Author Archives: Kate H.

Grave Thursday: Downing Vaux

On select weeks 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.


Downing Vaux

Burial Location: Brookside Cemetery, Englewood, New Jersey

Welcome back, Boothies!

Valentine’s Day is over. Let’s get back to the craziness.

If you were around on Valentine’s Day, you’ll remember that I discussed the harmonious union of Edwina Booth and Ignatius Grossman. For this Grave Thursday we will examine the life of Edwina’s first fiancé, the harmonious deterrent, Downing Vaux.

Downing Vaux was born in 1856 to Mary McEntee and Calvert Vaux. The elder Vaux was an English immigrant landscape architect who, among many other achievements, helped design and build Central Park. His first partner was Andrew Jackson Downing, a very prominent figure in the field of landscape architecture. Just a few years before the birth of Downing Vaux, Andrew Jackson Downing was killed in a steamboat fire. Calvert decided to name his son Downing in memory of his late friend and colleague.

Calvert Vaux, Downing’s father

Downing Vaux often worked for his father’s office, practicing both as an architect and landscape architect. Vaux and his contemporaries filled the need for pleasing outdoor spaces, such as parks and park like cemeteries, in the face of urbanization.

In addition to his professional work, Vaux was a childhood friend of Edwina Booth. They became engaged in 1881. Though Edwina’s father, Edwin Booth, was critical of her later husband, Ignatius Grossman, he seemed accepting of Edwina’s first relationship with Vaux. One letter, written by painter Jervis McEntee, Vaux’s uncle and frequent pen pal to Edwin Booth, read, “Booth talked frankly with me yesterday concerning Downing and Edwina. They seem fond of each other and…Booth told me he was more than satisfied with Downing and thinks only of Edwina’s happiness.”

Jervis McEntee, uncle of Downing Vaux and friend to Edwin Booth.

The planned wedding between Vaux and Edwina was postponed when Edwina decided to travel abroad with her father in 1882 and 1883. While in England, Edwina received word that Downing, still working in the United States, had almost died. “Calvert Vaux found his son…unconscious in a gas filled room. He had left his gas burning and it had…blown out and the door been closed.” It took Vaux over a day to revive.

Edwin received the news first, from Jervis McEntee, and did not tell Edwina for a few days. He felt that “her health is not strong enough to stand the shock.” Although Vaux physically survived his brush with death, his mental health deteriorated and he began exhibiting strange behaviors. Vaux joined Edwin and Edwina in England, where it was hoped that his increasing sickness would be cured. This did not occur. In fact, Vaux’s instability only progressed. His memory failed, his behavior became erratic and he sometimes disappeared for days without warning.

Edwin Booth biographer Arthur Bloom gave a description of an incident that occurred after Vaux returned to New York:

“Downing left his home…and went to breakfast with his family. During breakfast, a letter from Edwina arrived. After reading it…he left, presumably for his father’s business. He never arrived at the office. Around noon, Calvert Vaux sent a messenger to find out why his son was detained and later went back to Downing’s room to find him, but he was not there. Alarmed, the Vaux family began to check with the local hospitals.”

A servant reported seeing Downing “around 7 PM washing himself in his room.” However, he was gone by the time his father got there, having left behind “an empty unfired revolver as well as his gold watch and chain and other articles of jewelry.” On May 8th, after waiting outside Vaux’s home all night, the family combed the city for him and his father went to the police fearing, in the words of Jervis McEntee, “that his son’s mind had become unsettled and that he was either wandering aimlessly about the city or had committed suicide.” Vaux returned on the 9th. He had been wandering through the country.

Edwin, once supportive of Vaux, began seeing him as mentally incompetent and wholly unsuited for his precious daughter. When Edwina stated that she wanted to end her engagement, Edwin heartily agreed. He wrote to Jervis McEntee, “how terrible would be their fate were they married! But I must beg of you Jervy to reason with poor Downing, and make him realize how incapable he is, and may be for years, to assume the responsibility of marriage.” Edwin’s belief that Vaux would never recover, and his subsequent expressions to McEntee, Vaux’s uncle, placed an irremovable strain on their relationship.

