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A Tragic Anniversary

Frequently I have what I think is a good idea for a manuscript, but when I start writing, it just doesn’t work. The information below is from research I did for one of those discarded ideas.

April 15, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death. April 15, 1865, was to have been a day of Thanksgiving, marking the end of the long and bloody American Civil War. The president had proclaimed it.

The Confederate Army had surrendered several days earlier. There would be no more North against South, no brother against brother: The fighting was over. But the hating was not. On the night of April 14, an angry Confederate loyalist shot President Lincoln as he and his wife watched a play in Ford’s Theater. Lincoln died of his wounds the next morning. The national day of giving thanks became a national day of mourning.

The president’s funeral train traveled from Washington, D.C., to Lincoln’s home state of Illinois, where Lincoln would ultimately be buried. It traveled through 180 cities. One of them was New York City. For two days, including an overnight viewing at City Hall, Manhattan was draped in black: houses, storefronts, churches, synagogues, fence rails, and spectators, too. Only the red, white, and blue of flags at half-mast in every conceivable place, broke up the monochromatic landscape.

Sixteen horses made their way slowly and solemnly up Broadway, pulling the fallen president behind them. One hundred thousand men—no women, in keeping with the times—marched in the funeral procession: veterans, firefighters, religious representatives, lodge men, and, by special last-minute permission from Secretary of War Stanton, a large contingent of free black men. Sorrowing crowds watched from every inch of sidewalk; from the high branches of trees en route; and from windows of bordering buildings.

And that’s where one more tiny but fascinating detail comes in. Two little boys watched from one second-story window. The house was that of Cornelius Schaack Roosevelt—and the two boys are the future president, Theodore Roosevelt, and his younger brother, Elliott (who would be the father of future first lady Eleanor Roosevelt). These moments of convergence probably happen often in history; in this case, a photographer happened to catch the moment. One of the many reasons I love history!

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