Grave Thursday: The Spangler Family

On select Thursdays we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.

The Spangler Family

Burial Location: Prospect Hill Cemetery, York, Pennsylvania

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In 1865, Ford’s Theatre carpenter and scene-shifter Edman Spangler was put on trial for his alleged participation in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Edman Spangler had known the actor John Wilkes Booth for several years and was one of the carpenters who assisted in the construction of the Booth family home, Tudor Hall, in Harford County, Maryland. Spangler’s friendship with Booth, his pro-Confederate sympathies during the war, and the fact that Booth often asked favors of Spangler (including the request for Spangler to hold his horse on the night of April 14th) caused Edman to be tried alongside the others who were involved in Booth’s plot against the government. In the end, the government could not prove that Spangler had any foreknowledge of the assassination plot but he was still found guilty of, “having feloniously and traitorously aided and abetted J. Wilkes Booth in making his escape.” For this, Edman Spangler received a sentence of 6 years in prison at Fort Jefferson.

Prior to his friendship with John Wilkes Booth, however, Edman Spangler had been born and raised in York, Pennsylvania. Edman’s family had been in York since his great grandfather, Baltzer Spangler* immigrated to the area from present day Germany in 1732. Baltzer was one of four Spangler brothers who established homes in the York area around this time. In 1760, Baltzer built a two-story brick mansion on what was then the outskirts of York.

The Baltzer Spangler House circa 1904

After Baltzer’s death in 1770, this home was inherited by one of his sons, George Spangler, who was Edman Spangler’s great great uncle. The home stayed in the family until the 1840s when it was sold. By 1850, the home had been transformed into a school run by a British veteran of the War of 1812 named Charles Henry Bland. The school was known as Sherwood’s School and also colloquially as Bland’s Academy. Clarence Cobb, a former student who attended the academy in the former Spangler home later recalled that, “Bland’s boys learned but little and were taught less. There was no system, no regular course of study, nor recitation. Bland’s school failed utterly, at the last. The old gentleman secured employment thereafter, as a steward, at Fairfax Seminary, Va., back of Alexandria. I am informed that he lived to a great age. He believed in corporal punishment and plenty of it. Perhaps his extensive exercise as a whipping-master was the cause of his health, vigor and activity. He never whipped me as I think I may say I was a good boy, but, I thought, he used to whale the bad boys for fun.”

When giving his reminiscences of Bland’s Academy in 1916, Cobb also recalled one of his former classmates at the time.

“John Wilkes Booth, whom we always called Jack, attended school there for only a few weeks in 1853.”

Cobb is the only source we have that John Wilkes Booth spent time at Bland’s Academy. We do know from period sources that Cobb was a classmate of Booth’s when the two boys both attended the Milton Boarding School in Cockeysville, Maryland together from 1849 – 1852. Cobb gives a vivid description of Booth as a student while at the Milton Academy but doesn’t say anything specific about his time at Bland’s. If John Wilkes Booth did attend school in York it would have been in the fall of 1853 and also would have represented the end of his formal educational career. In his authoritative volume, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, researcher Art Loux stated that Booth “may have” attended Bland’s Academy, perfectly demonstrating the lack of supporting evidence. So, while it has not been proven with certainty, it is still somewhat eerie that a young John Wilkes Booth may have been educated, albeit briefly, in a home built by the ancestor of a future conspirator.

Sadly, the Baltzer Spangler house, home to the short-lived Bland’s Academy, no longer stands today. Instead, the 400 block of Prospect St. in York is the site of rowhouses.

Drive by of the former site of Bland’s Academy, about 420 Prospect Street, York, PA

Another son of Baltzer Spangler who inherited some of the property around the Spangler home was Edman Spangler’s grandfather, John Spangler. John and his wife, Margaret Beard, were the parents of eight children before John’s death in 1796. In the 1890s, when a Spangler genealogist was working on a book about his ancestors, he found an extraordinary relic among John Spangler’s belongings:

“In the old and handsome family Bible of John Spengler, was found by the writer a letter in German, alleged to have been written by God Himself and delivered by an angel at Madgeburg, Germany in 1783. It exempted the possessors from lightning, fire and water. A century ago it made a profound impression.”

The letter discovered in John Spangler’s bible was a fairly common document in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities at the time. Called a himmelsbrief or “heaven’s letter”, these papers were a mixture of Christian scripture and magic, claiming to ward off misfortune as long as the owners abided by the moral covenants instructed by the letter. In essence, these letters were an early form of chain letters with a healthy dose of Christian teachings to make them popular. The Madgeburg letter found in John Spangler’s bible was one of the most common versions of himmelsbrief. You can read more about these interesting chain letters here.

The second of John and Margaret Spangler’s children was William Spangler. William was born on September 21, 1785. He likely spent quite a bit of time in the old Baltzer Spangler home owned by his nearby neighbors and cousins. Around 1814, William married a woman named Anna Maria and they began their family together. They would have at least 5 children between the years of 1815 – 1825. The youngest of their children was Edman Spangler, born on August 10, 1825. Less than six months later, on February 12, 1826, Anna Maria Spangler died, leaving William a widower with several young children. To help support his young family, William Spangler became the sheriff of York County in 1827. He served a three year term which ended in 1830. William married again that same year. His new wife was named Sarah “Sally” Spangler. Sarah was a widow herself having been previously married to William’s first cousin once removed. She fulfilled the much needed role of mother to the Spangler children, including Edman. William and Sarah had one child of their own, Maria Jane, who was born in 1834.

As perhaps a harbinger of the misfortune to befall the Spangler family and the nation a few years later, Edman’s older brother Theodore Spangler died on April 15, 1852 at the age of 36. Thirteen years later would see the death of President Lincoln on the same date.

The news of Lincoln’s assassination spread quickly and, in a short while, the Spangler family in York began reading of their son and sibling’s name in connection with the great crime. William Spangler, now an old man of 79 years, wrote a letter to his son asking him to explain the circumstances he found himself in. Below is William Spangler’s letter to Edman with his numerous misspellings and complete lack of punctuation unaltered:

“York April

Dear Son This is to let you no that we are all in good Heath except my selfe I am Getting worse in my leg and Arm I can Scarcily do aney Work but I thank my God That my Bodey heath is Good I have no particulars to wright Onley this that our Family is in grate distres That your name is mentiond In So maney papers About you In this murder of the Chief President now if you Will gratfy us to hear of you The truth of the matter and The reason of your name in Almost everey paper in the Countrey You can certainly Let me no the truth about The Matter I expected A Letter from you as you might have reconsiled our Family much by Sending us the truth of all you no About it there is so much About it in the Nues that We cannot no the truth And as the[re] is So much Suspicen I dont want to wrigh More than I want to no wat you no about it if you Wright and think that your Letter is or may bee Suspicious Take it to the post office and Let it bee red by some of the Members of the post office My hand is so lame that I can scarceley hold the pen Dear Son Do answer this Imediatley From your Affecinate father God bee with you Wm Spangler”

What response, if any, Edman composed to his father is not known. In the end, William and the rest of the Spanglers in York read about the conspiracy trial and Edman’s subsequent six year prison sentence to Fort Jefferson.

Despite his advanced age, William Spangler lived long enough to see his son’s release from prison in March of 1869. Spangler, Dr. Mudd, and Samuel Arnold each received a pardon from outgoing President Andrew Johnson. The forth conspirator sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson, Michael O’Laughlen, had died of a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1867. Spangler returned home but it’s not clear if he went to York. Shortly after his release he was right back at work as a theater carpenter for John T. Ford. A staunch believer in his employee’s innocence, Ford had bankrolled Spangler’s defense at the conspiracy trial and the efforts to get him released from prison. Likely out of appreciation, Spangler went to work at Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore.

On July 7, 1873, Edman Spangler’s step-mother, Sarah Spangler, died in York at the age of 80. It is unknown if Edman attended her funeral. In September of 1873, the Holliday Street Theatre suffered a devastating fire which destroyed the building. When that happened, Spangler retired from the theater scene and bid goodbye to John T. Ford. Rather than making his way north to York, Spangler headed south to the farm of Dr. Mudd in Charles County, Maryland. Though strangers to each other prior to Lincoln’s death, the two had become friends during their shared imprisonment. Dr. Mudd welcomed Spangler into his home with open arms and even gave Spangler his own piece of land to live on and work. On February 7, 1875, at the age of 49, Edman Spangler died at the Mudd farm . On February 9th, he was buried by the Mudd family at the original St. Peter’s Cemetery.

William Spangler actually outlived his infamous son, but only by a few months. The elder Spangler died on October 28, 1875 at the age of 90. In 1882, Maria Spangler, the daughter of William and Sarah and half-sister of Edman Spangler, died and was buried with her parents.

Today, there are four Spangler gravestones standing in Section S, Lot 236 of Prospect Hill Cemetery in York, Pennsylvania, all of whom are related to conspirator Edman Spangler.

Graves of John and Margaret Spangler, Edman Spangler’s grandfather and grandmother.

Grave of Maria Jane Spangler, half-sister of Edman Spangler

Grave of William and Sarah Spangler, Edman’s father and stepmother

There may be other Spangler relatives buried in the same plot as those pictured above such as Edman Spangler’s biological mother and his brother who died on April 15, 1852. Unfortunately, during the Great Depression, a fire destroyed a large chunk of the records at Prospect Hill Cemetery. If additional Spanglers are buried in this plot unmarked, they are known only to God now.

In the end, it’s a bit unfortunate that Edman Spangler is buried so far away from the rest of his kin. York was such a big part of his family’s story and Prospect Hill Cemetery is filled with many more of his cousins, uncles, and aunts. Yet Edman Spangler lies in a small rural cemetery far away from any member of his family. Sent to prison for his alleged involvement in Lincoln’s death, it appears that, in at least one way, Edman Spangler never really came home.

The annals of the families of Caspar, Henry, Baltzer and George Spengler, who settled in York County, respectively, in 1729, 1732, 1732, and 1751 : with biographical and historical sketches, and memorabilia of contemporaneous local events by Edward W. Spangler (1896)
June Lloyd’s research on her Universal York blog
York County Heritage Trust
“J. Wilkes Booth at School: Recollections of a Retired Army Officer Who Knew Him Then” by James W. Shettel, The New York Dramatic Mirror, February 26, 1916 Part 1, Part 2
John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux
Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
Prospect Hill Cemetery, York, PA
Thanks to Colleen Puterbaugh at the James O. Hall Research Center for confirming Edman Spangler’s death date for me after I found conflicting newspaper obituaries claiming he died a week later.
*As was common at the time, many of Edman Spangler’s ancestors anglicized their names when they immigrated. Baltzer Spangler, for instance, was born, Johann Balthasar Spengler. The last name of “Spengler” would slowly change over a couple generations to “Spangler”. For ease of reading, I have used the anglicized names and modern surname of Spangler.

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Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Millions of people have gazed upwards and seen her face. Armed with a sword, shield, and avenging eagle, her scene represents War. As a manifestation of Freedom, she stands victorious over her enemies. The adherents of tyranny and kingly power located at her feet flee from her sight. Located just below the saintly figure of George Washington, she is one of the most iconic parts of the masterpiece that covers the interior of the U.S. Capitol Dome.

The War scene in Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Unknown to many, the figure of Freedom represented in the dome’s The Apotheosis of Washington is based on a real woman. Her name was Lola and this is her story.

Lola Virginia Germon was born about 1845 in Washington, D.C. She was the daughter of Vincent Germon, a leather currier. In 1855, Vincent Germon died, leaving his wife, Eliza, to care for Lola and her siblings. Even as a young girl, Lola was noted for her beauty. She was described as, “without exception, the handsomest young lady in Washington.”

Lola Virginia Germon

Lola’s looks were a family trait that also happened to be shared by a cousin of hers named Effie Germon. Effie used her looks to find success as an actress and was likewise complimented as having, “a fair young face, strikingly beautiful.” Though Effie Germon found her looks to be an asset that helped her achieve success, for Lola, her beauty would forever prove to be a double-edged sword.

As a young girl growing up in D.C., Lola, then called Jennie, was surrounded by unique urban types. According to later accounts, at one point Mrs. Germon decided to open up her house to boarders in order to help support her family. One of the gentlemen who allegedly found residence in the Germon household was an Italian artist named Constantino Brumidi. Brumidi was born in Rome on July 26, 1805 and had learned the art of fresco painting. He had done work in the Vatican Palace and even painted Pope Pius IX after his ascendance to the papacy. After political unrest swept through Rome and Brumidi spent time in prison under false charges, he decided to immigrate to America to continue his artist work. Brumidi arrived in America on September 18, 1852. He spent two years making a living doing portraits and frescos in private residences and churches throughout the northeast. He even traveled down to Mexico to complete an altar for a Catholic church. Brumidi arrived in Washington, D.C. in December of 1854 and arranged to meet Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, the engineer in charge of construction and decorations on the extensions being done to the U.S. Capitol building. Through Meigs, Brumidi was hired to be the Capitol’s chief artist and he would spend over 25 years painting the Capitol.

Constantino Brumidi, 1859

The story goes that Constantino first met Jennie in 1858 when she was between 13 and 15 years old. As she developed, Brumidi came to see Germon as his muse. She was said to have possessed, “all the perfecting features of beauty which poets choose to accord their heroines of that race, and, in addition, was grandly tall and as faultless in physique as a sculptor’s ideal.”  Brumidi is said to have become enraptured with Jennie Germon’s beauty. In time, the 56 year-old Brumidi began living with young Jennie separately from Mrs. Germon. A sexual relationship developed between the two though Jennie’s age precluded it from truly being an equal, consensual situation. Despite the relationship that the two would share in the years to come, it’s clear that Brumidi was one of the first to take advantage of the reluctantly beautiful Jennie. On May 12, 1861, Jennie Germon, who was between 16 and 18 years-old, gave birth to Brumidi’s son. The child was named Laurence Stauro Brumidi.

Evidence points to the idea that Jennie Germon appears to have left Brumidi not long after the birth of their son. It seems probable that Jennie sought to escape the relationship that had resulted in her pregnancy. In either late 1861 or early 1862, Jennie found employment in the Treasury Department as one of the first female clerks assigned to help with the process of cutting and sorting the government’s new paper money. The Treasury Department was one of the first government agencies to hire female employees and sought to hire only girls and women who demonstrated a true need for employment to help provide for their families. While such an arrangement helped women who were in otherwise dire financial situations, like Jennie Germon, it also created an environment where the clerks were powerless to stand up to the predatory attacks from their male superiors. Sadly, Jennie left one abusive relationship and was forced into another while at the Treasury department. It appears that Jennie Germon’s beauty once again made her a target as she was one of the women preyed upon by Spencer Clark, the first superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (for context, it may be helpful to read the prior post about Clark).