Problems between Vaux and the Booth family worsened when Vaux, likely not in the right mind, wrote to Edwin what the latter described as a “disrespectful and threatening” letter. Edwin went into full protective father mode. He wrote to McEntee, “He declares he will see her [Edwina] and that she must have her share of pain. She is kept in constant dread lest he should accost her on the street or call, as he did, when he thinks I am out of the house. He says he knows he’s cracked but that a brass rivet has been put in, that he is a better companion…and is altogether more of a man than ever. His letter and his questioning if Edwina still cares for him, if she liked anybody else…would convince any disinterested person of his demented condition, did not his unmanly conduct in thus destroying the peace of one whose happiness he should strive to enhance…say I must deal with him personally I will be compelled to do so if he persists in his present course…spare me the painful duty of taking measures to restrain him.”

What I like to imagine Edwin looked like watching for Vaux

While Vaux’s newfound condition lost him a life with Edwina Booth, it did not halt all his future prospects. His mental condition (somewhat) improved with time. He began his own architecture firm in New York City, Vaux & Co.

He gave lectures at New York University’s School of Engineering. Vaux was also a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a vocal supporter of the preservation of New York’s parks. Coming full circle, Vaux helped create the Andrew Jackson Downing Memorial Park.

In 1893, Downing Vaux wed a widow named Lillian Baker Andrews. Two years later, the couple had a daughter, Priscilla, but she lived just four hours.

Priscilla Vaux, Downing’s infant daughter, shares a gravestone with her father.

Vaux and Lillian lived together until at least 1911. After that, the couple lived apart for unknown reasons. A census taken in 1920 shows Lillian living in Los Angeles but does not list her as separated or divorced.

Despite Vaux’s attempts to outrun his unstable past, his personal demons never seemed to disappear. While the Vaux family wrote off the aforementioned gas filled room incident as mere misfortune, some historians theorize that it was Downing’s first attempt at suicide. Should that be the case, it is likely that Vaux’s mental instabilities were present even before the accident took place. Vaux’s life would eventually end by his own hand, or rather his own feet, when he walked off a roof in 1926. The New York Times reported, “Downing Vaux, widely known landscape architect, was instantly killed in a fall from the roof of the YMCA building early this morning. His body, clad only in his night clothes, was found on the sidewalk by the police.” Other news outlets soon got hold of the story as well.

Lillian returned to New York by 1930 and was listed as widowed in the census. She died in 1935.

Today, Downing Vaux rests beside his wife and infant daughter in Brookside Cemetery in Englewood, New Jersey in a plot belonging to Lillian’s first husband, Frank Andrews.

In hindsight, perhaps Edwin Booth’s overbearing tendencies paid off for once – seeing as how Edwina could have ended up with a man who ultimately committed suicide over the husband who wrote her beautiful poetry. And Lord knows the Booth family didn’t need to experience any further tragedy.

Until next time.

-Kate

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Isn’t It Romantic

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I hope your day has been filled with lots of love and chocolate.

The post originally set for publication today was the next installment in the Grave Thursday series. However, the included stories were tales of insanity and suicide and who wants to read about death on Valentine’s Day? (Answer: Al Capone). But stick around for next Thursday when we resume our regularly scheduled madness.

In the spirit of all things romantic, we are spending this Valentine’s Day with Edwina Booth and Ignatius Grossman.

Edwina Booth, daughter of Edwin Booth and Mary Devlin, married Ignatius Grossman on May 16, 1885. They remained wedded for 35 years, parted only by the death of Ignatius in 1920. The marriage also produced two children, Mildred and Clarence (who changed his name to Edwin).

Throughout their life together, Ignatius wrote love letters and poems to “my darling beloved wife,” Edwina. Many still exist today and are housed in the New York Public Library.

To honor this Valentine’s Day, let us enjoy a selection of these works from the hand and heart of Ignatius Grossman.

(Also, if you’re still in need of a gift for that special someone in your life, poems make great presents. You’re welcome.)

***

“If but one moments’ joy of your motherhood were run into sound, endless sunshine would circle the earth around.”

