Posts Tagged With: Trial

Lola

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.


References:

  • 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 Ancestry.com. This material was supplemented with newspaper articles found via GenealogyBank.com, Newspapers.com, 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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Following Orders: The Arrest and Case of John McCall, Assassination Sympathizer

Recently, there was a comment posted by Gary Goodenow in the Grave Thursday entry for General Dodd relating a story about a possible relative of Gen. Dodd’s who participated in the execution of King Charles I of England, and was later executed himself for treason by the restored King Charles II. Gary mentions that the colonel in question attempted to use the defense that he was following the command of his superior when he participated the Charles I’s trial and death. This defense did not succeed for Col. Axtell. However, the idea of a “following orders” defense reminded me of another legal case related to the Lincoln assassination. It was a case brought forward by a man named John McCall who lived in Mendocino County, California.

Abraham Lincoln Bierstadt

Abraham Lincoln in September of 1861

Before getting to Mr. McCall, however, some background knowledge on a specific legal aspect of the Civil War is necessary. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus, which is Latin for “you may have the body”, is the right for an individual detained by an authority to appear before a court in order to contest the reasons for their continued detainment. In its simplest sense, habeas corpus prevents authorities from locking people away for indefinite periods of time without charge or trial. According to the U.S. Constitution the only time habeas corpus can be suspended is “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” So, when Lincoln suspended the writ in 1861, it could be argued that he was in his legal right, due to the open rebellion of the Confederacy. However, the above quote about when one can suspend the writ is detailed in the Constitution under the section describing the powers of Congress, not the executive branch.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

The debate over who had the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus loomed large in the early Civil War years. Lincoln’s actions were challenged by those who had been imprisoned for their southern sympathies and continually held. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney staunchly believed that the executive branch had no legal right to suspend the writ, while Lincoln argued that since the rebellion began when Congress was in recess he had the right to suspend the writ in their absence. Eventually, on March 3, 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, which retroactively gave the President the authority to suspend habeas corpus for the duration of the rebellion and protected the President and his subordinates from any liability for their previous actions:

“SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That any order of the President, or under his authority, made at any time during the existence of the present rebellion, shall be a defence in all Courts to any action or prosecution, civil or criminal, pending or to be commenced, for any search, seizure, arrest, or imprisonment, made, done, or committed, or acts omitted to be done, under and by virtue of such order, or under color of any law of Congress; and such defence may be made by special plea, or under the general issue.”

Lincoln then paired this act with a proclamation of his own on September 15, 1863, declaring the classes of people who could be arrested and held under the suspension of habeas corpus:

“Whereas, in the judgment of the President, the public safety does require that the privilege of the said writ shall now be suspended throughout the United States in the cases where, by the authority of the President of the United States, military, naval, and civil officers of the United States, or any of them, hold persons under their command or in their custody, either as prisoners of war, spies, or aiders or abettors of the enemy, or officers, soldiers, or seamen enrolled or drafted or mustered or enlisted in or belonging to the land or naval forces of the United States, or as deserters therefrom, or otherwise amenable to military law or the rules and articles of war or the rules or regulations prescribed for the military or naval services by authority of the President of the United States. or for resisting a draft, or for any other offense against the military or naval service”

In short, Lincoln’s proclamation gave military officers the authority to hold without charge or trial those they believed were prisoners of war, spies, deserters, draft dodgers, and aiders or abettors, even if the belief could not be proven. The act of March of 1863, subsequently protected the officers from liability in enacting this authority.

Lincoln assassinated headline San Fran

When Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, the news spread around the country. In some of the western states and territories the reactions to Lincoln’s death were mixed, especially due to the unique blend of Northerners and Southerners who had moved there. It was not uncommon to find ardent Unionists and Confederates living in the same small area.

This was the case in an area of northern California called Potter Valley in Mendocino County. The valley was split in its sympathies with those with Southern sympathies settling in the upper part of the valley and those with Union sympathies in the lower part. The original school in Potter Valley had been built in the Southern leaning upper part and, during the Civil War, a second school was built in the Unionist lower part to ensure that the different students in the area received the appropriate political education.

