With the exception of The New York Times, which has been running a Civil War Notebook almost daily for the past five years, the media and the nation took little notice of the 150th anniversary of the death of president Abraham Lincoln at the hand of an assassin, John Wilkes Booth, at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865. The mortally wounded president was carried across the street to the William Petersen’s boarding house, where Lincoln died at 7:22:10 a.m. on April 15, 1865.
The New York Times writes today, In Washington, a Solemn Anniversary of Lincoln’s Death:
At just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, looking straight out from the Petersen House on 10th Street in Washington, it was briefly possible to filter out the peripheral sounds and sights of the city and imagine the scene 150 years ago almost to the minute, when President Abraham Lincoln’s carriage pulled up in front of Ford’s Theater and delivered him to his fate.
A few hundred people – tourists, some schoolchildren, history buffs – had been drawn to site of America’s first presidential assassination. They milled in front of the arches of the theater, mingling among the smattering of volunteers in Union uniforms. There were a few early theatergoers who had snagged tickets to a memorial performance – not of “Our American Cousin,’’ which Lincoln was watching, but “Now He Belongs to the Ages,’’ which included excerpts from his speeches.
Official Washington paid little heed; President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation, but when he attended a gospel singing performance in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday night, he never mentioned the anniversary. Outside Ford’s Theater, there were no speeches, or even politicians, except for a Lincoln impersonator with a top hat.
But the more touching scenes were in the Petersen House, where Lincoln, unconscious, was carried across the street. A steady trickle of visitors climbed the stairs, wound through the parlor where Mary Todd Lincoln awaited news of her husband’s fate, and paused in the back bedroom where the president died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865, staring silently at the bed.
“Hating and wishing ill to none, he had never comprehended the hell of demoniac passion which seethed and surged around him,’’ Horace Greeley, the famed editor and abolitionist wrote the next year at the end of “The American Conflict,’’ his early history of the Civil War.
Next door, there was a temporary exhibit of artifacts; the tiny Deringer that John Wilkes Booth used to kill Lincoln, the topcoat cuff links and hat he was wearing that night, the pocketknife he always carried.
Why a pocketknife, one visitor asked the guide? “So he could cut apple slices,’’ came the reply.
By the time visitors emerged, the police had cut off 10th Street to traffic as the exact hour of the anniversary approached, their red lights flashing. Suddenly the Washington of 1865 had receded, and modern-day reality had once again intruded.
Abraham Lincoln is considered one of America’s greatest presidents. And yet on this solemn anniversary of his death 150 years ago, Americans do not even stop to take notice or to honor the life of this man. There is something deeply troubling about a nation that does not honor its history and sacrifice.
The concluding passage of President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.