Spencer Clark

When an investigation regarding the rumors of sexual misconduct on the part of Treasury department superiors occurred, Jennie Germon revealed that she was coerced into sexual situations several times by Spencer Clark in exchange for money which she used to support herself and her young son. Jennie’s full statement, which she hoped would not be given publicity and yet was later released by the investigator, Lafayette Baker, can be read here.

Jennie escaped the abuse she suffered at the Treasury the only way she knew how, by getting married. On September 21, 1863, Jennie married a man named Francis A. Clover. After departing the Treasury, the new Mrs. Clover also chose to retake her given name of Lola rather than her childhood nickname of Jennie. It appears that during Lola’s marriage to Clover she allowed Constantino Brumidi visiting rights to his son, Laurence. This re-introduction of the artist may have put a strain on her marriage, or perhaps Lola’s marriage to Clover had only been out of convenience sake. Regardless, Lola’s first marriage failed after only a year. On October 25, 1864, Lola was granted a divorce from Clover.

The exact details of what occurred over the next few years is not known for certain. What can be concluded is that Brumidi and the now about 20 year-old Lola reconnected and began living together once again. In later years, Lola would claim that the two were actually married in Baltimore during this time, but no official record of marriage between the two can be found. Later evidence also appears to cast doubt on the idea that Lola and Brumidi ever married. It was between this period of time though, from 1864 – 1870, that Lola began calling herself Mrs. Brumidi. It was also during this time that Brumidi began incorporating Lola’s likeness into many of his frescos at the U.S. Capitol. The most well-known of Brumidi’s works is the aforementioned The Apotheosis of Washington which adorns the interior of the dome of the Capitol building. Brumidi modeled the figure of Freedom in the War scene exclusively on Lola.

Lola Germon as Freedom in Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Lola was not the only one from whom Brumidi drew inspiration. The figure of Liberty who is seated at the right hand of George Washington was modeled after Lola’s similarly beautiful cousin, the actress Effie Germon. When John Wilkes Booth was cornered and killed after assassinating President Lincoln, Effie Germon’s carte-de-visite was one the photographs found on his body.

Effie Germon as Liberty in Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington

Brumidi also used a few well-known models for the figures of tyranny and kingly power which Lola’s figure of Freedom is shown vanquishing. Specifically, he chose to use the likenesses of the recently defeated leaders of the Confederacy as his traitorous models.

Confederate likenesses Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington (click to enlarge)

While Brumidi was known to have continued his work on the Capitol between 1864 – 1870, he also took prolonged breaks in work for outside commissions. The U.S. government was not always timely in its payment for Brumidi’s services and so he would often take out-of-town commissions to maintain his finances. At the end of 1866, for example, Brumidi spent a few months painting in Cuba. Aside from absences such as these, however, Lola, Brumidi, and their young son, Laurence, all lived together in D.C.

Laurence Brumidi circa 1865

This second relationship between Lola and Brumidi did not last however. While we do not know the circumstances, on May 23, 1870, Lola married a man named Joseph Walsh, Jr. in Alexandria, VA. The circumstances of how they met or reliable background information on Mr. Walsh is not known. The few facts that can be gained from this marriage is that Walsh was fairly affluent and that Lola began residing outside of Washington with her new husband. She, Walsh and Laurence began splitting their time between D.C. and Brooklyn, New York. In 1873, 12 year-old Laurence was enrolled in the first grade at the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute. Coincidentally, or perhaps purposefully, Constantino Brumidi took a number of commissions that brought him to New York during Lola’s residence there. Brumidi was known to be working at churches and sites in New York for periods of time in 1870, 1871 and 1873. It seems likely that Brumidi would visit his muse and his son during these commissions.

In yet another sad experience for Lola, she would come to learn that her new husband Walsh was not the man she thought he was. In 1875, Lola, then residing back in D.C. petitioned for a divorce against Walsh. Newspaper accounts stated that Lola, “charges her husband with various acts of unfaithfulness.” In particular, Lola alleged that she had reliable evidence that her husband was known to frequent a brothel while they were residing in Washington. She even went so far as to name the specific brothel (Lizzie Peterson’s) and prostitute (Nellie Sherman) that her husband visited. On June 10, 1876, Lola was granted a divorce from Joseph Walsh on the grounds of desertion.

Divorced for the second time (third if you include the possibility of a legitimate marriage to Brumidi), 31 year-old Lola Germon Clover [Burmidi] Walsh, took up residence on the 900 block of G St. NW. This is place where Lola would call home for the next 20 years.

Lola’s son Laurence was growing rapidly. At the time of her divorce from Walsh in 1876, Laurence was already 15 years old and had been bitten by the painting bug. The occasional visits from his revered artist father made Laurence want to pursue a future in art and this was supported by Lola. As evidence of the once again softening of their relationship, Lola allowed Laurence to act as a sort of apprentice to his father as the elder Brumidi continued his work on the Capitol building frescos. Constantino was now over 70 years old and suffered from a variety of ailments including asthma. As difficult as the actual sketching and painting was, the mere process of making one’s way onto the scaffold from which to work was a long and laborious process as this account relates:

The scaffold Constantino Brumidi used to paint the friezes in the Capitol

“This wonderful old man has daily to climb up to an elevation of fully eighty feet, enter a window & then descend a ladder at least twenty five feet long to the little pent up crib where he toils. He is so aged and feeble that he requires help to reach the place, & you can easily imagine the fatigue attendant upon the mere labor of getting to and away from his work. Besides in stormy wet tempestuous weather he cannot get there at all…”

In time, Brumidi was granted an elevator system which was merely just a box in which the artist would sit which was then hoisted up to his scaffold via a pulley on the ceiling. Young and strong Laurence Brumidi was no doubt one of the assistants who helped hoist his father to his massive canvas. In addition to providing his father strength, Laurence also got the benefit of learning from a master and he quickly started to pick up his father’s artistic eye.

Lola observed all of this closely. Though her motivations are unclear, by 1878, Lola had allowed Brumidi to move into the home that she and Laurence shared on G street. Perhaps she was taking pity on the artist and sought to help care for him and his infirmities. Perhaps she hoped Brumidi’s close residence would further support her son’s education. Or perhaps, for some inexplicably reason, Lola actually had feelings for the man who had taken advantage of her when she was little more than a child. If Constantino Brumidi’s art is to be taken as evidence, it does appear that he did love Lola, at least in some fashion. It was likely a selfish love, one that Brumidi took in order to further his talents, but he did have a connection to Lola. What deep feelings and conflicts Lola had for Brumidi is not known. However, her conduct in the years after his death show her to be very protective of him and his legacy despite all of the trouble he had caused her. Though the two were now living together once again, they did not marry (or perhaps remarry). Lola was still documented in the city directory as Lola Walsh during this time.

Constantino Brumidi in his later years

On February 19, 1880, at 6:30 am, Constantino Brumidi died at the age of 75. Newspapers reported that his death was a combination of asthma and kidney failure. When the end was coming, Laurence had sent for a doctor but none arrived in time. While we do not have a record of Lola’s whereabouts when Brumidi died, it seems likely that she was there with him. Obituaries for the artist of the Capitol were published throughout the country. Many lamented that while Brumidi had completed many beautiful works of art from the Apotheosis of Washington to the Brumidi Corridors in the Senate wing, the large frescos he was working on at the time of his death in the inner ring of the dome were still incomplete. The call went out for an artist to finish the job. Though Laurence Brumidi applied to complete his father’s work, he was judged too inexperienced to be tasked with such a project. As compensation though, the government chose to pay Laurence $1,500 for the sketches his father had made for the remaining unpainted frescos and used them as the template to complete the project. In addition, out of appreciation for Brumidi’s years of work, the government also decided to gift Laurence, and his half-sister from the artist’s first marriage in Italy, with $250 each for the services their father had provided and had not yet been paid for. The government also included an extra $200 gift payable to “Brumidi’s heirs” to help offset the cost of the artist’s funeral and burial.

While her name is not mentioned directly in the bill which provided the funds, it was Lola who took charge of Brumidi’s body upon his death. Lola buried him in Glenwood Cemetery, in the very same plot that held her own parents, the Germons. Despite the money received by the government, it does not appear that Lola put up a gravestone for Brumidi at the time of his death. Whether the funds actually went towards his burial, or use in her son’s education, we don’t know.

What we do know is that Lola did not let her son give up on his dreams. She sent him to the National Academy of Rome in the 1880’s to learn all he could. When he returned from abroad he moved out to Kansas City, Missouri for a time where he helped establish and served as the first director of the Kansas City Art Institute.

Throughout the 1880s and 90s, Lola maintained her home on G street in Washington. To make money, she opened up her few rooms to boarders and settled into the life of a boardinghouse keeper. It was also during this time that Lola stopped referring to herself as Lola Walsh and instead portrayed herself as Lola Brumidi, once again. Most people considered her to have been Brumidi’s legitimate widow even though they were definitely not married at the time of his death and probably had never been married in the first place.

Lola maintained the name of Lola Brumidi for about 20 years, until she found herself changing it once again. In 1900, 55 year-old Lola decided to marry again. Her husband was a 59 year-old widower by the name of Edwin Kirkwood. This marriage, unlike Lola’s other attempts, appears to have been a happy one, or at least, not one that ended with a divorce. While some men might have been intimidated to marry a woman whose personal history was so involved and dramatic, it was actually Lola who was taking a risk. Edwin Kirkwood was a convicted felon.

Edwin Columbus Kirkwood was born in Maryland in 1841 and had served in the Union army for one year during the Civil War before moving to D.C. He married his first wife, Alice, in 1862 and the two started a family. After a couple years, Kirkwood found employment as a clerk in the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery where he would eventually rise through the ranks and become a lead financial clerk. Then in June of 1884, a reckoning came for Edwin Kirkwood when he was arrested and charged with fraud. It appears that during a period of time lasting from 1876 – 1884, Kirkwood and Daniel Carrigan, the chief clerk at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, repeatedly embezzled money from the government by way of fraudulent claims for reimbursement. After rumors of fraud came to the bureau’s knowledge, the then Surgeon General of the Navy asked the first chief of the Secret Service, William Wood, to investigate. Wood had previously been in charge of the Old Capitol Prison where many of those involved in the Lincoln assassination were held in 1865. Wood found evidence to support the idea that Kirkwood and Carrigan had brought in many third parties who would pose as business owners looking to receive payment for services and materials rendered to the bureau. The two clerks would create fraudulent claims containing lists and prices of materials and the third parties would present these claims to the treasury for reimbursement. Once the third parties received the money, they would split the funds with Kirkwood and Carrigan. The clerks’ long history with the bureau allowed them to get many fraudulent claims signed off by the different Surgeon Generals of the Navy. Most often, the clerks would place the fraudulent claims between the duplicates of legitimate claims. The Surgeon General of the Navy would consult the first claim on top, verify it was genuine and that the materials had been supplied, and then sign it and the duplicate copies underneath without reading them. After the fraudulent claims had been cashed, Kirkwood would then adjust the financial books to hide the payouts.

Through this scheme, the two clerks and their revolving group of “businessmen” successfully defrauded the government of over $44,000. In March of 1884, sensing that the game may have been found out, Daniel Carrigan resigned from the bureau and went west to the Dakotas. Kirkwood, however, stayed in D.C. and was still working at the bureau when he was arrested. His initial bail bond money was put up by a friend of his named James Pumphrey. Pumphrey was the owner of a stable and, in 1865, it was from Pumphrey’s stable that John Wilkes Booth had rented the horse he used to escape Washington, D.C. after shooting the President. As the bond amount increased with each additional case against the former bureau clerk, Pumphrey eventually stopped paying Kirkwood’s bond. For the next few months, Kirkwood was tried alongside various co-conspirators and Carrigan, in absentia. On March 7, 1885, Edwin Kirkwood was sentenced to 6 years in Albany Penitentiary for one instance of false claims with a third party businessman named Bill Mann. Though several more businessmen like Mann were brought to trial for their part in receiving monies from false claims, the government decided not to prosecute Kirkwood in these additional cases. Had they chose to pursue Kirkwood in each separate case of his fraud, his combined punishment could have been around 80 years in prison. Shortly after Kirkwood’s sentence of 6 years, Carrigan returned from the west and surrendered himself. He entered in a plea bargain confessing to four instances of fraud rather than being tried for all of the cases against him. Like Kirkwood, Carrigan was given a 6 year prison sentence. While at his initial trial Kirkwood claimed that he acted under the orders of Carrigan and did not know the claims he was helping to compose were fraudulent, Kirkwood later made a full confession of his crimes while in prison. Despite attempts by his lawyer to have him imprisoned in D.C., Kirkwood was sent up to Albany where he was put at hard labor. He was released early for good behavior and returned to D.C. on March 14, 1889.

During his time in prison, Kirkwood’s wife, Alice, died. His eldest son, Horace, took guardianship over his little sister and entered into the restaurant business. When Kirkwood returned home he decided to follow his son’s lead. Kirkwood purchased a property on the Rockville Turnpike leading out of Georgetown called The Willows. It served as a bar and restaurant. To avoid notoriety, Kirkwood operated the tavern under the name of Columbus Kirkwood, his middle name. It’s possible that Lola Brumidi met Kirkwood at his establishment.

At around the time Lola and Kirkwood met, Edwin’s son and daughter had moved to Richmond. After their wedding in 1900, Edwin moved his new wife down there as well. For the next few years, Edwin Kirkwood would work as a manager in his son’s restaurants and then as a grocer. In the 1910 census, Lola Kirkwood is shown living in Richmond with Edwin and her son, Laurence Brumidi.

Laurence Brumidi as an adult

After leaving Kansas City, Laurence Brumidi had traveled to Paris where he continued his studies and exhibited his work. Then he returned to the States where he focused not on frescoes, as was his father’s forte, but on landscape and portrait paintings. While he found some success as an artist, he never gained the fame of his father. Laurence was also troubled. He suffered from bouts of severe depression which impacted his art and his social life. It is likely he was living with his mother and stepfather in Richmond in 1910 for the emotional comfort they could provide him.

Still, depression and mental illness were not fully understood or accepted in those days. At some point after 1913, Edwin, Lola, and Laurence moved back to D.C. By 1916, Lola was so worried about her 55 year-old son’s well-being that she took the only option available at that time. On June 22, 1916, Laurence Brumidi was judged to be of unsound mind stemming from severe depression and he was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Insane Asylum. He would reside there for the rest of his life.