When the news of Lincoln’s death arrived in Potter Valley there were those who mourned the fallen leader with intense grief, and those who greeted the news with great joy. One of those joyful men was an older resident of the valley named John McCall.

McCall was about 60 years old and originally from Tennessee. At least twice in April of 1865, McCall made statements while on the public road in Potter Valley about his satisfaction with Lincoln’s death. According to Unionist witnesses who later reported on him, McCall stated that, “Lincoln was shot, and that the damned old son of a bitch should have been shot long ago, and that some more of his kind would go the same way shortly.” A few days later, McCall followed up on this line of thinking and stated, “That he did not believe that General Lee had surrendered, and believed that General Lee was still carrying on the war; and that he did not believe for a long time after hearing of the president’s assassination that it was true; and said, I am only afraid that it is not so – if three or four more of the leaders of the abolition party were killed it would be a good thing, as it would be the downfall of that party.”

These words would be John McCall’s downfall. Others around the country were learning the danger of speaking positively about Lincoln’s death. The backlash against those who celebrated Lincoln’s death was intense. Mob justice was prevalent with some supporters of Lincoln’s death being swiftly lynched. Even those in isolated towns would band together to punish those gloating rebels.

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

On April 17, 1865, a general order was sent out by Union Major General Irvin McDowell who was the commander of the Department of the Pacific stationed in San Francisco. General Order 27 stated the following:

“It has come to the knowledge of the major-general commanding that there have been found within the department persons so utterly infamous as to exult over the assassination of the President. Such persons become virtually accessories after the fact, and will at once be arrested by any officer or provost-marshal or member of the police having knowledge of the case. Any paper so offending or expressing any sympathy in anyway whatever with the act will be at once seized and suppressed.”

With this order, Gen. McDowell was essentially authorizing the arrest of any person in his district who was demonstrating joy in Lincoln’s death.  Whether he knew of this order or not, John McCall made himself susceptible to its consequences with his words on April 20th and April 29th. On June 1, 1865, John McCall saw Union troops riding up to his farm and found himself under arrest. The arresting officer was Captain Charles D. Douglas who was the commander of Fort Wright, located almost 60 miles north of Potter Valley.

McCall was not the only seditious citizen arrested that day. Captain Douglas also arrested men by the names of Andrew J. LaFever, Simon Wurtenberg and Thaddeus Dashiell, all of whom had spoken positively of Lincoln’s death with Dashiell having given a celebratory Rebel Yell at the news. Also arrested was the teacher of the Confederate leaning upper school, a Miss Harriet Buster, who allegedly stomped on the American flag after hearing of Lee’s surrender to Grant. Miss Buster was released shortly after her arrest and the men were marched three miles to an adobe hut where they spent the night under confinement.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall's fellow prisoners, in their later years.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall’s fellow prisoners, in their later years.

The next day the soldiers and their prisoners made the trek of almost 60 miles north to Fort Wright. There were not enough animals for all of the men to ride and so John McCall and the other prisoners had to walk for most of the way. They passed through the mountains which were high and cold, and had to endure a hail storm as they went. They finally arrived at Fort Wright at between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock at night. At Fort Wright the men met another prisoner, named James Patrick, in identical circumstances. They slept that night, cold and wet, on the floor of the guard house. The gang stayed at Fort Wright for three days, during which time one of the men, Andrew LaFever took the oath of allegiance and was released. Whether the oath was offered to the others is unknown.

From Fort Wright the prisoners were taken by mule to Fort Bragg, a coastal town some 75 miles away. Traveling over mountains meant it took two days to make the trip, but by the evening of June 7th, they arrived in Fort Bragg. McCall would later describe each leg of the journey as being “pulled, dragged and hauled” across the roughest of terrain.

