Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Didn't Happen The Night Lincoln Was Shot

I don't think mere words are enough to describe how frustrated that last post made me. For one thing, it took four days to write it, and for another... Well, there doesn't need to be another, because that's bad enough. Every time I was tempted to scrap it, though, I'd watch this video, and somehow find the strength to continue.

That's because this video - while hilarious - is also utterly wrong. Despite what it may look like to the casual observer, the Pop Culture Institute prides itself on accuracy; I won't guarantee there won't be opinion or bias in any given piece, but I take pains to be as accurate as possible. Which, given the many and varied vagaries of history, is truly a sucker's game.

Nevertheless, I also pride myself on my sense of humour, which is why I invite you now to enjoy this brightly coloured pack of lies.

Hard Drinkin' Lincoln was the brainchild of Simpsons stalwart Mike Reiss, and was created for; Reiss and director Xeth Feinberg also created Queer Duck.
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Pop History Moment: The Shooting of Abraham Lincoln

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On this day in 1865 - Good Friday - US President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, by John Wilkes Booth; his killing was part of a larger plot to also kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Only Booth was successful; Lewis Powell's attack on Seward resulted in a subsequent facial disfigurement for the statesman (not yet famous for the Alaska Purchase and still recovering from a near-fatal carriage accident nine days earlier), and George Atzerodt lost the nerve he'd been attempting to gain by getting drunk, meaning the Vice-President alone was spared the cabal's larcenous attentions.

The plot had originally involved the kidnap of the 16th President in order to hold him captive in the South until the Union Government resumed prisoner exchanges, upon which the badly understaffed Confederate Army relied. Booth, one of the most famous actors of his day and a noted Confederate sympathizer, changed his mind after attending a speech given by Lincoln outside the White House in which the President announced he planned to give blacks the right to vote. 'That is the last speech he will ever give,' he said to his companion and fellow conspirator David Herold, as they passed out through the gates in the direction of Lafayette Square, now with murder on their minds.

After pardoning Confederate spy George S.E. Vaughn at the behest of Missouri senator John B. Henderson, Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln made their way to the theatre, and were joined in the Presidential Box by Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee Clara Harris. Since they'd arrived after the curtain had gone up, the play was halted briefly to acknowledge their entrance; seeing as the Confederacy had only just surrendered, the reception they received was fulsome in its enthusiasm. Lincoln didn't enjoy being fussed over, so they soon enough took their seats; as the play resumed, Booth emerged from the neighbouring Star Saloon and made his way silently up the stairs and into the vestibule behind their box, brandishing both a deringer and a knife.

Having barred the vestibule door from the inside with a music stand he waited, listening for his cue. Booth had timed his shot so that it would be covered by the great laugh a certain line always got. The line came - 'you sockdologizing old mantrap' - followed by the laugh, at which time Booth fired one shot into the back of the President's head, causing it to loll forward. Rathbone rose and grabbed Booth by the coat, at which time Booth slashed at him with the knife, wounding Rathbone.

That's when Booth leapt onto the stage; having caught one of his spurs in the bunting adorning the box, he landed awkwardly, breaking his left leg just above the ankle. Many in the audience, who hadn't heard the shot, seemed confused by what was going on. 'Sic semper tyrannis' Booth shouted from centre stage. 'The South is avenged.' Then he dashed off, running into the alley behind the theatre and there mounted his waiting horse. The assassin had already melted into the night when Clara Harris called out 'He has shot the President!' The stunned crowd of 1500 erupted in pandemonium; among members of the audience only the distinguished veteran and lawyer Joseph B. Stewart - at 6-foot-5 said to be the tallest man in Washington - attempted to chase Booth, but was unsuccessful.

A doctor named Charles Leale rushed to aid the wounded President, forcing his way through the throng who were already vowing to burn the theatre to the ground. The play's star Laura Keene fled from the stage, where her efforts to calm the crowd had proven futile; once inside the box she cradled the President's head in her lap, soaking her handkerchief in his blood as she sobbed. Following a peremptory examination and subsequent diagnosis of a massive, fatal head wound, the quick thinking Leale - formerly an Army surgeon and still just 23 years old - decided he could not let the President die on the floor of a theatre. Even still, a five or six block journey to the White House over rutted dirt roads would surely hasten his death. With the aid of Drs. Charles Taft and Albert King and several soldiers Lincoln was carried across 10th Street to Petersen's Boarding House, where a lodger named Henry Safford showed them in.