In 1918, Lola Kirkwood was about 73 years-old and in failing health. On April 2nd of that year she completed and signed what would prove to be her last will and testament. In that will, Lola instructed that upon her death all of her estate was to be transferred into the creation of a trust. The purpose of the trust was to provide for the “board and maintenance of my beloved son Lawrence [sic] S Brumidi during the term of his natural life.” The executor of Lola’s will and the one who was to oversee the trust was a successful real estate broker named Edward P. Schwartz. Having made arrangements for her son’s future, Lola added her signature to the will.

Less than six months later, Lola Virginia Germon Clover [Brumidi] Walsh Kirkwood passed away. Her death occurred on September 26, 1918 at the home she shared with her final husband, Edwin. Lola was interred at D.C.’s Glenwood Cemetery in the same family plot where she had buried Constantino Brumidi 38 years earlier.

After the loss of his wife, Edwin Columbus Kirkwood was not long for this world. He died less than a month later on October 14, 1918. He was interred in the Germon family plot as well.

After the death of Lola Kirkwood, Edward Schwartz began the process of setting up a trust for her son Laurence. He began taking account of all of Lola’s possessions. Per his accounting he found that, at her death, Lola had over $10,000 in bank notes, cash, and possessions. She also owned a piece of property in Washington valued at $2,750 that was being leased at a rent of $25.50 per month. This made Lola a fairly wealthy woman when she died.

In addition to the above named assets, Edward Schwartz also began a search for a group of paintings and sketches that had been done by Constantino Brumidi. Schwartz would later state that Lola had informed him that a collection of her “husband’s” work were in storage somewhere but she did not know where. Upon her death and the creation of the trust for her son, Schwartz searched high and low for this collection, scouring old warehouses in the city. After almost a year of searching, Schwartz had found nothing.

Then, in October of 1919, Schwartz found himself at the National Savings and Trust Company in D.C. He was merely making a visit to a banker acquaintance of his named J. M. Boteler who knew Schwartz from his real estate business. The conversation was light and covered the topics of the day such as the approaching start date of Prohibition. Then Schwartz casually mentioned his ongoing quest to find a collection of paintings that had been done by Brumidi. According to a newspaper account,

“Boteler’s eyes bulged, and, waving his hands in the air, he said: ‘Thank goodness the mystery is going to be solved at last and we will find out what on earth is in those two big boxes that have been in our vaults for the last thirty years and which have accumulated storage charges of almost $300!’”

It appears that around 1889, nine years after Constantino’s death, Laurence Brumidi put two large boxes into storage at the National Savings and Trust Company. Schwartz, by sheer luck, had stumbled upon their hiding place. He subsequently sought permission from the courts to pay the storage fees, retrieve the boxes, and open them. Schwartz invited a few prominent Washingtonians to witness the opening of the boxes including representatives from the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, and the art custodian of the Capitol building.

A journalist from the Evening Star was also there for the unboxing. He wrote:

“The boxes were so securely fastened together with screws and nails that it required the entire colored janitorial force of the bank half an hour to get them open. The packing was evidently done by Brumidi himself, because they were so arranged so expertly as to sustain no damage whatever. By far the most interesting painting found was that of an exact duplicate of the great painting in the dome of the Capitol. It is altogether probable that the artist painted this picture first and then used it as a model during the years he worked in the dome. It is in a splendid state of preservation.”

At least 27 paintings were rediscovered in those storage boxes that day, including Brumidi’s model for The Apotheosis of Washington. Also included in the cache, however, were two paintings of a more personal nature.

“Two large portraits of Brumidi’s American wife (he was twice married before leaving Italy), in heavy gold frames, were found among the other pictures in the first box that was opened. She was evidently a very beautiful woman.”

The above quoted Evening Star article on the discovery ran two full pages, with one of Lola’s paintings taking up a large portion of a page.

With the lost paintings found, Schwartz started the process of taking and accounting them for Lola’s estate. In less than a month, however, Schwartz found himself faced with legal challenges. It appears that during the interim between Lola’s death and the discovery of the paintings, Schwartz had made at least one enemy while going about his work as executor and director of Laurence’s trust. In trying to get a reckoning of Lola’s possessions, Schwartz made the surprising discovery that Lola was never named as an heir in Constantino Burmidi’s will. In fact, upon Constantino’s death in 1880, he left everything, all of his possessions, to his son, Laurence. Schwartz discovered that he was in an awkward position of being in charge of a trust for Laurence’s benefit based on Lola’s estate, but that some of the possessions that Lola had considered to be in her estate had always belonged solely to Laurence. This meant that there were assets out there that were technically Laurence’s that Schwartz had no control over, including the lost paintings. To rectify this, Schwartz petitioned the government to effectively make him Laurence’s guardian and gain control over all of his assets, not just Lola’s trust. This was granted by the courts and, at that point, Schwartz sought out items and possessions he believed belonged to Laurence. One object Schwartz sought to recover was a diamond ring that was valued at around $1,000. Schwartz was under the impression that the ring had been owned by Constantino before it came into Lola’s possession. During Lola’s last years, she had given the ring to her niece, Elizabeth Thompson. Schwartz approached Thompson and informed her that she had to surrender the ring. Thompson balked at this and stated that it had been a present from Lola. Schwartz responded that, since Laurence was Constantino’s only heir, the ring had never actually belonged to Lola and she was not authorized to give it away. As Laurence’s custodian, Schwartz demanded the ring’s return. Rather than giving in, Elizabeth Thompson hired a lawyer. Thompson’s lawyer, a man named E. Hilton Jackson, then worked through legal means to have Schwartz removed as Laurence’s custodian. This endeavor to remove Schwartz was still underway when Schwartz discovered the Brumidi paintings.

After the discovery of the paintings became news, several other relatives of Lola’s came forward and joined Elizabeth Thompson’s petition to remove Schwartz as custodian. It is likely that the value of the paintings motivated some of Laurence’s cousins to suddenly become so interested in their lunatic relative’s estate. Despite the legal challenges against him, however, the courts ruled that Edward Schwartz was acting within his court appointed fiduciary duties and that the petitioners did not have adequate evidence to have him dismissed. E. Hilton Jackson appealed the ruling of the D.C. court without success. On November 8, 1920, the case was decided conclusively in favor of Schwartz.

The very next day, November 9, 1920, Laurence Stauro Brumidi died at St. Elizabeth’s Asylum.

He was 59 years-old. In the obituary that appeared in Washington papers, Laurence was spoken of kindly as a talented portrait painter who assisted his father in his great work. Schwartz, as his custodian, had Laurence buried next to his mother and father in Glenwood Cemetery.

With Laurence now dead, Schwartz’s role now changed. In Lola’s will she had made it clear that, upon the death of her son, the remaining balance of her estate was to be split among five of her nieces and nephews, including Elizabeth Thompson. Despite the legal challenges Thompson had made for him, Schwartz was now compelled to work on her behalf. In addition, since Laurence never married or had any heirs of his own, it was decided that his estate would be split about his cousins. To facilitate this, Elizabeth Thompson’s lawyer, E. Hilton Jackson, was brought in to act as the cousins’ representative. Though it took some time, things went relatively smoothly from there. The family divided up some of Lola and Laurence’s personal possessions including a family photo album.

Photo album belonging to Lola Germon featuring images of Constantino Brumidi and Lola Germon

The heirs also chose to retain some of Brumidi’s sketches for the Capitol dome friezes. This photo album and the sketches were later donated to the Capitol.  The very valuable paintings that Schwartz had discovered, however, were to be sold at auction and the proceeds split equally among the heirs.

The auction of Brumidi’s paintings occurred on May 7, 1924 by care of C. G. Sloan and Company. A total of 27 of Brumidi’s paintings were auctioned off including his oil painting model of The Apotheosis of Washington. That specific painting would stay in private hands for the next 88 years. In March of 2012, the miniature version of the dome fresco was auctioned off by Skinner. A bit of a bidding war ensued for the piece, but, in the end, the winning bid came from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Smithsonian paid a whopping $539,500 for the model of Brumidi’s most famous painting.

Oil painting of The Apotheosis of Washington by Constantino Brumidi on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In a strange twist of fate, the graves of Constantino, Lola and Laurence Brumidi remained unmarked in Glenwood Cemetery for many years. While the U.S. government had provided Lola and Laurence with $200 to help offset the funeral costs for Constantino in 1880, it does not appear that either used these funds, or any subsequent funds, to pay for a headstone. Lola and Edwin died within a month of each other and Laurence was not considered sane enough to handle his own matters so their graves also remained unmarked. For a long period, the only gravestones in the family plot were those of Lola’s parents, Vincent and Eliza Germon. Thanks to a persistent woman who had some sway in Congress, however, all that changed.

Myrtle Cheney Murdock was the wife of Arizona representative John R. Murdock. Rep. Murdock was first elected to Congress in 1937 and served until 1953. During the Murdocks’ time in Washington, Mrs. Murdock became enamored with the artistry in the Capitol building. She sought to learn more about the man who had designed and painted so many beautiful works of art. What started as mere curiosity became a passion and soon Mrs. Murdock was looking for everything she could about Brumidi. In time, she had enough material on Brumidi to write a book on the artist. When she learned that the great artist of the Capitol was buried unmarked in Glenwood Cemetery, she persuaded her husband to petition Congress to help pay for a memorial on Brumidi’s grave. She persisted and in July of 1950, President Truman signed a bill allocated $500 for the erection of a bronze marker on Brumidi’s grave and the perpetual care of it. In February of 1952, the new grave marker for Constantino Brumidi was dedicated.

At some point following 1952, someone, possibly Mrs. Murdock or other admirers of Brumidi, commissioned to place markers on the graves of Lola and Laurence as well. Lola now sleeps flanked by her son and the artist she inspired. Her final husband, Edwin Kirkwood is still unmarked, sharing the same grave site as his wife.

In more recent years, the reputation of Constantino Brumidi has continued to grow. In 1998, Dr. Barbara Wolanin, Curator for the Architect of the Capitol, published an impeccably researched biography of Brumidi and his work. Her book, Constantino Brumidi – Artist of the Capitol, brought Brumidi’s life and accomplishments to a new generation. In 2008, President Bush signed legislation posthumously awarding Brumidi a Congressional Gold Medal. The medal was released in 2012 and bears a portrait of Brumidi on the obverse while the reverse contains the center ring of his Apotheosis of Washington. The story of Constantino Brumidi will, undoubtedly, continue to be told.

And so we return once more to the intended subject of this biographical sketch, Lola Germon. Due to a shortage of documentation regarding her own words and thoughts, it has been regrettably necessary to tell Lola’s story largely through the lens of the relationships she had with men, both famous and infamous. Lola was known for her beauty and her beauty helped to inspire many great works of art. However, she was more than just a pretty face. Lola Germon faced an immense amount of abuse and adversity during her lifetime. She struggled to raise a child, briefly witnessed the success of her emotionally draining labors to that end, and then had to endure his gradual mental decline. She was the muse to a great artist whose pieces have stood the tests of time, but he clearly took away pieces of her in the process. She suffered through too many marriages of unhappiness and unfaithfulness. Through it all, however, Lola Germon survived. Like the figure that bears her likeness in The Apotheosis of Washington, Lola never stopped vanquishing her foes. She never gave in or surrendered to the tyranny that sought to crush her. Instead, she continued to raise her sword high and fight for a better life for herself and her son despite the personal toll.

That is the story of Freedom. That is the story of Lola.


  • Biographical facts about Lola and the others were painstakingly put together by utilizing the census records, marriage records, divorce records, city directories, and wills available on This material was supplemented with newspaper articles found via,, and the Library of Congress – Chronicling America.
  • Lola “Jennie” Germon’s statement regarding her abuse at the hands of Spencer Clark at the Treasury comes from The Treasury Investigation: The Suppressed Documents
  • Further details of Constantino Brumidi’s life and art come from Dr. Barbara Wolanin’s book, Constantino Brumidi – Artist of the Capitol. Several of the images in this post also come from that book.
  • Additional facts about Laurence Brumidi’s life were discovered by using Wolanin’s book and the legal records regarding his insanity and estate cases.
  • The details of Edwin Kirkwood’s crime and punishment were pieced together by consulting the plethora of newspaper records covering his trial and its aftermath.

This post took over a week to research and compose and, as such, is far longer than most offerings. I’d like to thank those of you who took the time to read it, especially since the main subject, Lola Germon, is really not connected to the story of Lincoln’s assassination. Despite this fact, I couldn’t help but take inspiration from Lola and wanted to share her story. I hope you found it worthwhile. – Dave Taylor

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The Hidden History of Spencer Clark

On April 1, 2017, I spoke at the annual Surratt Society Conference. The topic of my speech revolved around the hidden histories of some of the minor characters in the Lincoln assassination story. One of the subjects of that talk was Spencer M. Clark, a witness at the conspiracy trial with a very scandalous past. The following text comes from my speech. Click here to read about another subject of the speech, James P. Ferguson.

Spencer Morton Clark

Burial Location: Spring Grove Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Spencer Morton Clark was the very first superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. At the trial of the conspirators Clark was called to testify regarding the pair of boots that had been confiscated from conspirator Lewis Powell. The day before Clark gave his testimony he was given one of Powell’s boots by the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and was asked to inspect them. Inside one of the boots was a mark of ink. After examining the boot under a microscope, Clark came to the conclusion that the mark of ink had been put there to obscure some sort of writing that lay beneath it. Using a bath of oxalic acid, Clark was able to remove the top layer of ink. He was clearly able to see the letters J W then a letter that was either a P or a B. He also determined the last two letters were th. Clark concluded that the written word that had been cover up was the name J W Booth. Unfortunately Clark left the oxalic acid on too long and the ink from the name was also dissolved away. However, Clark was supported in his assessment by two other treasury workers who were with him. Spencer Clark’s testimony at the trial was brief but worked to prove that the boots worn by Powell had either been owned or purchased by John Wilkes Booth.

Hidden History:

Spencer Clark was born in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1811. As a young man Clark entered into many business ventures all of which failed. He declared bankruptcy twice before gaining employment in D.C. in a position he was not qualified for. In 1860, Clark was made the Acting Engineer in the Bureau of Construction for the U.S. Treasury Department despite the fact that he was not an engineer. However Clark made a good impression on Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase and was retained.