The men were placed on a lumber schooner called the Albion at nearby Noyo Harbor but, due to rough waters, the schooner failed to depart as planned on June 9th. The next day it successfully began its sail to San Francisco. Fellow prisoner Thad Dashiell described the trip: “The schooner barreled down the coast, one time out of sight of land, most of the time in sight of the coast.” Upon arriving in San Francisco on June 11th, Dashiell and the other prisoners were surprised to find that, for the first time, their guards held their revolvers on them with “pistols cocked, fingers on the trigger.”

McCall, Dashiell, Wurtenberg, and Patrick were marched at gunpoint through the streets of San Francisco to the provost marshal’s office. They were placed in a 10 x 12 ft guardhouse which was “a very filthy place,” Dashiell recalled. The men were handcuffed for the first time and spent two days in the provost marshal’s guardhouse. Captain Douglas, who had escorted the prisoners the entire distance, relinquished his custody of the men to the provost marshal and would make his was back to Fort Wright.

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

On June 13th, the four men were put in a small boat and transferred to Fort Alcatraz. At Alcatraz they were given hard labor. According to Dashiell, they were, “put to work breaking rocks into small pieces” alongside military prisoners and endured many hardships. McCall would later state that, “My arm was rubbed raw in one place. I asked for a change of irons. They would not get me any.”

The disloyal men from Mendocino County spent six days doing hard labor at Alcatraz. They managed to acquire the services of a lawyer and, despite the suspension of habeas corpus that could have kept them there indefinitely, the lawyer managed to persuade the provost marshal to release them. They were removed from Alcatraz and had to spend one final night at the provost marshal’s guardhouse with drunken soldiers before they were allowed to take the oath of allegiance. Upon taking the oath, John McCall, Thad Dashiell, Simon Wurtenberg, and James Patrick were released and began the long journey back to their homes in Potter Valley about 140 miles away.

One would think that the story would end there and that the disloyal secessionists got what they deserved for celebrating at a time of national tragedy. But John McCall was very angry about the treatment he had endured and did not believe that his arrest was justified. By October of 1865, John McCall announced that he was bringing a suit against Captain Douglas and General McDowell seeking damages of $100,000.

Alcatraz suit 10-12-1865

The announcement of the case received wide press with some newspapers announcing that, rather than suing, McCall should, “consider himself very fortunate that he escaped a justly deserved hanging.”

Immediately though, John McCall’s case against Gen. McDowell and Cap. Douglas hit a snag. According to Section 5 of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act passed by Congress in March of 1863, any suit brought against authorities in regards to habeas corpus was to be taken up by the Circuit Court and not by the state courts. McCall, likely hoping to receive a jury trial which would be more sympathetic to his cause, petitioned heavily that his case not be taken to the Circuit Court level where only a judge would decide his case. McCall’s lawyer challenged Congress’ authority to circumvent the lower state courts. On September 17, 1866, McCall’s motion to keep the trial at the state level with a jury was denied.

While McCall was waiting to hear about his motion to keep his case at the state level, an act was passed by Congress to further clarify the legal protections granted to authorities during the suspension of habeas corpus. The act, passed on May 11, 1866, granted protection to those who had carried out an order, “written or verbal, general or special, issued by the President or Secretary of War, or by any military officer of the United States holding command of the department, district, or place within which such acts . . . were done or omitted to be done.” This act, meant to help and clarify the defense of military officers, would actually cause trouble for one of the defendants in McCall’s case.

In March of 1867, all of the evidence and testimony for the case was taken. Captain Douglas testified about his role in arresting and transporting McCall stating that no deliberate malice was done to the prisoners while he was in charge of them. General McDowell also testified, acknowledging that he gave the order to arrest those celebrating Lincoln’s demise. “I issued this order,” McDowell said, “and I think it quieted the country. And there would have been bloodshed. I think this order saved the lives if not the property of prominent citizens of the city.” Thaddeus Dashiell testified on John McCall’s behalf about the circumstances surrounding their arrest and imprisonment.

