tv Fords Theatre Silent Witnesses Exhibit CSPAN April 19, 2015 10:15am-10:46am EDT
caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> today, ""american history tv" is marking the 150th anniversary of the lincoln assassination. you can find hundreds of programs on president lincoln at c-span class library. here is a look at one of them. >> he was a terrifically successful actor. he was a sign of the most prominent theatrical family in the country. his father had been a great star of the stage, travel the whole country, and his brothers, two brothers, and when and -- were equally distinguished. edwin was probably the greater actor. john wilkes had performed for a number of years. he was only 26 at the time of the assassination. the youngest of the brothers. but was known across the country
. had traveled with touring shows and was a celebrity. it is interesting to think that when booth walked down a street in the united states in 1865, he probably would be recognized by somebody. this is very different from the other assassins. there is this one image i can never resist showing. booth -- john wilkes booth did not exit perform on stage for nearly a year before the assassination, except for one benefit performance he gave in new york of julius caesar. with his brothers. this is a photograph taken while they were preparing for this. that is john wilkes on the far left. he had shaved his mustache for the performance. and his brother edwin is at the far right. just assure show you that life does not always imitate art,
john wilkes is per trade mark anthony, the loyal one. and his brothers portrayed the assassins. >> each week, "american artifacts" takes viewers inside museums to learn what artifacts have to reveal. 150 years ago, actor john wilkes booth shot president lincoln at ford theater in washington dc. for the first time since that night, a collection of objects associated with that assassination are reunited in an exhibit titled silent witnesses. first, we begin at the national museum of american history to see the carriage that transported president and mrs. lincoln to ford's theatre on april 14, 1865. >> behind me is the carriage that have lincoln road -- rode
in to report theater. it is part of the exhibits we are working on, which opens this month. april 14 1865 was an incredible day for both the lincoln's and washington. news had reached the city that robert e lee had surrendered to grant. the war was finally coming to a conclusion. that morning, abraham lincoln had breakfast with his family. robert todd lincoln, has all this -- his eldest son, joined him for breakfast. and he was telling the story to the family about what had just taken place. the city was in celebration. and the lincoln's themselves, you know, or celebrating and finally seeing the end of this incredible war and all of the burdens that it had on the
president. he decide that day to celebrate a difficult of ways. one thing he decides this to go on a carriage ride with his wife. and it is an incredible ride that the two of them take. mary asked whether they should invite anyone to join them. abraham lincoln said, no, he would like to go just the two of them to and they take us right around the city and a talk about the city -- about their future. lincoln turns to her and says, now is the time where we should really put aside our sorrow and think about the future. and he says that he would like to go to, you know, see the holy land. and see the gold mines in the west. and america about how to like to go visit the capitals of europe. and then what should they do? should they move back to springfield or possibly go to chicago? and they really say they are going to look to the future and
put aside the sorrows of the past. and let's go to the theater. and that night, they get ready to go to the theater. and they take -- the invite a number of people. originally, there hoping that the grants would join them. they take a young couple. they pick them up in the carriage that i am standing in front of you and the go to ford theater. and they arrived late to the play. they go up into the presidential box. the play itself has already begun. they stopped the play and there is a rousing sort of applause for the president. and you can just sort of imagine, for lincoln, this was one of the happiest days of his life did and here he is finally
basking in the glory that he was never quite competent that he would finally achieve. and he sits down to enjoy the play. everyone knows the story that follows. the president and his party settle in to watch the play. and unbeknownst to them, john wilkes booth is entering into the theater, coming up the back stairs. entering the presidential box, pulls out a guarantor and shoots the president in the back of the head. the theater sort of our reps in chaos. -- sort of the reps -- sort oferupts -- erupts in chaos. the theater erupts in chaos as one actor said, it was a harrowing apparel. you can imagine, the chaos of all these people, the president