Salmon P. Chase was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 – 1864

Clark’s employment in the Treasury department came at a monumental time. Prior to the Civil War the only legal tender in the United States were gold and silver coins produced by the Treasury. These coins were known as specie. However the costs associated with the Civil War were so high and the amount of gold and silver was limited. Lincoln and his government had to look elsewhere to find a way to finance the war. The decision was finally made to introduce paper notes to serve as legal tender bills. This is commonplace to us now, but back then it was highly controversial and even Lincoln only agreed to it as a necessary, yet unfortunate, war effort. The treasury at this time did not have the facilities to print their own notes and there was great fear that the practice of printing money would fuel corruption within the government. Therefore these early notes were printed by private companies and then sent to the Treasury in sheets. In his position in the Treasury, Clark and his clerks were charged with cutting out the notes, signing them on behalf of the treasury officials, and the imprinting each note with a seal.

Clark soon required a larger work force to handle the increased output of the notes. With most able-bodied men off fighting in the war, the Treasury became one of the first government agencies to hire a large number of female clerks. The women who joined the ranks were often teenagers and young women whose fathers were either off fighting or had been killed. The Treasury sought to hire only girls and women who demonstrated a true need for employment to help provide for their families. Over 300 women found employment in the Treasury department before the end of the war.

In July of 1862, Clark and his department were investigated by a Congressional committee over the government’s contracts for the notes and qualifications of its workers. The committee determined that the contracts signed by the government with the private printers resulted in an extravagance in the expenditure of public money. They also found that Clark was not qualified for his position and suggested his removal. Clark was retained however due to his familiarity with Secretary Chase and his other superior, Francis Spinner, who was the Treasurer of the United States.

Francis Spinner was the Treasurer of the United States from 1861 – 1875

In August of 1862, Clark was authorized to purchase the machines necessary for the government to print some of its own notes rather than buying all of them from private companies. This decision essentially established the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and resulted in Spencer Clark becoming its first Superintendent. Clark supervised the production of the $1 and $2 notes. Clark’s new bureau was also tasked with the printing of the government’s new fractional currency. These bills were worth less than a dollar and were meant to supplement the dwindling supply of specie. In the initial run of fractional notes only Thomas Jefferson and George Washington appeared.

Examples of U.S. fractional currency

Clark, it should be noted, did a good job of instituting better security measures to impede counterfeiting. In the second issue of fractional currency, Clark had a copper circle placed around the head of Washington and Jefferson. If the bill was photographed, this ring would come out as black, thwarting the counterfeiter. Yet despite the positive aspects Spencer Clark brought to his position, there were also many negative aspects. Clark’s investment in the government’s printing presses proved to be misplaced. The presses Clark acquired literally came from the lowest bidder and the quality was lacking. Broken presses were common and delayed their production. Clark was also very poor in his book-keeping. His incomplete records of production and distribution were troublesome to members of Congress who were already worried about the corruptible nature of printing the country’s money.

In late 1863, Secretary Chase began hearing rumors about his printing department. These rumors were not about poor books or broken machines, however. The rumors being spread were about Clark, his female employees, and “gross immoralities” that were occurring under his supervision. Chase, who still held aspirations of his own to become President, decided to look into the matter in order to prevent any political enemy from discovering something that might damage his future. Chase requested that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton lend him a capable investigator to look into the rumors. Specifically Chase requested the assistance of Lafayette Baker.

Lafayette Baker

Chase would come to regret his request to have Baker investigate. Baker had served as a detective, special agent, and finally as a special provost marshal under Stanton. While Baker made himself useful to the government, his methods and character were highly questionable. He was notorious for throwing those he believed of wrongdoing into the Old Capitol Prison without charge. The declaration of martial law during the war gave him the authority to do so. After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Stanton would call on Baker again to help manage the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators.

Lafayette Baker committed himself to his investigation into the Treasury and opponents of the administration could smell the scent of scandal brewing. Salmon Chase had hoped for a quick exoneration of his subordinates but that was not what Baker had in mind. Baker believed that the public demanded a full and detailed inquiry and he would not allow himself to be a tool for Chase’s benefit. Baker was far too much of a loose cannon to do Chase’s bidding and wrap up the investigation quietly. While Baker charged a couple of Clark’s clerks with corruption, his biggest accusations were about Clark himself whom he accused of committing sexual misconduct with his female workers. Baker gathered statements by female employees that added up to a very damning picture against Clark, a married man.

Ella Jackson stated that she and another female clerk had traveled to Philadelphia at the invitation of Clark and another male clerk in the department named Gustavus Henderson. In Philadelphia, Miss Jackson registered at a hotel under an assumed name and spent the weekend with Clark. She also stated that Clark often offered her beer in his private office late at night, though she insisted she never drank more than two glasses and was never drunk at work. Ada Thompson, an actress, provided further details of Clark’s affair with Miss Jackson by informing to Baker that, “During the month of December last, Miss Jackson seldom came home before two or three o’clock in the morning. She stated to me that during these times she did not work later than ten or eleven o’clock and that the balance of that time…she spent in Mr. Clark’s private office.” Thompson also stated to Baker that she had “often seen in Miss Jackson’s possession obscene books, pictures, and prints, which she…informed me were given to her by Clark.”

Baker interviewed and received a statement from another young woman who had been in the employ of Mr. Clark. This girl stated:

“Mr. S M Clark came to me in the office, and asked me to come to his private residence, at the same time informing me that his wife was in the country. I did not at first comply with his request. On the next Saturday night…I went to Mr. Clark’s house about eight o’clock in the evening…Mr. Clark and myself occupied the same room until morning…About two weeks after my first visit to Mr. Clark’s house, he again asked me to go to his house and spend another evening with him; this request I complied with. I recollect distinctly a conversation I had with Mr. Clark. He said his wife was very jealous and at one time told him that she believed the Treasury Department was nothing more nor less than a house of ill-fame…Clark paid me as high as forty dollars; these amounts were independent of my wages earned in the Department…I freely confess my shame and disgrace, trusting that no publicity will be given to my statement.”

Lafayette Baker did not heed this woman’s request for confidentiality. Slowly, different pieces of Baker’s investigation were being leaked to public. Secretary Chase was seeing the reputation of his department and himself sullied. Chase suspended Clark but stopped short of firing him. Chase wanted Clark to resign but the latter would not go so easily. “I think it right that the country should know that your confidence in my official management has not been misplaced,” Clark wrote in an open letter to Chase that was published in the newspaper. Clark claimed that the charges against him were politically motivated since he was a hold out from President Buchanan’s administration. Essentially Clark set it up that if Chase moved to fire him, it would be far more damaging to Chase and his prospects as it would be confirmation that he had allowed things to get so out of hand in his department. Chase was trapped. The allegations against Clark were so detailed and extensive that they were undoubtedly true, but Chase had to save face. And so Chase turned to the only thing left of him, partisan politics.

While Baker’s investigation failed to find any major examples of monetary corruption in the Treasury department, the reports surrounding Clark’s sexual malfeasance became blood in the water to opponents of Lincoln’s administration in Congress. An investigative committee was created. Chase however, was connected enough to make sure that the majority of the Congressmen placed on the committee were friends. While there were a few token Democrats to provide the illusion of impartiality, the chairman of the committee was Republican representative, and future President, James Garfield.

Representative James A. Garfield

Chase and Garfield had become extremely close with Chase considering Garfield to be the son he never had.  The Republican majority committee worked extensively to attack Baker’s investigation. Each political party now found itself in a strange place. The Democrats, who loathed Baker and his methods, jumped to Baker’s defense while the Republicans, who had relied on Baker many times to be the shady means to achieve their ends, turned against him. Baker, feeling betrayed by his friends released all the pages of his scandalous findings to the public. Many newspapers would not print the reports deeming them too depraved to print, but others published the ladies’ statements in all their depraved detail. A political cartoon of the day even included the scandal with a brazen gentlemen eyeing a group of young ballerinas preparing for the Treasury Department’s production of “A New Way to Pay Old Debts”.

One might think that with all of the uproar that was being caused in the Democratic newspapers over Clark’s misconduct and the release of Baker’s reports that it would be impossible for Chase, Clark, and the Republicans to come out unscathed. However, in the end, Lafayette Baker’s own over-zealousness in his investigation would cause his downfall.

In early May of 1864, right about when the congressional investigation began, one of the Treasury department’s female clerks, Maggie Duvall, suddenly died. Maggie was described as “a beautiful and attractive young lady, with auburn hair, somewhat freckled.” Baker did not believe this death was a coincidence. He believed that Maggie had been a victim of Mr. Clark and died as a result of an abortion. Baker was able to collect a statement from another clerk that seemed to support this idea. And so, against the heartrending protests of Maggie’s family, Baker had Maggie’s funeral halted and had her body sent to an examining committee of local physicians to check for signs of an abortion.

In the end, however, Baker’s gamble backfired. It was found that Maggie had died of consumption and that her “virtue” was still intact. When the press heard the news of what Baker had done, they crucified him for it. His desecration of the poor girl’s body against the wishes of her family and the way he had attempted to sully her reputation became more of an outrage that than Clark’s alleged actions towards the other women. The Republicans were amazingly able to refrain the issue and turn Baker into the enemy. When Garfield and his majority in the congressional committee released their report they alleged that most of the charges against Clark were fabrications created by Baker on behalf of private printing companies in New York who were unhappy with having lost their contracts to print the government’s notes with the establishment of Clark’s bureau. In the end, the committee found that Lafayette Baker, “by the aid of coerced testimony” and with the assistance of “female prostitutes associated with him” had set out to destroy the reputation of Spencer Clark.

Lafayette Baker was livid and challenged Garfield to produce any evidence that he was working behalf of printing companies, had coerced any testimonies, or had used female prostitutes to make his case. In truth, all of these charges were groundless but it didn’t matter. Garfield had managed to reframe the issue in the public mind to protect his friends and his party. The Treasury scandal just went away which is why Spencer Clark was still in his position as superintendent of the printing division when he was asked to examine Lewis Powell’s boot in 1865.

But we’re still not done with Mr. Clark. In fact, we haven’t even touched on the scandal he is most known for and the way in which he changed the course of American currency forever.

In June of 1864, just after the inquiry over Clark’s sexual misconduct ended, Congress approved the creation of a third issue of fractional currency. The first and second issues, which ranged from 5 cents to 50 cents, had only contained the portraits of Washington and Jefferson. The design process was a lengthy affair with dies having to be created by outside companies. During this time Secretary Chase resigned from his post. He was replaced by Maine Senator William Fessenden who became the new Secretary of the Treasury.

William Fessenden was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1864 – 1865

Clark was in charge of the creation of the new fractional notes. It’s possible he was trying to curry favor with his new boss when he approached him with his idea for the portraits that should be placed on the new notes. Clark suggested that the notes contain the images of Secretary Fessenden, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury George Harrington, Controller of the Currency Hugh McCullough, and the Treasurer of the United States Francis Spinner.  Secretary Fessenden agreed to have his own face on one of the bills but told Clark to ask the other gentlemen for their consent. The other gentlemen were reluctant to the proposition but eventually agreed to it when they were assured by Clark that Secretary Fessenden wanted it so (which was a lie). In time Secretary Fessenden’s portrait appeared on the 25 cent note, and Treasurer Spinner’s portrait went on the 50 cent note.

Fractional currency notes bearing the likenesses of William Fessenden and Francis Spinner

These high value notes went into circulation but were not as common as the lower ones. The die for Controller McCullough’s note was damaged upon delivery to the Treasury and he, already being uncomfortable with the idea of being on currency, refused to allow Clark to order a new one. The design for Harrington’s note was apparently not yet in production. What occurred next is a little uncertain but end result was this:

A 5 cent fractional note bearing the likeness of Spencer Clark

Spencer Clark put his own face on the 5 cent fractional note. The story goes that the demand for 5 cent notes were so high that the treasury was under a time crunch to release the new issue of these bills. Strangely, or perhaps purposefully, Clark had originally planned for Francis Spinner to be on the 5 cent note but moved him to the less popular 50 cent note. Clark went up to Treasurer Spinner, told him of the almost completed design for the 5 cent note but lamented he had no portrait to put upon it. According to one story, Clark then said, “What head shall we use?” Clark asked Spinner, “the boys have got up a die with my head, what objection is there to using it?” Spinner then allegedly replied, “I have none”. Clark then went off telling people that he had the authorization of Francis Spinner to use his own image and he just so happened to have a die with his own portrait on it ready to go. However the truth is that Francis Spinner did not have the authority to approve designs nor did he claim to. When Secretary Fessenden saw the early proofs of the new 5 cent notes with Clark’s face, he rebuffed Clark. Clark then told him that it was Spinner who had insisted that Clark’s image be put upon the notes due to his years of faithful service to the bureau (which was a lie). The other story surrounding the placement of Spencer Clark’s face states that, when Clark approached Treasurer Spinner inquiring about who to put on the 5 cent note, he said something along the lines of, “Would the likeness of Clark do?” Spinner apparently believed that Spencer was referring to that great American explorer William Clark, of Louis and Clark fame. Spinner agreed to this and it was not until after the proofs were made that it was discovered that there had been a “misunderstanding”. Regardless of what really happened, due to the time constraints and demand for the bills, the production of the 5 cent notes with Spencer Clark’s face was allowed to continue.

As you might imagine, when these new 5 cent notes first appeared in public in February of 1866, there was quite an uproar. People had previous talked of the impudence of when Salmon Chase was placed on the $1 notes produced by the treasury and now here were fractional bills containing the images of three more treasury workers. Though George Washington was retained on the 3 cent and 10 cent notes, Thomas Jefferson had lost his place among our nation’s money completely.

Members of Congress were the most outraged especially considering the drama that had unfolded around Clark just two years earlier. The man had been rightfully accused of using his position to solicit sexual favors from his female subordinates and now he was the face of the 5 cent note. So, on March 1, 1866, Representative Martin Thayer of Pennsylvania added the following amendment to an appropriations bill for the Treasury:

“Hereafter no portrait or likeness of any living person shall be engraved or placed upon any of the bonds, securities, notes, or postal currency of the United States.”

Thayer humorously demonstrated how teachers all over the country will have to do away with their old table of Federal currency and learn the one currently promoted by the Treasury.

