Monday, May 24, 2010

Letter of the day, May 24

New Bedford Mass.
May 24th. 1907.

Miss Olive Mason.
Lansdowne, Penn.

My dear Grandchild.

You wished me to tell you something about the assasination [sic] of President Lincoln, in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, on the evening of April 14th. 1865. (forty two years ago) at which time I was present in the Theatre. On the 13th. I had ridden to the City of Washington, on some business connected with the Ordnance Department, from near Winchester Va. where my Regiment then was, and on the evening of that day, Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the Army and Navy Building, was a blaze of glory with red fire, rockets, roman-candles, and bunting, in celebration of the surrender of the confederate General R.E. Lee and his army, which occurred on the 9th four days before. The Cities and Towns of the North, were also celebrating the same event with illuminations and great rejoicing. My friend, Captain Sweet and myself, took a carriage and drove along the Avenue, to see the illumination, and when we were near the Army and Navy Building, some one in the crowd, cried out, “there is General Grant”, and in a moment, our horses were unhitched from the carriage, and the men began to draw it along the street, cheering wildly for General Grant. In the uncertain light, they had mistaken me, for Gen. Grant, probably because I wore a beard something like his, and was in uniform. It was some time before I could make them understand they had made a mistake. My business would keep me in the City for two or three days, and so, on the evening of the 14th. I went to Ford’s Theatre, where the play was to be “Our American Cousin” – the principal actors, being E.H. Southern and Laura Keene. As it was known that the President and party would be there, the House was filled. My seat was in the centre of the Dress Circle, directly fronting the Stage, which gave me an unobstructed view of everything.

Some time after the play had begun, the Presinent’s [sic] party entered their box, on the second tier, and as they did so, the whole audience arose and cheered wildly, until the President came to the front of the box, and bowed. The play proceeded until the third act, and while the curtain was dropped for a moment, on one of the scenes, a shot was heard in the direction of the President’s box. Immediately, a man was seen to hurriedly make his way through the President’s box, with a dagger in his right hand, and jump over the rail, onto the stage, about twelve feet below. As he did so, the spur on one of his boots caught in the draping of a flag on the front of the box, and caused him to strike heavily on one foot, and fall to the floor, but he quickly sprang up, and running to the centre of the stage, threw his right hand aloft, still holding the dagger and exclaimed “Sic semper Tyrannis” (which means, Thus always with Tyrants). He then ran across the stage and passed out of sight, at the side entrance. As he jumped from the box, I knew something was wrong, and my impulse was to stop him with a bullet, and I reached for my revolver. It seemed I never regretted anything so much, when I found I had left it at my Hotel. For a minute, a long one it seemed, the people appeared to be dazed, as at some terrible calamity, and then some men jumped over the foot-lights and followed the man with the dagger, and some clambered up to the president’s box to see what was the matter. After a moment, one of them came to the front of the box and announced that the President was shot.

Then cries arose from all parts of the audience, of “catch him”, “bring him on the stage and cut him in pieces”, “kill him” “hang him”. Just after this, Laura Keene, stepped from behind the curtain and said “Wilkes Booth has done this”. She had recognized him as he ran across the stage. In a few minutes the President was carried along the corridor, back of the seats of the Dress circle, down the stairway, and across the street to a private house, where he remained until the following morning, when he died. As he was carried out of the Theatre, the blood from the wound in his head, dropped along the floor, and many of the people dipped their handkerchiefs in therein to preserve as a sacred souvenir of the beloved President. As I left the Theatre, the sound of the news of the terrible tragedy as it passed from lip to lip, could be heard as it extended in ever widening circles from the Theatre as a centre, like the sound of a coming of a mighty tempest, rolling on and on, until it had covered the whole country from the Lakes to the Gulf and from ocean to ocean. Next morning, the black emblems of mourning began to cover the Capitol, the other public buildings, and private residences, and as the sad news reached the Cities and towns of the North, the same thing was done, until the sable pall of unuterable [sic] sorrow seemed to hang over and envelope the land. Business was generally suspended, and the people went about with solemn faces and hushed voices, as if waiting for some even more terrible and impending stroke of Fate.

Never before, and never since, has our country been plunged into such widespread and desolate sorrow; and may the time never again come, when the happy and prosperous people of our beloved America, shall be overshaddowed [sic] with such poignant and heart-wringing grief.

This may give you some idea of that woeful period in the life of our country, and afford an added interest in your readings of its history during the years of the Great Civil War.

Hoping to see you very soon on my return trip from the Jamestown Exposition, I am as ever-
Your loving Gran’Pa.
Henry W. Mason

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