Judge Matthew Deady

Judge Matthew Deady

On Friday, April 5, 1867, the case McCall v McDowell et al was argued before Judge Matthew Deady of the U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco. McCall’s attorney, Henry Irving, made the case that his client’s utterances were not enough evidence to suspect him of being an “aider and abettor” of the Confederacy and thus he did not fall under President Lincoln’s September of 1863 proclamation as a class of citizen eligible for arrest without the benefit of habeas corpus. Irving also argued that Gen. McDowell had not been authorized by the President or Secretary of War to issue the order to arrest assassination sympathizers, a condition seemingly necessary in order to protect him from legal action according the act of May 11, 1866. At the end of the day, Judge Deady announced that a decision would come at the end of the month because the, “points involved were of paramount importance.”

On April 26, 1867, Judge Deady announced his decision on McCall’s case. Judge Deady threw out McCall’s case against Captain Douglas due to the March 3, 1863 Congressional Act and act of May 11, 1866 which protected subordinates following the orders of their superiors. It was not proven that Douglas had acted with malice towards his prisoners and thus he was completely free from any liability. The acts from Congress protected Captain Douglas for having “only followed orders”.

Gen McDowell Fined

Surprisingly, however, Deady found that General McDowell was liable for the false imprisonment of John McCall. He agreed with McCall’s attorney that the act of May 11, 1866 did not protect McDowell from liability since McDowell was not given any orders by either the President or the Secretary of War to issue the arrest of assassination sympathizers in his district. So while Captain Douglas was protected for following the order, Gen. McDowell was not protected for issuing it.

Deady did acknowledge that McDowell was acting for the safety of the public when issuing the order and not out of malice, but contended that he was still subject to legal action due to that order. Deady reassessed the possible damages owed to McCall and decided that he deserved compensation for the money he spent during his time of confinement and an additional $500 for his pain and suffering. In the end, it was the judgement of the court that General Irvin McDowell was to pay $635 to the plaintiff, John McCall.

The judgement rocked California. No one had expected John McCall to win his suit against the military authorities who had once imprisoned him. Newspapers reported the names of other former imprisoned rebels who were preparing their own suits against General McDowell and commanders in other districts. Editorial letters denouncing Deady’s decision and poking holes in his logic filled the news. To military leaders out west, the decision of McCall v McDowell was a terrifying one.

More suits against McDowell to come

Though not the $100,000 he wanted, John McCall was no doubt happy about his success against the military might of the abolition party. This last rebel victory, however, would be extremely short lived. For even as Judge Deady was deciding in John McCall’s favor in the west, back east an act had already passed Congress which would overrule it.

On March 2, 1867, Congress passed an act establishing the validity and conclusivity of all acts and proclamations of the President regarding martial law and the suspension of habeas corpus from March of 1861 to July of 1866. In addition, the act specifically fills in the gap of protection that Judge Deady observed, by declaring that, “all officers and other persons in the service of the United States, or who acted in aid thereof, acting in the premises shall be held prima facie to have been authorized by the President”. In other words, this act maintained General McDowell’s authority to issue orders as he saw fit and that all such orders had the implied approval of the President.

The awareness of this act of Congress did not reach California until early May. When the news did arrive, it was immediately picked up by the newspapers. It was reported that, “under this law, which has only been received within a day, Judge Deady himself would have decided for the defendant.”

In the end, General McDowell’s attorneys appealed Deady’s ruling based on this newly passed act of Congress, and the decision was overruled. John McCall never received a cent from General McDowell and any planned suits against him by other formerly imprisoned rebels were ended.

Unfortunately, John McCall sort of drifted back into obscurity after that. I have been unable to find any record of his later life and death. General Irvin McDowell died in 1885 and is buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery. His subordinate, Captain Charles Douglas, died in 1913 and is buried in Monterey, California. McCall’s neighbor and fellow prisoner, Thaddeus Dashiell, is buried right back in Potter Valley where it all started. Dashiell was elected twice as a county supervisor for Mendocino County and in his later years started to vote Republican. Asked by his friends why he would begin voting for the party of Lincoln, the elder Dashiell would say that he had, “packed sand at Alcatraz for the privilege of expressing any political opinion,” he wanted.