Rep. James Garfield expressed his disagreement with the amendment, initially citing his belief that money should represent the leaders of the day. However, his argument quickly shifted into a prolonged and flowery defense of Spencer Clark:

“Sir, I take pleasure in saying a word for an abused man, who is not here to answer his accusers; and I say it, too, remembering the declaration of an ancient philosopher, that people love to hear accusation better than defense. I do not hesitate to declare it as my opinion that when the history of our financial struggles during the later war shall have been written; when all passion and prejudice shall have died away; when the events of the present shall be seen in the clear light of veritable history, this man, whose picture is now sneered at; this man, so little known to fame, and so unfavorably spoken of among many members of this House, will stand out in that history as a man most remarkable for genius and ability, for having accomplished a work which will take its place among the wonders of mechanism and useful invention, and for having saved to the Treasury, by his skill and fidelity, millions of money. Whatever people please to say concerning S. M. Clark and his antecedents, he has done his country signal service; and, sir, I believe his merits will some day be recognized by the American people as they have been and still are by those who know what he has done and is still doing in the public service.”

Representative James Brooks from New York, the Congressman who had started the call to investigate Clark two years ago and served as one of Garfield’s token Democrats in the committee could not let Garfield’s aggrandizement of Clark go without a response.

Rep. James Brooks of New York

“What a eulogy he has pronounced upon a great hero of this war! When the name of Grant shall have faded away; when the magnificent victories of Sherman, from the mountains of Tennessee throughout all George, North and South Carolina, and Virginia, shall have been forgotten; … when even Lincoln shall have been buried with Julius and Augustus Caesar, there will arise one remarkable man; high on the horizon, and that is Clark, the printer of the public money!”

This response was met with laughter from the House. Garfield and Brooks then argued for some time about the past investigation into Clark before Brooks brought the attention back to the matter at hand.

“Sir, the honorable gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Thayer is right. No man should be immortalized upon the public money of the country until the verdict of posterity has been pronounced upon his name, and it can go down upon that record sanctioned by the voices of men of all parties, all politics, and of all religions.”

In the end, the Representatives voted to put Rep. Thayer amendment in. When the amendment arrived in the Senate the only change made was to allow the current plates of notes to be used until their expiration in order to avoid the cost of halting production and purchasing new ones at this time. This was agreed to by both the Senate and House without dissent.

Finally on April 7, 1866, the appropriations bill was passed which contained the amendment banning living people from appearing on our money and stamps.

This policy still stands today. Coincidentally. the same appropriations bill that banned portraits of living people on money also approved the expenditure of $100,000 for the purchase of a property in Washington City “for the deposit and safe keeping of documentary papers relating to the soldiers of the army of the United States, and of the museum of the medical and surgical department of the army.” The property’s name? Ford’s Theatre.

Spencer Clark survived an investigation into his qualifications. He survived an investigation into his immoral and predatory behavior with his female clerks. Spencer Clark even survived the aftermath of the widespread embarrassment he had brought upon his government by putting his own face on money. However, could not survive one last scandal. On November 17, 1868, Clark tendered his resignation after an investigative committee found him guilty of…improper book-keeping. After leaving the Treasury, Clark acquired a position in the Department of Agriculture, eventually becoming the head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Clark died on December 10, 1890 and is buried in Hartford, Connecticut next to his wife.

Spencer Clark was a failed businessman, a fake engineer, the Superintendent of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a scumbag sexual predator, and man who put his own face on money. That’s quite a scandalous hidden history.

The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North by Michael Thomas Smith – a fascinating book which details Spencer Clark and the Treasury Scandal

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Buffalo Resident and Lincoln’s Assassination

On Saturday, April 15, the news of Lincoln’s assassination in Washington, D.C. reached the residents of Buffalo, New York. The entire city followed the rest of the nation with massive demonstrations of mourning. Black crepe was draped over public buildings and the residents wore black armbands and cockades. Many private homes in the city choose to mimic their public counterparts by similarly displaying mourning emblems and decorations. In Niagara Square, an affluent residential neighborhood in Buffalo, every single house was draped in black crepe and flying the American flag with the exception of one. As of Monday, April 17, this home was still without mourning decorations, much to the chagrin of other residences who thought the lack of adornment demonstrated disrespect to the fallen President and the grieving nation. That evening a group of residents decided to take matters into their own hands. According to newspaper reports, a small group of men threw either ink or mud on the front of the offending home. This blackened the front of the home, effectively forcing it into a display of mourning.

This incident would seem a minor and insignificant occurrence had it not been for the well-known nature of the house’s owner. The Buffalo resident who had his house blackened by his neighbors for failing to demonstrate an appropriate amount of mourning over Lincoln’s death was ex-President Millard Fillmore.

Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States, having inherited the office after the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850. Fillmore served out the remainder of Taylor’s term before he was replaced by President Franklin Pierce in 1853. During the Civil War, Fillmore had initially been supportive of President Lincoln’s efforts and the ex-President even commanded a corps of above 45 years-old home guardsmen named the Union Continentals. These guardsmen, too old for regular army service, trained to defend the Buffalo area in case of Confederate attack. As the war went on, however, Fillmore became less support of Lincoln’s administration and the ongoing costs of war. In 1864, he spoke out against the continuing bloodshed and endorsed the Democratic candidate George McClellan, hoping the democrats would end the war and return the Southern states into the Union even with slavery still intact. This betrayal of Lincoln turned Fillmore into a Copperhead and greatly diminished his influence thereafter. The Republican papers in Buffalo never forgave Fillmore for this and recalled his own administration’s commitment to enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.

This is the reason why there was so much backlash to Fillmore’s lack of mourning decoration on his home on April 17, 1865. In papers nationwide, Fillmore was attacked for his impropriety, with many papers taking jabs at his politics.

To Fillmore’s credit, he was quick to rectify the situation. An acquaintance in Buffalo, on Wednesday, April 19, two days after the blackening, described the scene as follows:

“I passed the residence of ex-President Fillmore. It was heavily and appropriately draped, a large American flag forming part of the drapery. Moreover, I met and conversed with Mr. Fillmore on the streets. He wore a badge of mourning on his person. He mentioned his gratification at the solemn and universal observance of the day, in the way of funeral obsequies to the illustrious dead; and in speaking of the event of Mr. Lincoln’s death, he pronounced it ‘a great national calamity.’” – The Wheeling Daily Register, April 28, 1865

In addition to adding the appropriate displays of mourning to his house, some sympathetic newspapers also published Fillmore’s reasoning for having not adorned his abode earlier:

“We have ample reason to know that this omission was not for want of sincere respect for the deceased, or of a heartfelt sorrow at his death. But private dwellings were not generally draped, and no notice was given that they would be, and Mrs. F[illmore] being out of health, Mr. Fillmore – as we are informed – did not leave his house after going to the post office in the morning, and therefore was not aware that any private dwellings were draped, and naturally thought an ostentatious show of grief might be misunderstood.” – Philadelphia Press, April 25, 1865

In the end, there is no evidence to show that Millard Fillmore meant any disrespect toward’s Lincoln’s memory. Even strongly Republican newspapers, when hearing of the circumstances regarding the vandalism and Fillmore’s response, condemned the actions of the mob.

Despite this, many still believed that Fillmore’s crime was of having the reputation of being a Copperhead and failing to publicly mourn Lincoln’s assassination quickly enough. A similar situation to this occurred with another living ex-President, Franklin Pierce.

Unlike Fillmore who had been supportive of Lincoln’s actions in the beginning of the war, Franklin Pierce had been an outspoken critic of Lincoln from the beginning. Pierce publicly spoke out against the war and sought to bring about peace talks to end the fighting and restore the Union with slavery intact. He was also a rightful critic of some of Lincoln’s more controversial acts such as the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the draft. It was well known that Pierce had no love for the actions of Lincoln’s administration. Upon the news of Lincoln’s death, an angry mob descended on Pierce’s home in Concord, New Hampshire. While Fillmore was either unaware, or ignored, the crowd at his home, Pierce went out to greet them. “Fellow-Townsmen,” Pierce said addressing the crowd, “I come to ascertain the motives of this call. What is your desire?” Someone in the crowd then replied, “We wish to hear some words from you on this sad occasion.” Then, using his powers of oration, the 60 year-old former President was able to nullify the crowd:

“I wish I could address you words of solace. But that can hardly be done. The magnitude of the calamity, in all aspects, is overwhelming. If your hearts are oppressed by events more calculated to awaken profound sorrow and regret than any which have hitherto occurred in our history, mine mingles its deepest sorrow with yours…”

After talking for a bit about their shared sense of mourning, a voice from the crowd shouted out, “Where is your flag?” echoing the lack of patriotic adornment that so condemned Fillmore’s home. Pierce countered this point expertly:

“It is not necessary for me to show my devotion for the stars and stripes by any special exhibition, or upon the demand of any man or body of men…If the period during which I have served our State and country in various situations, commencing more than thirty-five years ago, have left any question of my devotion to the flag, the Constitution and Union, in doubt, it is too late now to remove it by any such exhibition as the inquiry suggests…”

After only a few minutes of talking, Franklin Pierce was able to disperse the angry crowd and prevent any vandalism such as was suffered by Fillmore.

Fillmore, himself, did not appear to make any public speeches of grief until May 9th. During the interim, however, he did take part in the funeral proceedings for the late President. When Lincoln’s funeral train arrived in Batavia, NY at 5:18 am on April 27, 1865, Millard Fillmore was at the station to board it. He was on board along with other dignitaries, who had previously been picked up in Rochester, when the funeral trained arrived in Buffalo at 7:00 am.

Lincoln’s funeral cortege in Buffalo, NY, April 27, 1865

During the course of that day, Millard Fillmore was part of the funerary cortege and events. Fillmore took part in viewing Lincoln’s body as it laid in St. James Hall until 8:00 pm when the coffin was closed and the procession returned to the railway depot. At 10:00 pm, the funeral train departed, with Fillmore remaining in his hometown. An estimated 40,000 – 50,000 people viewed Lincoln’s remains in Buffalo that day including 28 year old future President Grover Cleveland.

It isn’t until May 9, 1865, that we have the first recorded sentiments from Millard Fillmore regarding the assassination of Lincoln. The remarks come from the minutes of the Buffalo Historical Society a group that Fillmore took a vested interest in. Like many other organizations at the time, the Buffalo Historical Society enacted a resolution in their minutes expressing their grief at the national tragedy. Before the BHS adopted their resolution, Fillmore asked to say a few words on the record. In his statement, which is recorded in full below, Fillmore expresses his sense of loss at Lincoln’s death but spends more words speaking hopefully of President Andrew Johnson, a man who had ascended to the Presidency through the death of another – a situation well known to Fillmore.

“As this resolution offered by Mr. Allen, is entertained by the society, and as he has been pleased to refer to me in his remarks, I trust that I shall be pardoned for saying a few words before the question is taken on its adoption. Perhaps no member of this society appreciates more fully than I do, the difficult task which President Lincoln had to perform, and I am sure none can deplore his death more sincerely than I do.

It is well known that I have not approved of all acts which have been done in his name during his Administration, but I am happy to say that his recent course met my approbation, and I had looked forward with confident expectation that he would soon be able to end the war, and by his kind, conciliatory manner win back our erring and repentant brethren and restore the Union. His assassination has sent a thrill of horror through every heart, depriving the Chief Magistrate of his life at a moment when party hostility was subsiding, and his life was doubly dear to his countrymen, and it has plunged a nation into mourning.

The chief assassin has already been summoned to the bar of a just God to answer for his crime, and I hope and trust that every one who participated in this awful tragedy will be legally tried, before the constitutional courts of the country, and if found guilty, will meet the punishment which the law prescribes for his offence; and that no innocent person will suffer from prejudice or passion. I need hardly add that I cordially concur in this resolution as a just tribute of respect to the memory of the deceased.

But while I express my sense of the great loss which this country has sustained in the death of President Lincoln at this particular juncture, I would not be understood as implying a want of confidence in his successor. I can sympathize with him in the embarrassments with which he is surrounded, and the difficulties which he has to encounter in being thus suddenly called to the helm of state amid the perilous storm of an unparalleled rebellion. It appears to me that the storm has nearly spent its fury, and the angry waves are gradually subsiding, and gleams of sunshine already illumine many a dark spot. This fact greatly adds to the labors and responsibilities of the Government. Statesmanship must now take the place of arms. But yet I have hope. From all that I know of President Johnson I think he has talent and integrity; and if he will hear and then follow the dictates of his own good sense and calm judgment, without prejudice or passion, he will succeed. But I must say that I am pained to see so little consideration manifested even by well-intentioned friends, as to rush upon him at this time with addresses, requiring a response from him, thus engrossing his valuable time and distracting his mind, when every consideration of friendship, patriotism and propriety should forbid it.

The first caution he has to observe is to steer clear of the factions that are trying to get possession of him for their own selfish purposes — to carry out some favorite theory of reconstruction, or to gratify some feeling of revenge.

I am happy to see that he receives all politely but keeps his own counsel, and has the prudence and good sense not to commit himself in offhand speeches as to his future policy; but leaves himself at liberty, after due consideration, to take advantage of circumstances as they arise.

In my humble opinion, he who controls the destinies of a nation, especially at a time like this, should never indicate his future policy until it is fully matured in Cabinet council, and he is ready to put it in operation; nor should he promise an office until he is ready to confer it.

While, therefore, we justly deplore the loss of President Lincoln, let us never despair of the Republic; but rally around his successor, regardless of past differences or party prejudices, and do all we can to sustain him, so long as he maintains the Constitution and laws of our common country. Let us remember amidst all our grief and disappointments that there is an unerring Providence that governs this world, and that no man is indispensable to a nation’s life; and let us look hopefully for the rainbow of peace that will surely succeed the storm if we do our own duty. I hope the resolution will be adopted.”

Fillmore would become an ally for Andrew Johnson and supported the 17th President’s Reconstruction policies. This support likely had some roots in Fillmore’s own difficulties in succeeding a deceased President. When President Johnson visited Buffalo on September 3, 1866, Millard Fillmore was selected to be the lead dignitary to greet him and welcome him to the city.

In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, grief gripped the country. This grief manifested in a variety of ways. While many sought solace through individual and group demonstrations of mourning, other were so filled with confusion and conflict at the loss of the President that they struck out in anger. The forceful blackening of the 13th President’s home was as much an expression of grief as was the Lincoln funeral train itself. Saddened and confused residents around the nation lashed out at those in their communities who they knew to be critical of Lincoln in the past. For a time, many faced severe punishment for a lack of appropriate grief at Lincoln’s death, whether warranted or not. The blackening of Fillmore’s house may be regrettable but it perfectly demonstrates one manner in which the country attempted to cope with the loss of Lincoln.

Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert J. Rayback
President Lincoln Assassinated!! The Firsthand Story of the Murder, Manhunt, Trial and Mourning edited by Harold Holzer
Lincoln’s Funeral Train: The Epic Journey from Washington to Springfield by Robert M. Reed
Millard Fillmore Papers, Volume Two edited by Frank H. Severance
Newspaper extracts come from and the Library of Congress
The inspiration for this post comes from the wonderfully done, Railsplitter Podcast. Each week, the Railsplitter Podcast delves into the life of Abraham Lincoln. The three hosts are able to make Abraham Lincoln accessible to all with the use of knowledge and a good dose of humor. In that vein, one of the hosts of the podcast, Railsplitter Nick, has an ongoing “feud” with President Millard Fillmore. Why Nick dislikes Fillmore so much, I don’t really remember. However, he manages to find a way to diss Fillmore in almost every episode of the podcast. In preparation for an upcoming appearance on an assassination related episode of the Railsplitter Podcast, I wanted to find a way to connect Fillmore to Lincoln’s death. That is what led me to research and compose this post. I hope you enjoyed and/or hated it, Nick!

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

An Assassination Cane

An Interesting Artifact

The collection of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee contains many fascinating artifacts relating to the 16th President. Among their collections is a cupboard made by Abraham’s father, Thomas Lincoln; a china set owned by the Lincolns in their Springfield home; a lock of Willie Lincoln’s hair taken from his head after his death; and a massive archive of art, books, manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera relating to Lincoln. One of the most famous artifacts in the museum, however, is an ebony cane topped with a sterling silver knob handle which bears the inscription “A. Lincoln”.

Compared to modern canes which are mainly used as functional tools to assist in walking and balance, this 35.5 inch long cane owned by Lincoln was solely a fashion piece. Short canes, or walking sticks, were very common accessories for men during the Victorian era. Many men carried canes as evidence of class and elaborate canes were common affectations designed only to impress or convey prestige. For example, Lincoln’s future assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was often photographed with walking sticks. Since Booth would often give out these photographs to friends and admirers, the cane helped to subtlety reinforce his self-image as a member of high society.

While Lincoln was not known to crave prestige, canes were also often presented as gifts. Visiting dignitaries often received decorative canes as tokens of esteem. There are many accounts of Lincoln being presented with canes during his career as a lawyer and politician.

The question remains then, why is the Lincoln cane at the ALLM one of the highlights of the museum’s collection? What sets it apart from any number of canes that are said to have been owned or presented to Lincoln? Well, this cane is said to have been with Abraham Lincoln when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The Provenance

The Lincoln cane arrived in the collection of the ALLM on September 10, 1929. It was given to the museum by a former resident of Troy, New York named Joseph Mayhew. In his donation of the cane, Mr. Mayhew included two notarized letters conveying the history of the cane. One letter was written by Mr. Mayhew and the other was by his sister, Emma Cuenin nee Mayhew. The following is from Emma’s affidavit:

“In 1875 my father, Stephen Mayhew, was the proprietor of a grocery and meat market at the corner of Fifth and Ferry Streets, Troy, N.Y. After school I would often wait on the customers who came into the store. This was when I was about 11 years old.

I remember a man and his wife named Phelps trading at the store. Phelps was an actor. He would purchase groceries and meats and then charge them. When his bill amounted to about $40.00 and he was unable to pay he offered father Abraham Lincoln’s cane in lieu of the bill. Father accepted the cane as payment in full.

Phelps related how he became possessor of Abraham Lincoln’s cane, saying that he, Phelps, was an actor having a minor part in the play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on the night President Lincoln was assassinated. In the excitement that followed Lincoln’s being shot Phelps entered the President’s box and seeing the cane in the corner where Lincoln left it he picked it up and kept it as a memento.

Father often carried the cane, making no secret that it at one time belonged to President Lincoln.”

Stephen Mayhew continued to own and display Lincoln’s cane to his friends and neighbors. According to the affidavits, the display of the cane caused jealously among a certain Troy resident who sought to claim the cane as his own.

“Some litigation was started concerning the cane, as a man named Kisselberg though he would like to gain possession of it. My father’s interests in the matter were defended by a lawyer named Palmer. After spending some money and time in the courts Palmer caused the cane to be sold at Sheriff’s sale in order that a clear title could be obtained. It was bought in for my father.

During the litigation a letter was written to Lincoln’s son concerning the cane, in which it was explained how father became possessor of it. Lincoln’s son replied, stating that as long as father had obtained it through an honest debt he was entitled to it.”

Joseph Mayhew’s affidavit contains a bit more detail regarding the legal battle concerning the cane, but fails to mention the detail regarding Robert Todd Lincoln’s involvement in the case:

“At a later date, when it became generally known that my father had the cane in his possession, it was seized by the local authorities. It was kept for a time by the Sheriff of Rensselear County and also in a jeweler’s safe. This jeweler’s name was Kisselberg and his place of business was on River Street in Troy, N.Y.

My father took legal action to recover the cane. He engaged a lawyer, named Palmer. Palmer caused the cane to be sold at Sheriff’s sale and bought it in for my father so that my father would have a clear title to it. The litigation cost my father between eighteen hundred ($1800.00) and two thousand ($2000.00) dollars.”

After recovering his property, Stephen Mayhew continued to own Lincoln’s cane. In 1914, Stephen gave the cane to Joseph. The elder Mayhew died in 1917.

With these two pieces of evidence in hand and a priceless, highly fought over, silent witness in their collection, the assassination cane has been a centerpiece of the ALLM’s collection for years.

Recently, I have been looking through my files relating to my own visit to the ALLM back in 2014. Though I was only able to spend a brief period of time researching in their archives, I was amazed at the breadth of their collection. I previously did a blog post about a letter owned by conspirator Samuel Arnold that is in the museum’s collection. In revisiting my files, I decided it would be worthwhile to publish a quick post about the Lincoln cane with the intention of bringing about some more awareness to this unique artifact. After a bit of research into this cane and the provenance behind it however, I have come to an unexpected conclusion.  I do not believe this cane was at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The Research

Near the end of Joseph Mayhew’s affidavit he mentions that when his father finally presented the cane to him, it was also accompanied by, “a copy of ‘The Trojan Observer,’ a newspaper dated Monday, January 26, 1880, and published at Troy, N.Y. This newspaper contains an account with reference to the Lincoln cane.” It turns out that the seizure and legal battle concerning the cane was a newsworthy event. The local Troy papers talked about the recovery of the cane and how it would, undoubtedly, be returned to Robert Todd Lincoln. The story of Lincoln’s cane was reprinted across the country. The newspapers, likely getting their information from Stephen Mayhew, reported that the man who recovered the cane was named A. R. Phelps, the stage name of actor Alonzo Raymond Phelps. This name concurs with the Mayhew children’s statements years later. Also helpful to the Mayhews’ statements is the fact that Alonzo Phelps, for a brief period of time in the mid 1870s, did reside in Troy, NY as evidenced by his inclusion in a Troy city directory.

From this point onward, however, the evidence against the cane’s provenance begins to add up. By consulting Thomas Bogar’s impeccably researched book, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, one finds that Alonzo Phelps did not perform in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre that night. He was not part of the Ford’s stock company and was not a member of Laura Keene’s visiting troupe. The idea that Phelps was acting at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s death is not supported by the evidence.

The question then becomes, if Phelps did not perform at Ford’s Theatre that night, was it possible for him to be there in the role of an audience member instead? Unfortunately, that does not appear to be likely.

The entry for A. R. Phelps in the 1870 edition of Brown’s History of the American Stage states that, “in 1854 [Phelps] sailed for California, in company with the Denin Sisters, where he opened in ‘Love’s Sacrifice,’ on April 10 of that year. He remained on that coast, playing through California, Oregon, Nevada, etc., until 1866, when he took the overland trip to New York.” Further research demonstrates Phelps’ long residence in California where he worked as both an actor and a theater manager. In 1856, for example, A. R. Phelps and fellow actor Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. leased the Union Theatre in San Francisco. Among the actors the business partners brought in that season was June’s younger brother, Edwin Booth, who was just beginning his starring theatrical career.

Phelps stayed in California during the course of the Civil War and the evidence indicates that Phelps was likely still in California when Lincoln’s assassination occurred. In addition to the entry in Brown’s History of the American Stage which states that Phelps did not return east until 1866, we also find A. R. Phelps’ name in the 1864 and 1865 city directories for San Francisco. Newspaper advertisements also indicate that he was performing at the Metropolitan Theatre in San Francisco as late as March of 1865. With the journey between San Francisco and New York lasting about a month in those days, it is extremely unlikely Phelps was on the correct coast when Lincoln was assassinated. The bulk of the evidence points to him still being in California when Lincoln was killed.

With it having been established that Phelps was not performing at, or likely even near, Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the provenance of the “assassination” cane is dealt a significant blow. What is interesting, however, is that this is not the first time the authenticity of the cane has been questioned. In fact, the true history of the cane may have very well been established back in 1880 when the initial reports went out about its recovery from Stephen Mayhew. An article, originally published by the Troy Evening Standard and reprinted by other newspapers across the country, gives a different history of where this cane came from:

“Many years ago, when President Lincoln was a poor lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he carried about with him a plain ebony cane, with a silver ferrule, marked ‘A. Lincoln.’ The cane may have cost $5.

When Lincoln found himself in Washington he still carried the old ebony, being loath to part with his old friend. One day a delegation of friends waited upon and presented him with an elegant modern cane with an elaborately engraved gold handle. He accepted the gift more to accommodate his friends than to please himself. The old cane was given to a trusty valet who often frequented a prominent restaurant in Washington, where nightly assembled many professional men, actors, lawyers and musicians. Among the number was A. R. Phelps, the first manager of the Grand Central Theatre. Hard pushed for money, the valet pawned the cane with the proprietor of the restaurant, and from the latter it passed into the hands of Phelps. In his vocation as a theatrical manager and actor Phelps struck Troy some three or four years ago, and assumed the management of the Grand Central Theatre for Thomas Miller, the proprietor. Finally adversity overtook him. Misfortune fell heavily upon him, and he with his wife and six children was left in the direst distress, and he pawned the cane to a down-town citizen for $25. He then left town and has not since been seen here…”

If accurate, this article paints a very different story as to the circumstances surrounding Alonzo Phelps’ attainment of Lincoln’s cane. Rather than having retrieved the cane from the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre, Phelps is said to have received the cane as a gift from a restaurant proprietor in Washington on an undetermined date. In addition, the article claims that the cane was one purchased by Lincoln himself while living in Springfield and given away by the living Lincoln when he received a different one in Washington. While the article does not provide any sources for the history behind Lincoln’s cane, it is clear that at least some research was undertaken in its reporting. The article gives the circumstances of Phelps’ residence in Troy in the mid-1870s stating that he was the theatrical manager of the Grand Central Theatre. This appears to be backed up by a January 20, 1877 article in the New York Clipper which announced that Phelps was to receive a complimentary benefit at the Grand Central Theatre.

However, there are some small discrepancies in the article as well, such as the amount Phelps owed to Mayhew ($25 vs $40) and the number of children Phelps had at the time (6 vs 5). In addition, the article goes on to recount the involvement of Robert Todd Lincoln in attempting to recover the cane:

“Robert T. Lincoln, son of the dead President, learning that the cane was in this city, corresponded with Chief Markham with a view of obtaining possession of it. Yesterday morning Markham received track of its whereabouts and served a search warrant upon the proprietor of a meat market at the corner of Federal and North Fourth streets. There the cane was recovered. In the police court yesterday afternoon, before Justice Donohue, the matter of the disposition of the cane was taken up, and postponed for two weeks. It is supposed Phelps gave the cane as security for the meat consumed by his family.”

According to this article, Robert Todd Lincoln was taking an active role in the recovery of his father’s cane. This is in contrast to the Mayhews’ statements which claim the seizure of the cane was brought upon by a jealous and covetous neighbor and that it was a letter by Robert Lincoln which allowed them to retrieve the artifact. After some further digging, however, it appears that neither set of these circumstances are true.

Between 1903 and 1926, Robert Todd Lincoln maintained a correspondence with a former journalist named Isaac Markens of New York. Markens was studying Abraham Lincoln and wrote many letters to Robert asking him questions about his father. Markens published a few pamphlets on Abraham Lincoln and was said to have been working on a full biography of the President that was never completed. In the 1960s, the 82 letters written by Robert Lincoln in answer to Isaac Markens’ questions were donated to the Chicago Historical Society. In 1968, the CHS published the bulk of the letters as a book titled, A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the Letters by his Oldest Son. While the book does not contain the original letters Markens sent to Robert, it seems clear that at one point Markens came across one of the 1880 newspaper stories regarding the assassination cane and decided to ask Robert about it. The following is part of a letter Robert Lincoln sent to Markens on January 25, 1918 in which he discusses the cane:

“The story about the cane is queer. I think I should have remembered any such events as are described in it if they had occurred, and I do not. I do not think there is a word of truth in the story. I do not own any cane ever possessed by my father, and I never took any interest in any such cane. He never used a cane himself at all. At various times in his life there were presented to him canes. I remember such things, but he never cared anything about them, and gave them no attention. I think it is true that after his death my mother gave away to servants some canes which had come to him in Washington, for which none of us had any regard whatever. Such canes may be in existence, but they possess no real interest in connection with my father.

Very sincerely yours,

Robert T. Lincoln”

In this letter, Robert Lincoln makes it clear that he never had any involvement regarding a cane belonging to his father. This is in contrast to both the newspaper articles and the affidavits from the Mayhews. Nevertheless, Robert Todd Lincoln is a more reliable source on these matters than the other two and his statement must carry the most weight.


We are left with an “assassination” cane whose provenance is full of holes and half-truths. Each piece of the story can be broken down into categories of likely and unlikely.

It seems likely that Alonzo Phelps gave Stephen Mayhew a cane in exchange for a debt the actor owed the grocer. This piece of the story is consistent across all sources and there is evidence that places Phelps in Troy during the applicable time period.

It seems highly unlikely that Alonzo Phelps retrieved the cane from the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Evidence proves that Phelps was not performing at Ford’s Theatre in direct contradiction to the claims of the Mayhew family. Given Phelps’ established residence in California up until March of 1865, it seems incredibly unlikely that he was even in Washington, D.C. that fateful night.

