The following is a guest blog post from the crack team at Ford’s Theatre, who are combing personal and institutional collections the world over to help document, recreate, and share the sentiments of the days following Lincoln’s assassination. Do you have something to contribute?
The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Friday, April 14, 1865, shook the nation and the world. People expressed a range of emotions—shock, sadness, jubilation—and shared their thoughts and feelings in a wide variety of ways.
To capture that emotion and connect people with it today, we at the Ford’s Theatre Society, along with over a dozen partner organizations, are in the process of creating a digital collection called Remembering Lincoln.
Our goal is to make this national story local, for people around the United States and around the world. Yes, many of the major events took place in the area surrounding Washington. But literally millions of people turned out in the cities where Lincoln’s funeral train traveled, such as Columbus, Ohio.
Beyond those places, people mourned—and a few celebrated—in localities all over the map. It has been remarkable to learn of the varied responses and letters of condolence that ambassadors and others received from around the globe.
To represent those responses – local to each community – Ford’s Theatre is working with a range of partner organizations—many of them state and local historical societies—to digitize relevant items in their collections. These can include diaries, newspapers, letters, photos, engravings, mourning ribbons, pieces of clothing, poems—any way that people represented their responses. We are in the process of creating a website to display those items.
Here are some of the ways that people expressed their responses in the days and weeks after the assassination:
- A 13-year-old girl in Boston drew the stunned look on her face in her diary (from partner institution Massachusetts Historical Society).
- A newspaper in Alabama incorrectly—and jubilantly—reported that not only both Lincoln and Secretary of State William Henry Seward had died, but that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had defeated Union General Ulysses S. Grant (from partner institution Alabama Department of Archives and History).
- After the architect of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio, denounced Lincoln during a mourning rally following the president’s death, a crowd chiseled his name from the courthouse cornerstone (from partner institution Western Reserve Historical Society).
- Firefighters in Detroit decorated their engines for the city’s memorial procession (from partner institution Detroit Historical Society).
- A St. Paul, Minnesota, journalist reported that his father “staggered across the room, sank down, and burst into tears” when he heard the news of the assassination (from partner institution Minnesota Historical Society).
But we also know that our partner organizations don’t have all of the responses to the assassination in their collections. Many responses are hidden away, whether in libraries, archives, museums, local historical societies, or even people’s attics. And those responses may help shed light on the world of 1865 and better understand how people were living their lives and who we are today as a result.
Thus, we’re working with Historypin to help surface some of these buried treasures. On our project page, you can see items that have come in—and pin your own!
Already, a treasure has come to the surface. Not long after we launched our project on April 14 (the 149th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination), Laura Goetz of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, remembered a display case in the Portage County Courthouse, where she often works. The display case contains items several items from Wisconsin soldier W.H. Noble, who served in the honor guard on Lincoln’s funeral train.
So, Laura went to the courthouse, took some photos, and started pinning them to Historypin! After we emailed with each other, she went to talk with the Clerk of Courts, who was thrilled that the items in the display case would be part of a national project. They managed to track down the owner—a descendant of Noble—and are working with her to digitize the items.
We need your help to bring more items like these to the surface! Do you, or does your organization, have a relevant response to the Lincoln assassination? Read more about what we’re looking for, then pin it to our Historypin page!
Once you do, we’ll ask you some questions about the item, and then potentially put it into the Remembering Lincoln digital collection.