“I see a maiden fair to see, sweet and slender, true at heart. Eyes of blue as the summer sea, a witching smile that knows no art. This was she, my own dear wife, this is you and e’er shall be, for true heart, like time, knows no change, but is eternal as is our life. Thus speaks your lover, as he spoke then, though twenty years have flown by. This heart beats as true as when he was so blessed by Him on high. Your own true husband.”

“To my beloved wife of this 16th of May, the 30th of my happy wedded life: Happy days of May have been my lot – three times ten – my love, for a truer mate no man has seen, on Earth below or Heaven above – Your ever loving husband.”

XOXO

-Kate

The photos of Edwina, Ignatius, Mildred and Clarence/Edwin are courtesy of Carolyn Mitchell. Thank you.

Categories: History | Tags: , | 10 Comments

Grave Thursday: Francis Dooley

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.


Francis Xavier Dooley

Burial Location: Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Connection to the Lincoln assassination: 

Trial testimony can be thrilling and insightful. Trial testimony can also be a complete waste of time. Regardless, the witness is forever written onto the pages of history, even if their contribution to the overall story is minuscule at best. Take this grave here. It looks ordinary and that’s because it is ordinary. It’s the grave of Francis Dooley, a pharmacist who was placed on the witness stand during the trial of the century to answer a question about candy. That’s essentially it. His testimony is one of the shortest given during the seven week trial of the conspirators.

You see, after the assassination, a search was conducted of George Atzerodt’s rented room at the Kirkwood House hotel. Two of the objects found were a toothbrush and a piece of licorice. Apparently, Atzerodt’s attorney, William Doster, felt that Dooley would be able to shed light on these mundane objects. It turns out Doster was wrong. This is Francis Dooley’s entire contribution to the Lincoln conspiracy trial:

Perhaps Doster was hoping that George Atzerodt had frequented the pharmacy and Mr. Dooley would provide some insight into his character. This never came to be and Francis Dooley went down in history as the 1865 Candy Man whose testimony seemed to be completely pointless.

Today, visitors who wish to see a man whose sole claim to fame is getting less than five minutes of it, can visit the grave of Francis Dooley in Congressional Cemetery, not far from conspirator David Herold.

Here’s the part where I would usually write something insightful about how even the smallest anecdotes can shed their own light but, in actuality, the statement of Francis Dooley isn’t deep or thought provoking at all. However, it’s funny in its bizzarrity, reminds us that even the most profound moments in history can take strange paths, and gives researchers a good chuckle.

Until next time,

Kate

GPS coordinates to Francis Dooley’s grave: 38.881563, -76.979789

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 18 Comments

Beyond the Courtyard

Good evening to the historically theatrical nerds out there.

As many of you know, yesterday was the anniversary of the Lincoln conspirators’ execution. Just prior to this, July 6th marked the reveal of the commission’s verdict to both the public and, more importantly, to the four people condemned to die the following day. On this July 6th, 153 years later, the Society for the Restoration for Port Tobacco (SRPT) hosted for their First Friday event “Beyond the Courtyard: The Final Hour of the Lincoln Conspirators.”

Set in Washington’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary on the afternoon of the infamous hanging, the first person performance (written by Dave and me) had a four person cast, making it the largest of the Lincoln assassination themed reenactments done with the SRPT. Being a woman, I took on the role of Mary Surratt.

Dave, with all his impressive height, played Lewis Powell (called Paine by the other characters).

Bob Bowser, a board member and docent at the Dr. Mudd House Museum was David Herold.

Lastly, Southern Maryland naturalist Mike Callahan lent his German accent to the role of George Atzerodt.

Throughout the unfolding narrative, each person reflects on the various choices that drove them to conspire against the Union government, and the witnesses who brought those choices to light, until their tales intersect and lead to a collision of opinions and an outburst of violence. However, in the end, history still came with a vengeance.

Although we were all inside the Port Tobacco Courthouse, miles from Washington and in conditions much better than those suffered by the conspirators, it still felt eerie to be bringing a past back to life so soon before the anniversary of its haunting termination. Though over 150 years have passed, the echoes of the event which closed the Civil War can still be felt today.