Abraham Lincoln Thinking

Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus continues to be one of the most debated parts of his legacy. Though he had reason for suspending one of the most important personal liberties, it was not an easy decision to make. In addition to stripping away a crucial right of every citizen, suspending habeas corpus also removed one of our national protections against the creation of a despotism. That is why our Constitution only allows for its suspension during times of rebellion and invasion. Even in those cases, however, stripping personal freedoms can be a slippery slope. The not so distant past of the world demonstrates the damage that can occur when those in authority are allowed to imprison individuals without charge or trial. While Captain Douglas may have not have committed a crime when he arrested John McCall, we all know the tragedies of history that can occur in countries where personal liberties are suspended by those “only following orders”.

References:
McCall v. McDowell et al – Judge Deady’s full decision on the case is a fascinating read
The Privilege of Expressing My Opinion: Regionalism and Free Speech in Civil War California by Ronald Cannon
An ‘Un-Lincoln’ story for Abe’s birthday weekend by Gaye LeBaron
An Act relating to Habeas Corpus, and regulating Judicial Proceedings in Certain Cases, March 3, 1863
Proclamation 104 – Suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus Throughout the United States, September 15, 1863
The Act of May 11, 1866
The Act of March 2, 1867
NPS – Alcatraz Island
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Heritage Auctions
GenealogyBank.com
FindaGrave.com
Thank you, Gary, for inspiring this post with your comment

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Edwin Booth at the Trial

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

After his brother’s crime, Edwin Booth was spared the indignity of arrest.  The celebrated actor had just recently completed his illustrious run of 100 consecutive nights as Hamlet.  While his brothers Joe and Junius and his brother-in-law John Sleeper Clarke were arrested and imprisoned, Edwin remained untouched, as the grieving national treasure that he was.  Joe Booth spent only a couple of nights in jail before securing his release.  John Sleeper Clarke was arrested on April 27th and remained behind bars until May 26th.  Poor Junius spent the most time in prison due to his letter to John Wilkes in which he urged his brother to quit the oil business and return to the stage.  Junius was unaware that Wilkes used the term “oil business” as a cover for his plots against Lincoln.  Junius was arrested on April 25th and was remained imprisoned at the Old Capitol Prison Carroll Annex until June 23rd.

During this time, Edwin wisely shied away from the spotlight.  However, he was spotted at a high profile event in Washington on the last day of May:  the trial of the conspirators

Edwin Booth at the trial

As the Washington Star noted above, Edwin Booth was at the trial of the conspirators to act as a witness.  However, in the transcript of the trial you will never find Edwin Booth’s testimony from the witness stand.  In a letter that Edwin Booth wrote to a friend in Philadelphia the next day, he explains his reason for being there:

 “…I was called for the defense – to prove that J. Wilkes had such power over the minds of others as would easily sway those with whom he associated, &c. &c; the idea is to set up a plea of insanity for Herald or Paine – or some of them.  I told Doster all I knew of John, and he concluded it wd be as well not to call me.  The Washington ‘Star’ had a description of me – stating I was there as a witness – I daresay the press all over the country will be filled with my ‘arrest’ and all sorts of awful things…”

It was probably an act of courtesy and compassion that led William Doster to decide against using Edwin Booth on the witness stand.  The lawyer for Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt found other ways to demonstrate John Wilkes Booth’s influential character without subjecting the country’s greatest actor to further humiliation.  The request from Doster also provided Edwin with an appropriate reason to travel to Washington to visit his brother:

“I spent the day (yesterday) in Washington, and the greater part of it with my brother Junius – I dined with him – in his ‘quarters’…”

“…I then left the court (after taking a good look at the criminals) and drove to C Prison & stayed with June until 5 o’clk.  I had all sorts of good words & Junius … shd be speedily released &c.”