had just been shot, no one knows what to do. one of the play's producer and major actors in the play approaches the audience. she tries to call the crowd. it is not really possible. somebody shouts, the president needs water. she runs to her dressing room, grabs a pitcher of water, and enters into the presidential box. there, she cradles the president as other people try to deal with the situation. is this a mortal wound or not? there was a doctor in the theater. he releases a blood clot in the back of his head. and realizes in a sense, that well this is his president breathing, this is actually a mortal wound. and he is about to die. they pick the president out of the theater, across the street to the peterson house where
early the next morning he dies. and then the nation is in mourning. it is one of those times in american history where everything changes. the sense of incredible celebration, relief throws the nation into a state of mourning. and changes the course of the country. no one really knows how the end of the war would have resolved itself under lincoln's leadership, as opposed to johnson. but clearly, the course of history at that one moment changed. one of the great treasures that we have lent to the ford theater exhibit is abraham lincoln's top hat. and this is really one of our prized possessions. it is not something that we have ever lent to ford theater before. it is the first time it has been
back since 1865, to my knowledge, at fourth theater. the hat itself was purchased by abraham lincoln from a washington hat acre. we don't exactly know when he acquired the hat, but we do know that the last time you weren't was at ford theater. it is a very typical tall hat. you might have noticed that it has a very wide band around it. this is x a -- actually a mourning band that lincoln added to the hat to commemorate the death of his son, willie. i also think that he used that as a symbol of also his linking his morning -- mourning to the morning of so many -- mourning of so many others. the hat itself comes after the conspiracy trials are all over. the war department took over ford's theatre after the
assassination, and took back a number of objects, including the hat, back to their offices as evidence of the crime. the head itself bounces around from various agencies, the interior department, on display very shortly in the office display, and then in 1867, with mary's permission, the hat comes to the smithsonian institution. it is actually our first presidential object to come to the smithsonian institution. it is delivered to the secretary of the institution. as soon as he hears the hat has arrived, along with the chair he says to his staff to put them into boxes, not let anyone know that the hat has arrived. and so for the next 20, 25 years, the hat in the chair remain in the basement of the throws -- the smithsonian institution for no one to see.
eventually in the 1880's, a small use them opens up and the asked to borrow the hat. and he says, the hat has been one of the most prized possessions always on public display at the institution. the chair itself, many years later, the ford theater relatives ask for the chair back which the smithsonian gives them back the chair. the eventually sell it to the ford museum -- for they sell it to henry ford, and it is not at the henry ford museum in michigan. the carriage itself is a typical carriage -- not a typical carriage. the carriage required a driver, so in order to really operate his carriage, you need to have various kinds of servants and staff at your disposal. it is not the fanciest of carriages, but surprising to me,
presidents supplied their own vehicle when they became president. the lincoln's actually had three carriages. they would have this for daytime, another carriage that was closed for bad weather, and a third carriage that no one really has a good description of your so we don't really know what that carriage looked like. after the assassination, robert todd lincoln, with mary, starts to dispose of some of the lincoln property. the carriage itself is sold to a doctor in upstate new york, who uses it for his daily rounds. and then eventually, it is sold to the studebaker brothers, who are building a collection of historic carriages. they are carriage builders before they actually build an automobile company. and it becomes part of their
collection and one of their treasured objects. when the studebaker company goes out of business, their collection of carriages and automobiles is transferred to the studebaker museum in south bend indiana, where it now resides and who very generously lent this carriage to us and ford theater for the 150th anniversary. there is a reality to -- >> there is a reality to our stories. and at the museum, it is the artifacts that can tell the stories. they become real to people. you can imagine, how many books are written about him all the time. actually coming to see a carriage he rode in, the hat he used to wear, and start to understand and the reality of what actually he was about, the country was about, and what happened that night is what we do at the national museum.