Below you can view the program and see if you too can hear those reverberations of a time not so unlike our own. Please note that this was a staged reading and also took creative license with the dialogue. No incarceration accounts from the conspirators exist.

Local photographer, Eva Lightfoot, captured the great photos of the event that accompany this blog post. The rest of the album, along with other examples of her work, can be seen on her website.

Until next time.

-Kate

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Grave Thursday: Julia Ward Howe

Each week 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.


Julia Ward Howe

Burial Location: Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

A Happy Women’s History Month to you all you researchers out there. This is Kate, taking over for Dave today.

For this Grave Thursday, we are going to discuss the strong willed social activist and suffragist who not only gave the Union one of its most recognized anthems but also wrote a lesser known, though equally beautiful, poem for the Booth family.

Julia Ward Howe is most often remembered for transforming the lyrics of “John Brown’s Body” into the patriotic hymn “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This is rather appropriate considering her husband, Samuel, was a member of the Secret Six, a staunch abolitionist group that financed John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. However, Howe wrote many other poems during her lifetime that were never set to music.

Long before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Julia Ward Howe had made the acquaintances of various members of the Booth family, specifically John Wilkes’ older brother, Edwin, with whom she developed a close friendship. In writing about her life, Howe spoke of her early admiration and introduction to the great actor:

“It was in the days now spoken of that I first saw Edwin Booth. Dr. Howe and I betook ourselves to the Boston Theatre one rainy evening, expecting to see nothing more than an ordinary performance. The play was “Richelieu,” and we had seen but little of Mr. Booth’s part in it before we turned to each other and said, “This is the real thing.” In every word, in every gesture, the touch of genius made itself felt. A little later I saw him in “Hamlet,” and was even more astonished and delighted. While he was still completing this his first engagement in Boston, I received a letter from his manager, proposing that I should write a play for Mr. Booth. My first drama, though not a success, had made me somewhat known to theatrical people. I had been made painfully aware of its defects, and desired nothing more than to profit by the lesson of experience in producing something that should deserve entire approbation. It was therefore with a good hope of success that I undertook to write the play. Mr. Booth himself called upon me, in pursuance of his request. The favorable impression which he had made upon me was not lessened by a nearer view. I found him modest, intelligent, and above all genuine, — the man as worthy of admiration as the artist. Although I had seen Mr. Booth in a variety of characters, I could only think of representing him as Hippolytus, a beautiful youth, of heroic type, enamored of a high ideal. This was the part which I desired to create for him. I undertook the composition without much delay, and devoted to it the months of one summer’s sojourn at Lawton’s Valley…

Edwin Booth circa 1860

And here, through the summer heats, and in spite of many wasps, I wrote my five-act drama, dreaming of the fine emphasis which Mr. Booth would give to its best passages and of the beautiful appearance he would make in classic costume. He, meanwhile, was growing into great fame and favor with the public, and was called hither and thither by numerous engagements. The period of his courtship and marriage intervened, and a number of years elapsed between the completion of the play and his first reading of it.

At last there came a time in which the production of the play seemed possible. Charlotte Cushman and Edwin Booth were both in Boston performing, as I remember, but not at the same theatre. They agreed to act in my play. E. L. Davenport, manager of the Howard Athenaeum, undertook to produce it, and my dream was very near becoming a reality. But lo! On a sudden, the manager bethought him that the time was rather late in the season; that the play would require new scenery; and, more than all, that his wife, who was also an actress, was not pleased with a secondary part assigned to her. A polite note informed me of his change of mind. This was, I think, the greatest ‘let down’ that I ever experienced. It affected me seriously for some days, after which I determined to attempt nothing more for the stage.

In truth, there appeared to be little reason for this action on the part of the manager. Miss Cushman, speaking of it, said to me, “My dear, if Edwin Booth and I had done nothing more than to stand upon the stage and say ‘good evening’ to each other, the house would have been filled.””