Not everyone felt happy that Edwin was spared imprisonment and suspicion after Lincoln’s assassination.  Years later, after Edwin himself was almost assassinated by Mark Gray Lyon, a now jaded and disgruntled John Sleeper Clarke wrote the, “Booths…get all the notoriety without suffering!! for it…Look at me I was dragged to jail by the neck – literally dragged to prison – and Edwin goes scot-free gets all the fame – sympathy – who thinks of what I endured.”

John Sleeper Clarke - not happy that Edwin wasn't arrested, too.

John Sleeper Clarke – not happy that Edwin wasn’t arrested, too.

Perhaps it was a bit unfair that Edwin Booth escaped the trials that his brothers and brother-in-law endured.  However, as a celebrated and vocal supporter of the Union during the Civil War, such preferential treatment is not unfounded.  In the years that followed, the theater world purposefully forgot Edwin’s villainous relation, however the stigma of his brother’s crime would haunt Edwin far longer than his brothers’ incarceration.

References:
Evening Star, 5/31/1865
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur Bloom

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The Engravings of The Philadelphia Inquirer

During the months of April, May, June, and early July 1865, the front pages of the nation’s newspapers contained headlining information about the assassination, search, trial, and fate of the conspirators. Newspapers from across the nation sent correspondents to Washington to attend the trial of the conspirators in order to take down testimony and comment on the accused. With so many newspapers covering the same material, the big city newspapers found it necessary to differentiate their coverage to attract more readers. The Philadelphia Inquirer sought to set themselves apart by including engravings in their coverage of the events.

While newsworthy events had been photographed as early as the invention of the camera, it was impossible to reproduce the photographs in a newspaper until the 1880’s. Instead, photographs or drawings of events would have to be turned into engravings, a laborious and time consuming process, before they could then be printed alongside text. There were special illustrated magazines like Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine that had pages filled with such historic engravings, but these were only published on a weekly basis. Additionally, the amount of time it took to create and complete a quality engraving of an event was about a week and a half, causing a measurable delay between an event and a published engraving of it.   Harper’s Weekly, for example, didn’t report on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln until their April 29th, issue because that is how long it took them to produce engravings of the characters and events.

The first engraving of John Wilkes Booth that appeared in the April 29th, 1865 issue of Harper's Weekly.

The first engraving of John Wilkes Booth that appeared in the April 29th, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly.

The more detailed the engraving was, the longer it took to make. As a daily newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer could not afford the time or money it would take to create incredibly detailed engravings to supplement their coverage of the trial. Instead they produced and published the following very basic engravings:

Philadelphia Inquirer page

April 17th, 1865: Booth Map Philly

April 28th, 1865:

Escape Map Philly

May 5th, 1865:

Corbett Philly

May 13th, 1865:

Arsenal Philly

May 19th, 1865:

Herold Philly

May 20th, 1865:

Powell Arnold Philly

May 22nd, 1865:

Courtroom Philly

June 26th, 1865:

Spangler Atzerodt Philly

June 27th, 1865:

Arnold O'Laughlen Philly

There are a few more engravings of people like Jefferson Davis and Lafayette Baker that I haven’t put up here in the interest of space and focus. I’m sure several of you are thinking, “I don’t have those newspapers, but I’ve seen those before.” For one, I have most of the above conspirators’ engravings in their respective Picture Galleries. However, practically all of these pictures were also published in a book that was advertised in The Philadelphia Inquirer on July 10th, 1865:

T.B. Peterson Transcript Advertisement Philly 2
Once the trial of the conspirators was over, there was a race to see who would be the first to publish the transcript of the trial in book form. The nation had been following the trial daily in the papers and there was money to be made by the first publisher who could provide a permanent book version of it. The publisher T. B. Peterson and Brothers was the first to bring a trial transcript book to the market debuting it only three days after the execution of four of the conspirators. Peterson’s edition is called, The Trial of the [alleged] Assassins and Conspirators at Washington City, D.C., May and June, 1865, for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.  The swiftness of this publication was due to the cooperation Peterson received from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Essentially, the Peterson copy of the trial is a direct copy of The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s coverage of the trial in book form. They acknowledge this on the first page of the book stating that, “The whole being complete and unabridged in this volume, being prepared on the spot by the Special Correspondents and Reporters of the Philadelphia Daily Inquirer, expressly for this edition.” Along with the text, Peterson included the Inquirer’s engravings above.