It is unlikely that this cane was even carried by Abraham Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on April 14th. For this point we have two pieces of evidence. The first, and admittedly weaker, piece of evidence is Robert Lincoln’s assertion that his father did not regularly carry a cane. Since Robert was not a witness to his father’s assassination, this piece alone does not prove much. However, there was an eyewitness to Lincoln’s assassination who publicly disputed the idea that Lincoln carried a cane with him that night. After the story of Lincoln’s cane was published across the country in 1880, a brief retort was published in Washington, D.C.’s the Evening Star. The article stated, “The story telegraphed from Troy about the recovery of a cane stolen from Mr. Lincoln’s box in the theater on the night of his assassination, is pronounced by Mr. Charles Forbes, who was an usher at the White House at the time, to be false, as Mr. Lincoln had no cane with him.” Though the brief article failed to mention it, Charles Forbes was far more than just a White House usher. Forbes had accompanied the Lincoln party to Ford’s Theatre that night and he was the one sitting outside of the President’s box when John Wilkes Booth approached. Booth presented Forbes with a calling card of some sort and Forbes allowed Booth entry into the box. Forbes is a very reliable witness in this matter and his claim that Lincoln had no cane with him that night is further evidence against the cane’s reported history.

Charles Forbes, the man who sat outside of Lincoln’s box and allowed John Wilkes Booth to enter. He denied Lincoln carried a cane that night.

After looking at all of the evidence, I do not believe the “assassination” cane held by the ALLM was ever with Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. The most likely history of this cane, in my mind, was largely laid out by Robert Lincoln. We know that Abraham Lincoln was presented with many canes during his lifetime. The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection contains an entire file folder of clippings relating to Lincoln canes. In addition to ones gifted to him, Lincoln himself was known to present canes as gifts. In 1864, for example, 19 silver headed ebony canes were purchased by the government and presented to the 19 governors of the Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. Each of these canes were engraved with the name of the governor and also the name of the President “A. Lincoln”. In his letter, Robert Lincoln mentions how, after his father’s death, Mary Lincoln gave away canes that had been presented to her husband. I believe a situation similar to this likely occurred with the cane at the ALLM. Somehow, perhaps from a restaurant owner in D.C. as the newspaper account stated, Alonzo Phelps acquired a cane that had, at one time, been owned or presented to Abraham Lincoln. Phelps cherished the cane until he was forced to part with it in Troy in the 1870s to Stephen Mayhew. Over time, either through outright lies or faulty memories, the story of the cane morphed, giving it a far more dramatic backstory. Lincoln Memorial University was more than happy to acquire this unique piece for their growing Lincoln collection and the two notarized statements from the Mayhew children were provenance enough in the 1920s. However, with the help of modern tools and resources, we can more deeply investigate the provenance behind artifacts like the Lincoln cane. While such investigations may lead to disappointing conclusions, like the debunking of a cherished Lincoln artifact, the process is an important part of evaluating and reevaluating what we think we know about the past.

Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (ALLM)
Provenance records for President Lincoln’s cane at the ALLM (80.0379)
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar
San Francisco Theatre Research: Theatre Buildings Vol. XV Part 1 edited by Lawrence Estevan
History of the American Stage (1870) by T. Allston Brown
San Francisco City Directory, Oct 1864 and Dec 1865 accessed via
“Lincoln’s Cane” Troy Evening Standard article reprinted in the San Francisco Bulletin, February 2, 1880
A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in Letters by his Oldest Son edited by Paul M. Angle with assistance of Richard G. Case
Charles Forbes Statement in the January, 23, 1880 edition of the Evening Star
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection: Canes Owned by Lincoln file, Cane – Assassination file
“At the Griswold Opera-House, Troy, N.Y. …The veteran actor and manager A. R. Phelps, and wife, who recently resigned from the Griswold Opera-house, are to be the recipients of a complimentary benefit at the Grand Central.” – The New York Clipper January 20, 1877

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Lewis Powell at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg is among the most well-known of all Civil War battles. While, today, many view it as an important turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg’s original notoriety was derived from the sheer number of soldiers who fought and died there in July of 1863. Over one hundred thousand men from the Union and Confederate armies fought in the foothills of Pennsylvania during the three day battle. Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln would speak at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg to honor the sacrifice of the Union soldiers who were lost during the fight. His speech, known as the Gettysburg Address, is among one of the greatest speeches ever written and it also helps to propel the Battle of Gettysburg in the minds of people today. Many wonderful texts have been written about the actions of the famous Union and Confederate officers who squared off in this pivotal battle. The movements of their units are depicted and recounted on monuments and signs throughout the Gettysburg National Military Park. In the sea of ranks, infantry, and units, it is difficult to adjust one’s view to consider the stories of individual soldiers. To each soldier who fought, Gettysburg was its own unique experience with very few being exactly alike. However, as Walt Whitman so noted, “the real war will never get in the books,” and so many of the stories of the common men and women of the Civil War are unrecorded. However, thanks to the research of author Betty Ownsbey, we do know at least some of the Gettysburg experiences of a 19 year-old private with the 2nd Florida Infantry named Lewis Thornton Powell.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Lewis Powell was a teenager living in Hamilton County, Florida. The Sunshine State seceded from the Union in January of 1861, and shortly thereafter Lewis made up his mind to enlist in the Confederate army. On May 30, 1861, Lewis Powell joined up with the Hamilton Blues which later became a company of the 2nd Florida Infantry. Powell was 17 years old at the time of his enlistment, below the age requirement of 18. To get around this, the tall and muscularly built Powell claimed to be 19 years old.

In a time before widespread identification methods, Powell was apparently taken at his word. It wouldn’t be the last time Powell would lie about his identity.

Powell’s early military career was plagued by visits to base hospitals for different illnesses. Despite this, when his one year term of serviced ended in 1862, Powell chose to re-enlist for the duration of the war and claimed the $50 bounty that was offered for re-enlistment. As part of the 2nd Florida Infantry, Powell saw battle during the Peninsula Campaign and at the Battle of Chancellorsville. In the summer of 1863, the 2nd Florida Infantry became a part of the Army of Northern Virginia and were, therefore, present at the Battle of Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, Powell’s unit was part of Perry’s Brigade, which consisted of the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Florida Infantry combined. While the brigade was named for Brigadier General Edward Perry, a future governor of Florida, Perry had contracted typhoid fever during the Battle of Chancellorsville and was not present in Gettysburg. Instead, Perry’s Brigade was led by Col. David Lang.

Col. David Lang was Lewis Powell’s brigade commander during the battle of Gettysburg.

On July 1st, the first day of battle at Gettysburg, the 700 plus men of Perry’s Brigade did not see battle. They, as part of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s Division, were too far to the rear to engage with the Union. By July 2nd, the Union forces had established a fishhook line around Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill just to the southeast of the city of Gettysburg. During that morning, Anderson’s Division had moved closer to the front and took refuge in a patch of woods running from Seminary Ridge southward. Perry’s Brigade was located just north of the Peach Orchard. At 6:00 pm, Perry’s Brigade advanced forward along with the rest of Anderson’s Division. They attacked Brig. General Andrew Humphreys’ Second Division, forcing the Union to abandon several artillery guns as they retreated. Despite the push and the large number of casualties the Confederate forces inflicted on Humphreys’ Division, they were not able to advance to Cemetery Ridge as planned. The Union Infantry on the slope of the ridge prevented further advancement. Union reinforcements pressed in on their right flank and made the ground Perry’s Brigade had gained untenable. Perry’s Brigade, and the rest of Anderson’s division, were pushed back into the woods that they started from.

After pushing the Confederates back, the Union advanced, “recovered the artillery that had been abandoned and captured many prisoners and held the position during the night.”

One of the prisoners that was captured by the Second Division was a wounded Lewis Powell who had suffered a gunshot wound to his right wrist. While we do not know the exact circumstances surrounding Powell’s wounding, it is safe to say that it occurred after 6:00 pm on July 2nd, as Perry’s Brigade was making either their advance or retreat. He may have fallen on the field and not been found until the next morning, as his records state he was captured on July 3rd. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Powell was now a wounded prisoner of war. After his capture, Powell was sent about 2.5 miles to the southeast to a field hospital that had been established by the Twelfth Corps on the farm of George Bushman.

The brick building which served as the main hospital at Bushman farm still stands today. Powell was one of about 1,200 wounded soldiers brought in for triage style treatment, with the majority of these being Union soldiers not Confederate prisoners of war like himself. Powell is recorded to have been a patient in the the 12th Army Corps Hospital on July 4th. On July 6th, Powell was transferred from the field hospital to the larger makeshift hospital that had been set up on the grounds of Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College). The Confederates had seized Pennsylvania College on the first day of battle and had converted one of the buildings, Pennsylvania Hall (also known as the Edifice), into their own field hospital. When the Confederates were forced to abandon the hospital, the Union took it over.

Penn Hall circa 1878

Penn Hall, 2017

Though Powell arrived at the Penn Hall hospital for his own recovery, before too long he found his position at the hospital expanded from patient to nurse. Even with his arm in a sling, Powell started to provide assistance to the doctors and stewards in their care for other wounded Confederates. During his service at Penn Hall, Powell was described as, “good at the work, and kind to the sick and wounded.” The fact that Powell had been previously laid up in other hospitals during his early military career no doubt helped him in his assumed position.

Lewis Powell is given the title of “nurse” on this register list of Confederates in Gettysburg hospitals.

The number of casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg brought in many more volunteers hoping to provide comfort to the wounded. One of these volunteers was a woman from Baltimore named Maggie Branson. Branson was a Confederate sympathizer and she traveled to Gettysburg specifically to tend to the wounded boys in gray. Branson was 30 years-old and unmarried. Over the course of July and August, Branson and Powell worked side by side in the hospital. At the end of August, the Penn Hall Hospital was shutting down. Powell met with the Provost Marshal who decided it would be a better use of the young Confederate’s abilities to continue his work as a nurse in a hospital rather than languish away in a prisoner of war camp. Powell was transferred away from Gettysburg and arrived at West’s Buildings Hospital in Baltimore on September 2, 1863. After only a few days in Baltimore, Powell was able to facilitate his escape. Though Lewis Powell’s exploits from this date onward would eventually bring him back into the military service of the Confederacy, when he did enlist again he did so under a new, assumed name (for that story click here). For the remainder of the war the muster rolls for the 2nd Florida Infantry would record Pvt. Powell as a prisoner of war.

In time, Lewis Thornton Powell would come into contact with John Wilkes Booth. The meeting between soldier and actor would start a series of choices that would change Powell’s life forever. It led the “kind” nurse of Gettysburg to savagely and ruthlessly stab a helpless man lying in his bed. It transformed Lewis Powell from one of the countless faces in the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, into one of the most infamous criminals in our nation’s history. In his final moments, as the Confederate stared at the rope which would strangle him to death in July of 1865, one wonders if Lewis Powell wished his end had come among the foothills of Pennsylvania in July of 1863 instead.

Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy by Betty J. Ownsbey
Interactive Gettysburg Battle Map featured in A Cutting-Edge Second Look at the Battle of Gettysburg by Anne Kelly Knowles
The Battle of Gettysburg – Stone Sentinels: Perry’s BrigadeAnderson’s DivisionHumphrey’s 2nd Division, 3rd Corps

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Replica Booth Diaries for Sale Again!

Looking for that special gift for the Lincoln assassination aficionado in your life? How about a replica of the diary John Wilkes Booth used during his 12 day escape?

A few years ago, I assisted a prop maker named Pasquale Marsella to create near perfect replicas of John Wilkes Booth’s diary. Using photographs of the diary that were taken during the 1970s, Mr. Marsella was able to reproduce the interior of the diary with amazing detail. The interior of these replicas contained Booth’s own handwriting and duplicated the number of missing and torn pages exactly. Mr. Marsella created only a limited number of diaries and quickly sold out of them. I was fortunate enough to purchase one of the diaries, as did the Surratt House Museum, which keeps the replica on display in their visitor center.

Replica Booth diary on display at the Surratt House Museum

In the years since Mr. Marsella’s first run of diaries, demand for the replicas has been high. In 2015, I was contacted by producers at the Smithsonian Channel who were hoping to get their own replica diary for use in a documentary. I had to inform them that Mr. Marsella had no more left. Instead, I agreed to lend them my replica diary for use in their documentary, Lincoln’s Last Day:

Over the last few years I’ve had several other folks contact me hoping they could purchase diaries, and I sadly also had to inform them that Mr. Marsella had no more left and wasn’t making them anymore. However, Mr. Marsella has recently decided to do another run of his diaries which are available for purchase!

In this second run of diaries, Mr. Marsella has made some improvements from his earlier design. The new replicas utilize a higher quality leather which is softer and gives the diary an older look and feel than previous models. Further, Mr. Marsella is including a more accurate piece of brass on the outer part of the diary. During the last few years, Mr. Marsella has improved his technique for aging paper, giving these new diaries a more authentic “old” look to them. Lastly, the interior pockets marked “Postage” and ” Tickets” are no longer just sewn on displays, but fully functioning pockets like on the real diary.

One of Pasquale Marsella’s new, second run of John Wilkes Booth diaries

This second run of replica John Wilkes Booth diaries consists of only 30 diaries, several of which have already been sold. The limited amount is due to the time consuming process of detailing and tooling the leather, which Mr. Marsella does himself.

Mr. Marsella is selling his limited number of John Wilkes Booth diary replicas for $375 each plus $30 shipping. Payment is accepted through PayPal. Due to the nature of his work, Mr. Marsella will need 25 days from receipt of payment to complete each diary. If you are interested in purchasing a replica diary, please email Mr. Marsella directly at and he will give you instructions on how to pay through PayPal.

If you have any questions about the diaries feel free to leave a comment below or email Mr. Marsella directly. As an owner of one of Mr. Marsella’s replica diaries, I can say that his workmanship is impeccable. I have used this diary as a prop during my own reenactments as John Wilkes Booth, I’ve brought it along with me to speeches, and I always carry it when I give the John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tour. You should see the interest in people’s faces when I pass around my handmade, Italian crafted (Mr. Marsella lives in Italy) replica John Wilkes Booth diary. Everyone on the bus enjoys leafing through the pages and seeing John Wilkes Booth’s handwriting duplicated exactly. They have no idea that the piece is so exactly duplicated that even the missing and torn pages in the replica match the real McCoy in the Ford’s Theatre museum. My diary has passed through many hands in the 4 years that I have had it and it’s holding up great.

Yours truly showing off his own replica Booth diary while presenting at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois

I truly enjoy giving Mr. Marsella some free advertising and assisting him in selling his diaries because he provides such a unique and well-crafted piece that you can’t get anywhere else. Get yours today before they’re gone once more.

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

Grave Thursday: Lewis Chubb

On select Thursdays we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.

Lewis Lorenzo Chubb

Burial Location: Green Oak Union Cemetery, South Lyon, Michigan

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On May 18, 1865, two separate military trials were occurring in the city of Washington. The one that garnered the most interest was, of course, the ongoing trial of the conspirators in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. On that specific day, a total of 26 witnesses testified at the conspiracy trial including Louis Wiechmann, Henry Rathbone, and Eaton Horner. It was a warm day, more summer than spring, and the newspapers covering the trial mentioned the oppressive temperature. George Atzerodt, it was reported, was “listless under the heat.”