Despite Howe’s deep disappointment over Edwin never performing the play she had written for him, the two remained close friends. This friendship extended to the woman who would become Edwin’s wife and the love of his life, Mary Devlin. Howe recalled the object of Edwin’s affection with great fondness:

“Mr. Booth, in the course of these years, experienced great happiness and great sorrow. On the occasion of our first meeting he had spoken to me of “little Mary Devlin” as an actress of much promise, who had recently been admired in several heavy parts.” In process of time he became engaged to this young girl. Before the announcement of this fact he appeared with her several times before the Boston public. Few that saw it will ever forget a performance of Romeo and Juliet in which the two true lovers were at their best, ideally young, beautiful, and identified with their parts. I soon became well acquainted with this exquisite little woman…”

Mary Devlin Booth, Edwin Booth’s first wife

In time, Howe’s friendship with the Booths extended to their daughter, Edwina. Much later in her life, Howe maintained a correspondence with Edwina Booth, even after her father’s death. In 1908, just two years before Howe’s own death in 1910, the 89 year-old Howe sent two poems to Edwina. According to the accompanying letter, Edwina, who was 48 at the time, had come across two poems that had been in her father’s possession. She believed one or both of them to have been written by Howe many years before. Edwina asked Howe to write her name below the verses she recognized as her own so she could correctly identify them. One of the pieces included with the letter was authored by Mary Elizabeth Blake, though Howe mislabeled the work as belonging to poet T. W. Parsons. The other poem, which was the work of Howe herself, was entitled To Mary. This poem had been written by Howe in 1863, upon her attendance at the funeral for Mary Devlin Booth.

To Mary

Thou gracious atom, verging to decay,
What wert thou in the moment of thy stay?
The flowers in thy faded hands that lie
More briefly than thyself scarce bloom and die.

How was it when swift feet thy beauty bore,
And Life’s warm ripple sunned thy marble o’er?
A slender maiden, captured by a kiss,
Wed at the altar for a three year’s bliss;

No longer space my life’s indenture gave,
From Juliet’s courtship to Ophelia’s grave.
The modest helper of heroic art,
The heaven bound anchor of a sinking heart.

Ask him who wooed me, earliest and last,
What was my office in Love’s sacred past?
What was she, here in silken shell empearled?
But my life’s life – the comfort of the world.

In addition to the poem, Howe recalled Mary Devlin Booth’s funeral in her autobiography:

“These lines recall to me the scene of Mary Booth’s funeral, which took place in wintry weather, the service being held at the chapel in Mount Auburn. Hers was a most pathetic figure as she lay, serene and lovely, surrounded with flowers. As Edwin Booth followed the casket, his eyes heavy with grief, I could not but remember how often I had seen him enact the part of Hamlet at the stage burial of Ophelia.”

Julia Ward Howe was one of the few guests present at Mary Devlin’s funeral. Edwin was also joined by his mother, Mary Ann Holmes Booth, who had traveled from New York to Massachusetts to comfort her son. Edwin’s brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke was present but not his wife Asia Booth. Asia had never liked Mary Devlin (or really any other woman) and stayed home in Philadelphia. Howe described the only other family member who tended to Edwin in his grief:

“Beside or behind [Edwin] walked a young man of remarkable beauty, to be sadly known at a later date as Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln and the victim of his own crime.”

John Wilkes Booth was the only Booth sibling who was able/willing to attend the funeral service of his sister-in-law. John Wilkes cancelled his upcoming acting engagement and hastened to Cambridge to be with his grieving brother.

Though life expectancy in the nineteenth century was much lower than today, Julia Ward Howe was one of the exceptions to the rule, living to the old age of 91. During that time, she buried her own husband at Mount Auburn Cemetery in a grave about 80 yards away from Mary Devlin’s. In 1893, Howe returned to Mount Auburn to mourn the loss of Mary’s husband, Edwin. She returned to Edwin’s grave a year later when his beautiful monument was unveiled.

Julia Ward Howe, the groundbreaking poet, abolitionist, and suffragist died of pneumonia on October 17, 1910. She was laid to rest next to her husband in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Howe now lies just across from the hill atop which, 47 years earlier, she witnessed the funeral of a soul taken too soon. She never forgot the picture of the heartbroken husband, “his eyes heavy with grief,” and the dutiful brother by his side, “a young man of remarkable beauty.”

Until next time.