Though not a verbatim account as it was advertised, the Peterson version of the trial provides unique details not found in the other two editions of the trial. Peterson copied over the Inquirer reporters’ accounts of the courtroom and the little asides and actions of the conspirators during the proceedings. Though Peterson’s edition is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to use in research, those courtroom gems and the engravings still make it worth reading and consulting from time to time.

There is, however, one engraving from the Inquirer that I posted above that did not make its way into Peterson’s book. It is this engraving of “Samuel C. Arnold”:
Samuel C Arnold Philly

I can understand why Peterson did not include this engraving. It looks nothing like the real Samuel B. Arnold. At first, I just assumed it was a bad engraving from a poor artist (not unlike another questionable image of Sam we’ve discussed previously). However, when compared with the engraving of John Surratt from the wanted poster, it appears that was supposed to be the subject all along:
John Surratt Wanted Poster and Samuel C Arnold engraving Philly
It seems clear that the engraver used this image of John Surratt as his guide. Though flipped, the hair, features, and clothes match perfectly. Whether this misidentification occurred during the printing of the newspapers or before then, I cannot say. Regardless, it appears that Peterson noticed the discrepancy before publishing his edition of the trial and scratched the engraving entirely.

Photojournalism is something we take for granted today. Back in 1865, however, it took an immense amount of time and effort to provide readers with visuals to complement the written word.

References:
The Philadelphia Inquirer Online Civil War Collection
The Trial of the [alleged] Assassins and Conspirators at Washington City, D.C., May and June, 1865, for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln by T. B. Peterson and Brothers

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A Sketch of Seward’s Assassin

“Looking again to the right, and omitting the alternate guard, we come to one of the most remarkable faces of the group – a face which, once seen, may never be forgotten; on whose moral stature is readily determined by his face.  This man is clothed sparingly.  He is in his shirt sleeves – a sort of steel mixed woolen shirt; his pantaloons dark blue cloth; his neck bare and shirt collar unbuttoned.  He is fully six feet high; slender body; angular form; square and narrow across the shoulders; hollow breast; hair black, straight and irregularly cut and hanging indifferently about his forehead, which is rather low and narrow.  Blue eyes, large, staring, and at times wild, returning your look steadily and unflinchingly.  Square face; jaw irregular; nose turned at the top but expanding abruptly at the nostrils; thin lips, and slightly twisted; mouth curved unsymmetrically a little to the left of the middle line of the face; a wild, savage-looking man, bearing no culture or refinement – the most perfect type of the ingrained hardened criminal…” – Milwaukee Sentinel (05/16/1865)

For the time being all I can manage to post is this self created montage of Lewis Powell and a description of him from a period newspaper account. Of course Powell’s biographer, Betty Ownsbey, is the best source for information on Lewis Powell and happily discusses him on Roger Norton’s Lincoln Discussion Symposium.

I, myself, have been busy preparing for an upcoming move out of my home state of Illinois to the great state Maryland.  I recently got a new teaching job in Maryland and I am very excited about being closer to the history that I love.

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The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts

I have previously written about the wonderful resource tool that is, The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Ed Steers. William Edwards went through and painstakingly transcribed the bulk of the National Archives’ record group M599, the government’s collected evidence after Lincoln’s assassination. With editorial annotations by Ed Steers, the book is the best tool for researching the Lincoln assassination primary sources. When used in conjunction with Fold3.com to view the documents themselves, the book becomes of even greater value.

While I could sing the accolades of The Evidence for hours, this post is actually about a new and equally wonderful resource by William Edwards, The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts.

