Sunday, April 11, 2010

Odd Tales of the Lincoln Assassination

This Wednesday will be the 145th anniversary of the assassination of US President Abraham Lincoln. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot in the head by actor John Wilkes Booth as the President and his wife sat in a balcony at Ford's Theatre, watching a production of Our American Cousin. Booth escaped, but was tracked by the US Army who caught up with him twelve days later. Despite orders to capture the assassin, a soldier named Boston Corbett shot Booth dead. Corbett, a former prisoner of war who had served time in the Confederacy's Andersonville Prison (see Andersonville National Historic Site) claimed that God himself gave the soldier the order to kill Booth.

The same night as the assassination of Lincoln, a fellow conspirator, Lewis Powell attempted to murder Secretary of State William Seward. Powell attempted to stab the man to death as he lay in bed, recuperating from injuries sustained from a carriage accident. Ironically, the very injuries that had him bedridden may have also saved Seward's life; a brace the secretary wore for a neck injury prevented the assassin from cutting Seward's throat and the Secretary's children managed to fend off the killer, driving him from their home.

As the conspirators were rounded up by the authorities, a case of mistaken identity led them to arrest Francis Tumblety, a con man who posed as a doctor to sell odd concoctions he claimed cured various ills. Francis, who was using one of his aliases, was incarcerated for three weeks until he was cleared of charges and set free. Years later, Tumblety would become one of many suspected to be the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper (see Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Rochester, NY).

It is said that President Lincoln had a prophetic dream about his own assassination days before it occurred. There are also numerous ghost tales associated with the assassination. Witnesses have claimed to have to seen the ghost of Lincoln at the White House, his grave in Illinois and the Peterson House (where Lincoln actually died of his injury sustained at the theatre). The ghosts of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln are claimed by some to haunt Ford's Theatre (See Ford's Theatre National Historic Site). Even the route traveled by Abraham Lincoln's funeral train is said to be haunted by a spectral train.

Part of Abraham Lincoln's skull is on display at the National Museum of Health in Medicine in Washington, D.C. (see the National Museum of Health and Science). Part of his blood-stained collar can be seen at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania along with part of the thorax of John Wilkes Booth (see the Mutter Museum).

These are just some of the strange stories surrounding the first assassination of a United States President.

-Tom G


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