Kate

P.S. By Dave: Julia Ward Howe stated that one of her greatest disappointments in life was that the play she had written for Edwin Booth was never performed. After Howe’s death, actress Margaret Anglin sought to rectify this oversight. During her engagement in Boston in March of 1911, Anglin received permission to perform Howe’s forgotten play. Hippolytus was performed for one night only on March 24, 1911 with all the proceedings going to benefit the Julia Ward Howe Memorial Fund. The title role, which had been written for Edwin, was played by Walter Hampden with high praise. Years later, Hampden would become the fourth president of Edwin Booth’s private club, The Players. Today, the research library housed in The Players is known as the Hampden-Booth Library.

GPS coordinates for Julia Ward Howe’s grave: 42.369612, -71.147075

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Grave Thursday: Silas T. Cobb

Each week 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.


Sgt. Silas Tower Cobb

silas-cobb-grave-1

Burial Location: Central Burying Ground, Holliston, Massachusetts

silas-cobb-grave-2

Good evening enthusiasts of all things historic, 

This is Kate, returning for another Grave Thursday installment. For this post, I decided to incorporate my work with Dave’s to bring you the full story of the watchman on the bridge, Silas T. Cobb. 

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Sergeant Silas Tower Cobb is most remembered to history as the man who unknowingly created the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route. On April 14, 1865, Cobb allowed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold to cross the Navy Yard Bridge out of Washington City and into Southern Maryland. Riders were not allowed to cross the bridge after 9 PM but Booth and Herold arrived at almost 11. Unaware that President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward were mortally and severely wounded, Cobb allowed Booth and Herold passage. Rules had been lax since the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and riders wishing to leave the Capitol City did not seem nearly as dangerous as riders seeking entrance. Cobb drowned two years later at the age of 29 during a boating accident in Grand Haven, Michigan.

You can read more about Cobb’s later life here. This is the story of his life leading up to April of 1865. 

Named after his father, Silas Cobb was born on October 13, 1838 in Holliston, Massachusetts to Silas and Sophia Cobb. He spent his childhood training as a boot maker, a trade which he would resume after the Civil War, and sailed to the Arctic when he was 19 as a crewman aboard a whaling ship. Cobb did not immediately enlist in the Union Army following the firing on Fort Sumter. Instead, he married Sophia Treen. The couple had one child together, a daughter named Ada, but she died in infancy about a month after the execution of the conspirators. In 1863, Cobb enlisted in the Union Army, joining the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. The regiment remained in its home state until it was called to Washington City to guard its various bridges and passageways. In 1862, General Lee had attempted a march on Maryland to put pressure on Washington and by 1863 had invaded Pennsylvania. Perhaps one reason the 3rd Massachusetts was sent south was to barricade the Capitol in the event that Lee managed to break significant Union lines. Lee’s campaign ultimately failed but it placed Cobb on the Navy Yard Bridge, keeping him from being lost to the pages of history as another name on another roster. While Lee never appeared, on April 14th Cobb received a different kind of Southern sympathizer on the bridge. The rest is history.

It is not known for certain why Cobb was in Grand Haven when he died. Some historians theorize that he was attempting to sell boots, having been honorably discharged from the Union Army and resumed his shoe making. Evidence for this theory points to a friend Cobb knew from his time in Holliston, Edgar Fletcher, who was also a boot maker. The pair were traveling through Michigan together. Both perished in the accident.

The body of Silas T. Cobb was brought back home to Holliston where it was laid to rest in the Central Burying Ground. A small military headstone marks the site today. Much like Cobb, it is a stop on the road to more recognized places (Fall River to the South, Boston and Salem to the North) but it is still a stop worth discussing due to its brush with history.  

Until next time.

-Kate 

GPS coordinates for Silas Cobb’s grave: 42.202776, -71.429104

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Grave Thursday: Captain Christian Rath

Each week 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.


Christian Rath

christian-rath-seated

Burial Location: Mount Evergreen Cemetery, Jackson, Michigan

christian-rath-grave-2-peter-gaudet

christian-rath-grave-1-peter-gaudet

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Hello cemetery patrons,

This is Kate resuming the blog’s Grave Thursday tradition following our holiday hiatus.