objects by themselves have their own stories, so here we notice abraham lincoln's carriage, but his initials are on the side of the carriage. so, all of a sudden, it becomes more and more real to us that it actually was his carriage. he wrote -- rodei in it on that fateful night. >> we are standing here in the center for education and leadership in the special exhibit gallery, artifacts of lincoln's assassination. and we have brought together this jewelbox exhibit for the hundred 50th anniversary of the -- 150th anniversary of the lincoln assassination. it is an exhibit we have been working on now for about three years. we wanted to reunite objects that were here 150 years ago that have not been back to 10th street since then. and actually to bring these objects together in the small, intimate room is really
extraordinary. it is so intimate, i think it really brings a human feeling and the human sense to it. and that is sort of highlighted by the contents of lincoln's pocket. when you book at those objects you see -- look at those objects, you see the glasses that lincoln war. and you see the string that lincoln himself tied to the spectacle to hold them together. you see the watch that lincoln had. you see the five dollar confederate bill that we imagine that he probably picked up when he went to richmond a week earlier, after the fall of richmond. so you get to see those artifacts and i think you start to understand the type of person that lincoln was. and i think to be able to see these objects close up, to see the sort of real, human components of them, i think gives you a sense of who these people were. and i think to have these objects in a single room sort of
reunited, it is, in a way you read, but oddly exciting and yet eerie feeling that these objects are all coming back together for the first time in 150 years. it is really wonderful a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit. one of the things that is extraordinary about this is that we try to tell the stories of the people that were here that night. you have the lincoln's, the major, laura keene, the actress who was the sort of actress and manager. it was her production, and she was one of the people who went up to the box and comforted lincoln while he was still in the theater before he left. we have a swatch from her dress. it is just an extraordinary artifact. once again, the very sort of human element of the people who were here that evening and what it meant to have all those people come together for that moment in history where lincoln was shot, and then make and then
lincoln ultimately died the next day. charles was a 23-year-old army medic. he was a surgeon in the army and he was at the theater that night to see the play and to see the president at the theater. and he happened to be in the balcony, seated. he was one of the first people to get to lincoln that night. and it really is one of the extraordinary artifacts that we have in this exhibit. something that we have extra thought about for many years wanting it to be a centerpiece of this exhibit because it is a first-hand account that dr. -- the doctor wrote within a month of the assassination. he wrote this letter about what it was to get, and very sort of medical in clinical terms, he writes about how he got to let -- how he got to lincoln initially and how he stayed with lincoln throughout the entire evening in the peterson house
even after lincoln's own personal doctors arrived from the white house, he stayed with him throughout the entire evening. 4 the -- tracey avant: the exhibit is laid out in four acts. we decided to do a narrative based on the play. so this section, this is a playbill from our american cousin. this is something that you would have been headed out on the streets. it really was an advertisement for the show that night. and it highlights laura keene the lead actress that night. so she was one of our key players. we look at our key players in our exhibit, and that night, we had the president and their first -- the first lady. their guess were the major and his wife. claire was a personal friend of
mary's. and dr. charles, he was the first doctor to reach abraham lincoln in the presidential box. and started to care for lincoln that evening. then laura keene, are actress she also made her way to the box after the assassination and cradled the presidents head on her lap -- president's head on her lap. then looking in the background sneaking around the corner, we have our assassin. our second set -- section of the exhibition really looks at the arrival to the theater. they arrived a little bit.ly to the theater. lincoln was finishing up business at the white house. so when they came in, the show was already in progress. the show was stopped and the president and the first lady were introduced to the crowd cheered. -- and the crowd cheered.
we have a couple instruments that were here that night. these have not been on view for several years. and then our second -- third section is the actual act of the assassination. the president a shot so here is the gun. of course, he is shot by john wilkes booth. he was able to sneak into the box and come up red-depressed it. it is very small. often, considered a gentleman's gun. you can see, it has a readable silver inlay and inscriptions on it. very pretty, carved handle which is why i think it was called a gentleman's pistol. it also usually came in a pair. we don't know what happened to the second pistol. but we believe he chose it because it was small and easy to carry, e.g. to conceal.
he knew that he needed only one shot if he did it right. his goal was to be as close to the president as possible. he did carry in my genetic with them as a second weapon. unfortunately, he did not need it. he was point-blank when he fired the gun. the gun fired one round bullet -- lead bullet. and it didn't need to be reloaded. some people feel like he may have chosen this also as with a dramatic way to shoot the president. you know, one shot. i think he wanted to escape, but i think if he had been caught, he would have been ok with that as well. he felt deeply that he was doing the right thing by bringing down a tyrant. he often referred to himself as brutus to julius caesar, and very theatrical terms -- -- in -- in a very theatrical terms.