Now I know what you are thinking, “I already have a copy of the conspiracy trial. Why would I buy another one?” It is true that there are many editions and reprints of the conspiracy trial out there. There were three different versions of the trial (Pitman, Poore, and Peterson) and each have been reprinted many times over the years. Even William Edwards’ partner on The Evidence, Ed Steers, released his own reprint of the Pitman edition of the trial. However, as valuable as all of these versions are, William’s new eBook is better. Let me tell you why:

1. This transcription is the most accurate. This transcription was made straight from the microfilmed images of the court’s official copy of each day’s trial proceedings. The words and testimonies have not been summarized or altered in anyway. The words presented are exactly as they were written by the court’s team of stenographers in 1865.

2. This transcription is the most complete. While publisher Benjamin Perley Poore’s editions of the trial are equally accurate since they were taken from the same source material, they are also incomplete. His fourth and final volume of the trial transcript was never released due to a lack of public interest and low sales of the other volumes. Poore’s editions, therefore, are missing the testimonies of around twenty witnesses. In addition, Poore’s versions lack the closing arguments made by the prosecution and defense attorneys. These missing testimonies and closing arguments are found, in full, in this account.

3. This digitized version of the trial employs four different finding aids and is searchable. This digitized version of the trial makes reading and researching easy. Any part of the trial can be found based on section, NARA reel number, date of testimony, or witness name. Also, by pressing Ctrl+F while reading, you can do a search for any keyword in the entire trial.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a version of the conspiracy trial to purchase, look no further. If you already have a copy of the trial, you also need to get this version. For researching, there is no better version of the trial out there.

Buy it from Google Books today. You won’t regret it.

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To have Peace…

The following letter was received by the Department of the Secretary of State, on April 23rd, 1865:

“To the Honorable Secretary of State

Dear Sir,

In looking over some old papers yesterday my eye came in contact with the enclosed extract which under the existing state of affairs I thought was worthy of being pointed out to you especially as the state (Ala) is now in our possession and the authors of the proposition can be hunted out and brought to justice ever provided they are innocent of the murder.

I have the honor to be your Obt. Servant,
Henry L. Greiner”

Attached to this letter was this extract from the Selma Dispatch:

One Million Dollars Wanted, to have Peace by the 1st of March. – If the citizens of the Southern Confederacy will furnish me with the cash or good securities for the sum of one million dollars, I will cause the lives of Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward and Andrew Johnson to be taken by the first of March next.  This will give us peace, and satisfy the world that cruel tyrants can not live in the “land of  liberty.”  If this is not accomplished nothing will be claimed beyond the sum of fifty thousand dollars, in advance, which is supposed to be necessary to reach and slaughter the three villains.
I will give, myself, one thousand dollars towards this patriotic purpose.
Every one wishing to contribute will address box X, Cahaba, Alabama.  X.
December 1, 1864″

The author of this advertisement was George W. Gayle, a lawyer from Cahaba, Alabama.  Gayle ran this advertisement in the Selma Dispatch four or five times to express his, and his neighbors’, digust and hatred for the sixteenth president and his cabinet.  We can tell his threat was not a real one due to his million dollar fee.  Such a sum would be unobtainable in the war ravaged South.

While extravagant and crass, Gayle demonstrates the feeling that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant.  This idea was shared by many others who watched a war between brothers rage on.  One man who shared this view was John Wilkes Booth.

Gayle’s violent expression of disgust against Lincoln would come back to haunt him.  After the government received the above note and newspaper clipping, Gayle was hunted down and arrested on May 24.  The 57-year-old lawyer had no real connection to John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln’s assassination,  but the government used him as a warning to all of those who spoke ill of the late President.  Not only was his advertisement and character involved in the Trial of the Conspirators in 1865, but, he was still trying to clear his name in court as of December, 1866.

The people of the Confederacy learned quickly from Mr. Gayle’s example.  Those who agreed with what Booth had done censored themselves to protect themselves.  Many only committed their approval in the form of diary and journal entries.  To learn more about the how Southerners viewed Lincoln’s assassination, I recommend the book, When the Bells Tolled for Lincoln: Southern Reaction to the Assassination by Carolyn L. Harrell.  This book is a wonderful look at how varied the perception of Lincoln’s death was across the Southern states.

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