After writing about Major General John Hartranft for a previous Grave Thursday, I received a comment regarding my lack of information about Captain Christian Rath, the man who always seems to appear alongside General Hartranft. I answered the question by stating that such a distinguished figure as Captain Rath deserved his own spotlight, not a mere afterthought bolted onto someone else’s legacy. So, without further ado, here is the story of Captain Christian Rath, perhaps secondary in rank but first in honor.

Little is known of Rath’s early life other than he was born on October 22, 1831 in Germany. He either left or fled home – depending on the source – at the age of 18 after joining a group of revolutionaries that attacked the German government. Immigrating to the United States in 1849, Rath made his way to Jackson, Michigan, the place that would become his permanent settlement. In 1857 he married Evaline Henry, with whom he had two children, and became a shoemaker, the trade in which he was employed at the outbreak of the Civil War. Before enlisting himself, Rath ran an enlistment office out of his storefront.

During the war between the states, Rath served with Company G of the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, the same regiment he had aided and the same company he had organized. In 1862, at the age of 30, he became the company’s second lieutenant. He would be promoted to first lieutenant the same year and rise to the rank of Captain in 1863. Due to being wounded at the famous battle of Antietam, Rath would suffer various medical ailments for the rest of his life. He was also briefly captured by Confederate forces at Spotsylvania in 1864 but managed to escape. Rath remained a Captain for the remainder of the war, his next promotion coming only after fighting had ceased.

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Rath received notice that General John Hartranft, the man placed in charge of the conspirators at Washington’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary, wanted Rath as his Provost-Marshal. According to Rath, the two men had known each other for some time:

“I was well acquainted with Hartranft; we had met in many battles, and I had broken many horses for him, both of us being lovers of fine animals.”

General Hartranft had also previously selected Major Richard Watts for his staff. Watts had been a member of the 17th Michigan as well and recommended Rath for service when Hartranft asked for more recruits.

In the courtroom, Hartranft and Rath often sat together at a small table by the public entrance checking audience passes.

Arguably, Rath is most remembered for being the hangman of the four condemned conspirators. On the afternoon of July 6, 1865, the Union government headed by Andrew Johnson presented Rath with a long list of jobs (build and test the gallows, make the nooses and hoods, oversee the digging of the graves) and a ridiculously short amount of time to complete them all (slightly less than one day).  According to the Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia by Edward Steers,

“The scaffold was twenty feet long, fifteen feet wide, and ten feet high to the floor of the scaffold, and twenty feet high to the beam that held the ropes. The platform consisted of two drops, each six feet by four feet, supported by an upright beam that could be knocked away on command.”

It took all night to complete the gallows. The final nail was only hammered in on the morning of the execution, making it less than 24 hours old at the time of its use.

Rath also tied the nooses long after the sun had set on July 6th. Tired and believing Mary Surratt would be spared, he only put five turns in the knot instead of the regulation seven.

“I put seven knots in each one except one, and I only put five in that, for I fully expected that Mrs. Surratt would never hang.”

Rath found his “prop knockers” (William Coxshall, Daniel Shoup, George Taylor, and Joseph Haslett) only by claiming he needed assistance with a “special duty.” However, this sly idea did not find any volunteer grave diggers and Rath had to order soldiers to the task. “All the workmen were superstitious,” he later wrote. It was a common 19th century belief that grave digging brought bad luck.

Authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliot attempted to follow Rath around the courtyard in their book supplement, Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators. They placed him on the gallows, where he said to Lewis Powell, “I want you to die quick,” and then eventually found him back on the ground where he gave the signal to knock away the support posts. The signal changes from source to source, sometimes being recorded as three claps or a thrust of the hand. Moments before this, Rath recalled asking General Winfield Hancock if Mary Surratt would be saved to which Hancock replied no.

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After the execution, Rath was promoted to Brevet Major and Lieutenant Colonel for “special and efficient services during the confinement, trial, and execution of the conspirators.”