after he shoot the president, he doesn't need to keep his weapon. his key objective at that point is to get out and to escape. he just through the pistol down into the box. part of that probably had to do with the fact that the major aware of what is happening now jumps up to try and capture him. he grabs hold of him, so booth asterisk -- has to/with his neck to escape the box. no one thought about the guy. no one knew about the gun until later. a journalist exley went back into the box and found the gun on the floor. and could have kept it as a souvenir, but did the right thing and handed it over to the metropolitan police department, where it was then eventually handed over to the government as evidence for the trial. other artifacts in this section are related to all of our players we just met. we have henry's god -- glove
that you were to the theater that evening. we have laura keene's coffee. and also a figment of her dress as well as fragment from the dresses that mary lincoln war -- wore. claire and the major were again, guests of the lincoln that evening. the major -- he was bleeding profusely. a lot of blood that are on the artifacts is his blood versus lincoln's blood. laura keene act and cut off her dress and handed it to her nephew paid her husband's nephew the next day. but the fragment from her dress she never gave away pieces of the dress during her lifetime. either her daughter overheard granddaughter give around five fragments that we know about. we don't know what happened to the rest of the dress. and we don't know whether fragments for these pieces came
from, but collecting things like this during that. period of time was very popular. when laura keene went up to the box to bring water that the doctor requested, she held the president's had in her lap. the theater manager who was there grabbed the flag that was decorating the front of the box, which is right here, and they folded that up and put it under lincoln's head. we do have some blood staining here. this flag is on loan from is from the pike county historical society in pennsylvania. so that flank was preserved. it actually went to another actress that was in the show that night. she was another actress and her father was the theater manager who grabbed the flag. he then kept it later and passed it down to their family. our final section of the exhibit
, or act for -- four, is the vigil. and it is really about the personal artifacts of the lincolns. along with the letter from the first dr. there, he wrote an account to a friend of his recounting everything that happened that night. he was very young. only 23 years old. he was just out of medical school for six weeks and he found himself in the position of cap for the president initially. he found the wound and relaxed immediately that it was fatal. and that there was no way the president would recover from the shot. so he wrote to his friend, and there are some beautiful quotes and some beautiful faces in the letter. -- phrases in the letter. that was just a couple of months later. but our collection of artifacts
here, these are all personal effects of abraham lincoln. the gray coat that he wore, was one to his second inaugural. then we were together, we know to the theater that evening aired and his top hat -- that evening as well. and his top hat. all of these artifacts were given to come eventually, his eldest son and eventually passed down and given to the library of congress by the lincoln family. just a collection of really mostly ordinary objects that now are extraordinary. a handkerchief, a wallet, two pairs of glasses, including this pair here not only repaired with a piece of string that shows his humble origins, but also from washington dc from franklin company here in washington dc these folding spectacles that fold up into this little tiny metal case.
we have a pocket knife, and then a little watch fob that would have gone on to hold it in place. and uniquely and strangely, he was carrying a confederate five dollar bill. we don't know exactly why. he had visited richmond and, you know, weeks before. it could have been perhaps a reminder that the war was coming to a close. and just a souvenir. he was a regular person. he wanted souvenirs, right? finally, we have a couple pairs of cufflinks that he was wearing that night. something that you would have went to the theater on a nice evening out. and finally, we have mary lincoln's cloak. she also wore this to the theater that night. this is on loan to us from the chicago history museum. it asked that hasn't been on
display for almost 50 years. so it is a really unique opportunity to see this cloak here. along with our gray coat, which hasn't been on display for several years here at fort theater. and would be on display again for probably several years. a real opportunity, especially to see these two items together. sort of aid and mary reunited -- abe and mary reunited. john gray: for our visitors to see something here that have been 150 years ago is really an extraordinary opportunity. and gives us a chance to reflect on what america really is. this is to understand our history. and that is essential for us because it tells us who we are today. and for all of us, it tells us who we could be by learning of the past, being inspired by the
past, and being troubled by the past. but understanding who we are and where we came from. it explains so much about us. and it gives us a moment of refreshment about how to create a much better future for everyone. >> you can watch this and other american artifacts programs anytime by visiting our website c-span.org/history. >> today, "american history tv" is marking the 150th anniversary of the president lincoln assassination. here is a brief look at one of the videos. mary bacon: i thought a lot about how we turn a place into a shrine, because we know what happened there. but there are a lot of places where we don't know what
happened. james has a line in the play, and a lot of lines from his play come to me, he says god, give us our beloved ones. i think about that. when i look at the box, i think about them making him an idol. of course, he is a great idol. it is just that we have participated in that we federation. susan swain: you have worked with the theater for a while now, but does it ever leave you being you that box? james still: no. i didn't know if i would have that same kind of haunted feeling sitting there, but in this case, the play -- the widow lincoln is actually incorporated into the play. there is a double experience going on. you are watching mary lincoln remembering that night, and the audience