Lincoln lingered there in a ground floor bedroom, unconscious, for nine hours, not dying until just after 7:22 the next morning, April 15th; among his attendants on that long night was Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, a Canadian-educated black. Despite a broken leg, Booth evaded capture for 12 days, but was eventually cornered and himself killed on April 26th when a tobacco barn in which he was hiding at Garrett's Farm near Bowling Green, Virginia, was set ablaze; in the ensuing chaos a Union soldier named Boston Corbett shot Booth in the neck, paralyzing him following which he was dragged from the inferno. His last words, spoken three hours later on the farmhouse porch, were 'Useless, useless...'

Booth's co-conspirators - Mary Suratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt - were all hanged at Old Arsenal Penitentiary in July 1865 for their part in the conspiracy; Mary Suratt became the first woman in American history to be given such a sentence. Mary Todd Lincoln died at home in July 1882, having spent three months of 1875 in an insane asylum. In December 1883 Major Rathbone - then US Consul to Hanover - murdered his wife of sixteen years, Clara Harris, following which he was institutionalized until his death in August 1911.

The events of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and its aftermath are thrillingly retold in James L. Swanson's book Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln's Killer.
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POPnews - April 14th

[Shortly after noon on this day in 1935 a cloud of dust traveling 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour came swirling out of the American West over the Great Plains... Not the first - and by no means the last - by 1940 dust storms such as this one had forced 2.5 million people to flee what was left of their farms for greener pastures, while an untold quantity of the once-fertile topsoil that had once upon a time made those farms bountiful ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.]

43 BCE - At the Battle of Forum Gallorum Mark Antony - while besieging Julius Caesar's assassin Decimus Junius Brutus in Mutina - defeated the forces of the consul Pansa, who was killed.

1434 - The foundation stone of Cathedral St. Peter and St. Paul in Nantes was laid by John, Duke of Brittany and Jean de Malestroit, Bishop of Nantes; the first architect on the site was Guillaume de Dammartin, who was later replaced by Mathurin Rodier.

1471 - In England, Yorkist forces under Edward IV defeated their Lancastrian opponents under the Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet, during which Warwick was killed and following which the deposed monarch was able to resume his throne - the first and only English King to do so*.

*Charles II technically became King upon the removal of his father Charles I's head in January 1649, but since Parliament under Oliver Cromwell had abolished the monarchy as it abolished its monarch, technically the succession was broken - at least in England.

1775 - The first abolition society in the North America - the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage - was established in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush.

1846 - The Donner Party of pioneers departed for California from Springfield, Illinois, on what would become a year-long journey of hardship, cannibalism, and survival.

1865 - US Secretary of State William H. Seward and his family were attacked in his home by Lewis Powell at the same time as President Abraham Lincoln was being shot at Ford's Theatre by John Wilkes Booth; a third attack, against Vice President Andrew Johnson - meant to be carried out by George Atzerodt - was not.

1881 - The Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight erupted in El Paso, Texas.

1894 - Thomas Edison demonstrated the kinetoscope - a device for peep-show viewing using photographs that flip in sequence, a precursor to movies.

1912 - The British passenger liner RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic just before midnight; the so-called un-sinkable ship sank within hours, with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.

1927 - The first Volvo rolled off the assembly line in Gothenburg.

1931 - The Spanish Cortes deposed King Alfonso XIII and proclaimed the 2nd Spanish Republic.

1935 - 'Black Sunday' - arguably the single worst dust storm of the US Dust Bowl - reduced visibility to five feet in some places, smothering wild and domesticated animals and people alike in its relentless advance; stretching from the Dakotas to Texas, drought coupled with unwise farming methods and a lack of understanding about conservation almost brought the once-rich agricultural output of the nation to a standstill.

1943 - James Boarman, Fred Hunter, Harold Brest and Floyd G. Hamilton took part in an attempted escape from Alcatraz. Boarman was shot in the water and is presumed dead; although his body was never found, his accomplices were all recaptured.

1958 - The Soviet satellite Sputnik 2 fell from orbit after a mission duration of 162 days.

1968 - At the 41st Academy Awards, an unprecedented tie between Katharine Hepburn (for The Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand (for Funny Girl) resulted in the two sharing that year's Best Actress Oscar.

1978 - At a series of demonstrations in Tbilisi, thousands of Georgians protested against the attempt by the Soviet authorities to change the constitutional status of their language.

1994 - In a friendly fire incident during Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq, two US Air Force aircraft mistakenly shot down two US Army helicopters, killing 26 people.

2002 - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned to office two days after being ousted and arrested by his country's military.

2005 - The Oregon Supreme Court nullified nearly 3,000 marriage licenses issued to gay couples a year earlier by Multnomah County.

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