Christian Rath quietly lived out the rest of his life in Michigan. He resumed work as a shoemaker, owned a fruit farm, raised chickens, frequently participated in military parades and from 1868 to 1900 worked as a a mail clerk for the Michigan Central Railroad. With the exception of a handful of interviews, he did not speak much about the events he witnessed during the summer of 1865. Rath died at the age of 89 on February 14, 1920. He was buried beside his wife, who had died in 1908, in Mount Evergreen Cemetery in Jackson, Michigan.

Several stories followed Rath’s legacy due to his involvement in the infamous execution. One story, found in the book, The Man Who Traded his Wife for Woodworking Tools: And Other True Stories of 19th Century Jackson, Michigan, claimed that Rath was plagued by nightmares of Anna Surratt screaming at him for killing her mother. Why this hysterical apparition of sorts appeared to Rath and not Andrew Johnson I do not know.

A similar tall tale said that Mary Surratt’s spirit was punishing those who had wrongly taken her life, including Christian Rath who had gone insane and died in a mental institution. However, this was little more than the likes of a penny dreadful fable. Unlike Boston Corbett or Henry Rathbone, Rath only suffered from rheumatism (joint pain), dyspepsia (chest pain), and cystitis (bladder inflammation) due to his war wounds and dementia due to age. Furthermore, Rath treated Mary Surratt with the utmost of respect during the execution. “I had Lieutenant-Colonel McCall lead Mrs. Surratt from her cell to the gallows, as I did not want an ordinary soldier to lay his hands on her,” he said. Even her placement on the gallows, decided by Rath, conveyed honor. “I wanted to give Mrs. Surratt any honor I could, so I seated her one the right.” After the hanging, Rath said, “I took charge of Mrs. Surratt myself, not being willing that any hand should desecrate her. I lifted her tenderly in my arms…removed the noose from her neck, and with my own hands and alone placed her in the box.”

Unfortunately, despite his good intentions, Rath was a soldier, not an executioner. His limited knowledge of proper hanging procedures and the demanding deadline swiftly caught up with him. He failed to correctly prepare and secure the ropes, leading to an unexpected botched execution. While Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt did die quickly, the same could not be said for David Herold or Lewis Powell who strangled for about five and seven minutes, respectively. Christian Rath will always be known as the “hangman” of the Lincoln conspirators. However, it should also be remembered that, despite his failures, he did try to make moral choices.

old-christian-rath

Grave photographs courtesy of Peter Gaudet. You can view his website by clicking here.

Until next time.

-Kate

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , | 25 Comments

“O Come All Ye Soldiers”

Happy holidays to all the Booth buffs and Lincoln lovers,

This is Kate, shaking up the annual Thursday ritual. In lieu of a Grave Thursday post I decided to try my luck at writing a Boothie Carol like Dave did yesterday. My song is a revised version of, “O Come All Ye Faithful”. I hope you all enjoy it!

oh-come-all-ye-soldiers

“O Come All Ye Soldiers”
As sung to, “O Come All Ye Faithful”

O come all ye soldiers,
Spurred and mounted fiercely,
O come ye, o come ye to Locust Hill.

Come and avenge him,
Slay the foolish rebels;

O come let us surround them,
O come let us arrest them,
O come let us avenge him,
For Abraham.

O ride band of brothers,
Ride in exultation,
O ride all ye cavalrymen to Garrett’s barn.
Say to the traitors, you shall not escape us;

O come, give up yourselves now,
O come, do not delay now,
O come, fire the barn now,
For Abraham.

Hail! Death we greet thee,
Come this early morning,
O Boston! for evermore be thy name adored.
Mount toward the river, soon in sight appearing;

O come bring one who’s broken,
O come bring one in shackles,
O come and raise Old Glory,
For Abraham.

Until next time,
-Kate

Former Boothie Carols can be read here:
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Play” / It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
“We Bruti” / We, Three Kings of Orient Are
“Wilkes Booth the Head Conspirator” / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
“Lewis Powell is Coming For You” / Santa Claus is Coming to Town
“Little Doctor Mudd” / Little Drummer Boy
“Boothie Wonderland” / Winter Wonderland
“Thomas Jones” / Silver Bells

Categories: History, Levity | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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