Across town, there was another trial going on with a defendant who was undoubtedly feeling the heat as well. This second trial was a court martial hearing for a 13th Michigan Light Artillery sergeant named Lewis Chubb. Chubb faced two charges against him at the court martial: drunkenness on duty and disobedience of orders.

While one trial was for the crime of the century and the other trial was a relatively routine matter of military discipline, these two trials, occurring simultaneously, both involved one key player: listless George Atzerodt.

Lewis Lorenzo Chubb was born on September 24, 1843 in Livingston County, Michigan. He was the fifth of seven children born to Major Sherwood Chubb and Achsa Bennett. On his mother’s side, Chubb was a descendant of John Webster, a settler and one time governor of the Colony of Connecticut. When the Civil War broke out, an almost 18 year old Chubb enlisted in the 13th Michigan Infantry. He served almost a year and then was discharged. He re-enlisted in 1863 in the 13th Michigan Light Artillery Battery for the remainder of the war. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1864.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Lewis Chubb was in command of a picket on the turnpike between Georgetown, D.C. and Rockville, Maryland. At 12:10 am on April 15th, the commander of Chubb’s picket brigade, Col. Charles H. Long, sent out messengers with the news of the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. In addition, he gave his pickets orders to prevent any persons from crossing out of the city of Washington. At 2:55 am, Col. Long received similar orders to the ones he had already given. His pickets were to “arrest every man that comes near or attempts to pass from the City.”

It was in this manner that, in the early morning hours of April 15th, Sgt. Chubb had effectively shut down the turnpike leading out of Washington to Rockville. As morning dawned in Washington and people learned the horrors of the night before, Sgt Chubb followed his orders, preventing anyone from crossing his line. As one might expect however, the continued closure of a main turnpike out of Washington started to cause a bit of a traffic problem. As teams and wagons made their way to the picket, they found themselves stopped, searched, and unable to proceed. Chubb also followed orders in arresting all of those who came to his picket post, but they were not imprisoned in the traditional sense. One of those stopped by Chubb and his men was a man by the name of William Gaither. Gaither was a farmer who had come to D.C. on April 14th with eggs, butter and some other things to sell at market. After spending the night in Georgetown, Gaither was heading with his wagon back to his farm in Montgomery County. Gaither reached Chubb’s picket at about 10 am on April 15th and was not allowed to pass. He, like everyone else who arrived at the picket, was detained by Chubb and his men. Gaither was not under guard however, and testified that he, and the others detained, “went about where we pleased,” around the picket but “couldn’t go outside the line.”

Shortly after Gaither was stopped and detained, the Rockville stagecoach rode up. The stagecoach had a government pass due to its duties with the postal service. Due to this, the stagecoach was allowed to pass through the line, but Chubb ordered the sole passenger out of the coach. Chubb informed the passenger that he was detained until new orders came through. Gaither described the man Chubb took off of the stagecoach:

“…[A]bout five feet, eight or ten inches tall,  – lightish complexion, – sandy mustache, appeared to be very polite to every one, and acted as if he was acquainted with every one. The man’s name was George A. Atzerodt. I did not know the man’s name when we were at the post, but learned his name afterwards.”

Conspirator George Atzerodt had failed to attack his target of Vice President Andrew Johnson the night before and was attempting to make his way out of Washington. He had purchased himself a ticket on the stagecoach only to find himself dropped off and detained by the very forces he was hoping to escape from. Yet, despite being in a very bad position, according to Gaither, Atzerodt did his best to act completely unconcerned about his situation.

“Atzerodt was talking with almost every one. He came to me and entered into conversation – said he had been disappointed in getting a ride, and if I had no load he would like to ride with me… I told him that I had no load, and that some company was better than none. I told him that he could ride so far as I was concerned. I told him neither of us could go until they passed us through. Atzerodt asked me once or twice to go into the store to take a glass of cider with him. I drank with him twice or three times.”

Having secured a possible ride, George chatted with the others who had been detained. Eventually the conspirator in Lincoln’s death began conversing with the head of the picket, Lewis Chubb. Gaither testified about this interaction as well:

“The conversation occurred above the store, by the corner of the fence, – this was an hour or more after the stage passed on. Atzerodt and the accused [Chubb] were talking. I went up and joined them. Atzerodt asked us to go in the store and take a glass. We then went in the store and Atzerodt called for three glasses of cider. We each drank a glass of cider, – we were in the store about ten or fifteen minutes. I can’t say that accused [Chubb] staid so long. I don’t recollect whether we had any conversation or not.”

This casual drink with George Atzerodt and William Gaither was the basis of the drunkeness charge against Lewis Chubb during his court martial. However, as the court martial proceeded, the testimony of Gaither and others who interacted with Chubb easily proved that while Chubb may have consumed one alcoholic drink that day, he maintained his sobriety.

The more problematic charge against Chubb at his trial was based on what occurred next. Unsure what to do with the long line of teams and wagons wishing to depart the city and his growing number of detainees, Chubb sent one of his underlings, a private named Albert Richmond, to his commander, Captain Charles DuPont. At about noon, Private Richmond informed Captain DuPont that the road was blocked up with teams and that Sgt. Chubb requested orders or what to do with them. Following the chain of command, Capt. DuPont went to see Col. Long regarding what instructions he should give. By this time, Col. Long had received the following written orders:

“…[Y]ou will instruct your pickets to pass all persons into town as may wish to come, and the same out again, if recognized. All persons that the picket are acquainted with will be allowed to pass and repass until 9 P.M. each day until further orders”

This order, while helpful in regards to the few people on the Maryland side of the line wanting to come into the city, did not really help in terms of the plethora of wagons still trying to get out of the city. Col. Long, however, seeing the difficulty Chubb was facing, seemed to extrapolate on the order and deduced that he could give permission for the detained teams to make their way out of town as well. Col. Long gave Captain DuPont verbal orders to, “search all the wagons and allow them to pass through arresting all suspicious looking persons, and to take the names of all persons going through.” It was the understanding of both Col. Long and Capt. DuPont that the men who would be allowed to pass out of the city were those with teams and no one else. Capt. DuPont gave the verbal order he had received from Col. Long to Private Richmond who then presented it to Sgt. Chubb at the picket. Chubb then proceeded to send the teams on their way having already searched their wagons and taken the names of those detained.

When the new order came in, William Gaither began preparations to get under way. It was now a little before 2:00 pm and the farmer was anxious to get on the road. Sitting in his wagon, Gaither looked around for the man who had requested to ride with him.

“When I got ready to go Atzerodt was talking to the accused [Chubb], and as I got in my wagon I called to him telling him I was going, and if he was going with me he must come along. I called out loud; loud enough for [Chubb] to hear what I said…[Atzerodt] started immediately in a hurry, like, as if startled, and jumped in the wagon, and took a seat by me.”

According to a statement Gaither gave after being arrested by the authorities, just as Atzerodt was about to hop into his wagon, the conspirator turned to Sgt. Chubb, made a very polite bow and said, “It’s all right so far.” With that, George Atzerodt made his way past the Union picket line and continued his escape.

Atzerodt’s freedom would be short-lived, however. On the morning of April 20th he was found at the Germantown home of his cousin, arrested, and returned to “detainee” status. Gaither’s statement of how he came to unwittingly assist Atzerodt in his escape brought attention onto Chubb and the fact that the sergeant had allowed the conspirator to pass through his picket in disobedience of orders.

The man who acted as prosecutor in Chubb’s court martial case was a Judge Advocate by the name of Charles Underhill. Captain Underhill successfully proved that Chubb was well aware of the fact that George Atzerodt was without his own team. At the court martial, William Gaither testified that Sgt. Chubb had taken Atzerodt off of the stagecoach himself and knew him to be a passenger.

Captain Charles W. Underhill, the Judge Advocate at Lewis Chubb’s court martial. Image courtesy of Rod Coddington.

Underhill called on Col. Long, Capt. DuPont, and Pvt. Richmond to testify. He also had a man named Lt. Frederick Dean testify. Though Lt. Dean was Chubb’s immediate superior that night, Dean was not involved in the transmission of orders. He did testify as to Chubb’s sober condition during the two times he saw him that day, further vindicating the sergeant of the drunkenness charge.

One would think that Sgt. Chubb would be in dire straits in defending himself against the disobedience of orders charge. Though no one accused him of knowing the background of the man who bought him a drink, the fact that Chubb had allowed a man to pass his line without a team of his own, one who was later proven to be an accomplice in Lincoln’s death, would seem like a career ending decision for Chubb. Luckily for Lewis Chubb, however, Judge Advocate Underhill was curious as to the specific orders that Chubb apparently disobeyed.

During Capt. DuPont’s testimony at the court martial trial, Underhill questioned the captain’s interpretation of Col. Long’s order and the way in which he then communicated this order to Private Richmond:

“Q. Did you understand that order to mean to pass anyone not suspicious looking – with or without teams?
A. No, Sir. I understood the order to mean to pass only those with teams.
Q. Why did you so understand it?
A. On the grounds that it had been reported to me that teams were waiting there.
Q. Was it so stated or given?
A. I think not.
Q. Why was not the order so worded by you as to convey your true meaning?
A. I thought I gave it so that he could understand what I meant.”

While Captain DuPont had assumed it was implied that only those with teams could exit the city, neither Col. Long nor himself had specifically stated such. The only distinct part of the order given from Long to DuPont to Richmond to Chubb, was that any suspicious looking people were to be arrested. When receiving the order, Private Richmond had asked Capt. DuPont to clarify what he considered to be suspicious. Capt. DuPont responded, “Tell Sergeant Chubb to search the wagons and see that there are no persons concealed in them or no government property.” Private Richmond passed the order to Chubb as stated. Though it may have been implied and expected that only those with their own wagons could pass the line, this was never an explicitly stated part of the order. Therefore, Sgt. Chubb could not be held liable for disobeying part of an order that he never received.

In the end, the six commission members of the court martial found Sgt. Chubb not guilty of the two charges against him. He was acquitted and returned to duty:

On July 1, 1865, Sgt. Lewis Chubb left the army when he was mustered out with the rest of his company in Jackson, Michigan. Six days later, the cause of all of Chubb’s grief, George Atzerodt, left this world when he was executed for his role in Lincoln’s assassination.

Though much of Chubb’s life after the Civil War is unknown, he did marry Catharine “Kittie” Wood on September 12, 1888 when he was 44 years old and Kittie was about 26. This was Kittie’s second marriage and her first husband recounted that Kittie had a “bad temper” and that he “could not live with her.” It appears that Kittie may have maintained her temperamental disposition as she also separated from Lewis Chubb after only a year of so of marriage.

In either the 1880s or 1890s, Lewis Chubb found employment in the railroad business. In 1893, he was living temporarily in Willow Hill, Illinois working on the Peoria, Decatur and Evansville Railway. In Willow Hill, Chubb married a woman named Louisa. Shortly after the wedding, in January of 1894, Lewis whisked Louisa back up to his native state of Michigan where Lewis worked for the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Things were going well in Battle Creek for a while, until Chubb suffered an accident at work:

While working as the yard master for the Chicago and Grand Trunk railroad, Lewis Chubb got his leg crushed after his foot was caught in a railroad V-switch (also known as a frog). His right leg was crushed just below the knee from the cars of an oncoming train. An additional newspaper report stated that Chubb lost his leg due to the accident, but it is not clear if the accident removed his leg or if it was amputated in an attempt to save his life.

Unfortunately for Chubb, the trauma of the accident ultimately proved to be fatal. Lewis Chubb died on May 25, 1895 from blood poisoning caused by the crushing of his leg. He was 51 years old.

In addition to the death of her husband, further troubles were in store for Chubb’s widow, Louisa. Lewis had died without a will causing his estate to enter probate. Louisa applied to become the executor of her husband’s estate. However, three of Lewis’ siblings brought suit against Louisa and her attempt to gain control over the estate. It wasn’t until after her husband was dead that Louisa learned that her husband had been previously married. More importantly, however, was the fact that Lewis had apparently never actually divorced his first wife, Kittie. Though Lewis and Kittie had separated around 1890, there did not seem to be an official divorce on the books. To his credit, Chubb did start the divorce proceedings and Kittie even wrote a reply to the suit, but they never actually went through with the full process. Since Lewis and Kittie never truly divorced, Lewis and Louisa were not technically married, despite the marriage certificate and ceremony that claimed so. The attorneys from both sides of the case sought out Kittie Wood. In the end, it was found that Kittie had, herself, died in August of 1894. With the legal wife having predeceased Chubb, the judge in the case decided to move in favor of Louisa. He cited the deceased’s intention of legal marriage and cohabitation with Louisa as cause to find in her favor.

Despite the legal unpleasantness between Louisa and Chubb’s siblings, it appears that Louisa did agree with the idea that Lewis should be buried back with his own parents. Chubb’s body was transported, likely via railroad, from Battle Creek to a small cemetery in South Lyon, Michigan which held his mother and father’s grave. In the back corner of Green Oak Union Cemetery in South Lyon is the military headstone of Lewis Chubb next to the gravestone of his mother.

GPS coordinates for Sgt. Lewis Chubb’s grave: 42.430558, -83.690699


As someone who studies history, I am used to coming across instances in which the stories surrounding an individual change over time. Humans are, of course, imperfect, and that is why it is very important to question sources that come so long after an event. One of the sources I used in composing this post was a genealogical book containing information about the descendants of Gov. John Webster of Connecticut. The book gave me a small biography on Chubb with most of the information regarding dates and other family members being correct. However, sometime between 1865 and the publication of the genealogy book in 1915, the family story surrounding Chubb’s interaction with Lincoln’s assassination became extremely altered. Rather than telling about how Chubb unwittingly allowed conspirator George “Port Tobacco” Atzerodt to escape Washington and the subsequent court martial it caused, the genealogy book erroneously states the following:

Good grief!

Court Martial of Sgt. Lewis L. Chubb Proceedings, May 18 & 19, 1865 (starts on page 153 in this PDF) accessed courtesy of Karen Needles’ Lincoln Archives Digital Project
History and genealogy of the Gov. John Webster family of Connecticut, with numerous portraits and illustrations
by William H. Webster
Image of Capt. Underhill courtesy of Rod Coddington
Newspaper articles accessed via
The suit over Lewis Chubb’s estate can be accessed via
Evening Star, May 18, 1865

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