greatest men to have occupied the Office of The Presidency; a man who changed the course of the country in his lifetime.  And I'll wonder, as we all should, what we might have become had the event on that night 150 years ago not taken place.