Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Lincoln Rocker

~Being that April 14th and 15th marks the anniversary of the shooting and death of President Lincoln, I felt the need to commemorate it in some way, but I did not want to do it in the usual manner; after some thought, I decided to try a different angle: the main focus of this post will be to concentrate on the infamous chair Mr. Lincoln was sitting in when the assassin's bullet took his life.
I believe you may find the story interesting~

The Henry Ford Museum, whose facade is an exact replica of Independence Hall, is one amazing place. I would guess it is only second in scope to the Smithsonian Institute in its collection of Americana artifacts. 
Yup - sure does look like
Independence Hall to me!
When Henry Ford began collecting all things American back in the early days of the 20th century, folks from all over were very happy to help him out by sending him all of their "junk" they had stored in their basements and garages. Items of little use, including old-time farm implements, cooking and heating stoves, yarn winders, eating utensils, furniture, watches & clocks, spinning wheels, guns, tools, toys...the list goes on and on.
Little did they know that what they were giving away (and in some cases, selling) would one day become museum pieces - objects that told the story of the average (and not-so-average) American of the 18th and 19th centuries. Other museums at the time held paintings of the great artists, furniture of kings and queens, and items that people of great wealth once owned. But that wasn't what Mr. Ford was interested in. He wanted to show the things that made America great. He wanted the light to shine on folks like you and me - everyday people.
As the collection grew to an enormous measure, Ford realized he needed a place to store all of his treasures and decided to build a museum, originally called the Edison Institute, after his hero Thomas Edison.
Over time, the things that Ford obtained grew beyond the everyday items that he'd been finding: George Washington’s camp bed and trunk from the late 1700’s, more classic automobiles than you can imagine, trains and more trains, buggies and carriages, pre-WWII airplanes, an original 1940’s diner, the car that Kennedy was killed in, a writing desk belonging to Mark Twain, and another belonging to Edgar Allen Poe, and still another that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, a teapot and other items made by Paul Revere, Henry Ford’s very first car known as the Quadricycle, an original MacDonald’s sign from the 1950’s, lighting apparatuses through the years…the collection of Americana here is mind-boggling.
 Now, there is one very unique piece of American History here that goes beyond the scope of what other museums - including the Smithsonian - has: 
the Lincoln Rocker.
The Lincoln Rocker: yes, this is the actual chair President Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot by Booth. It is now inside a temperature-controlled container for all to see for generations to come.
Let's have a quick reminder of the events of the evening of April 14, 1865:
On the afternoon of April 14, James Ford was notified that the Lincolns would attend the performance of the comedy Our American Cousin that evening. The president attended the theater frequently, and the Fords were accustomed to offering him a special box above the stage.
White House security guard William Crook later recalled that President Lincoln told him several hours before the assassination: "It has been advertised that we will be there, and I cannot disappoint the people. Otherwise I would not go. I do not want to go." Crook thought the statement odd because, in the words of the theater doorkeeper, Mr. Lincoln went to plays "to take a laugh."
For the commemoration 150th anniversary 
of the Lincoln's assassination, The Henry
Ford Museum brought the chair out into
the open for one day only.
Because General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant were expected to join the Lincoln's, the Ford Theater staff quickly combined two boxes into a larger one and added special decorative touches. The Grants later declined the invitation, but not before five flags and a framed portrait of George Washington were installed and special furniture was carried inside.
When the President and Mrs. Lincoln arrived on the fatal Friday night, they were accompanied, instead, by Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, the daughter of Senator Ira Harris of New York. They were late, but the play, Our American Cousin, was interrupted when they entered the presidential box so the band could play "Hail to the Chief" and the audience could deliver a standing ovation to the couple. Shortly after 10:15, John Wilkes Booth left a nearby bar and entered the theater, where he had drilled a peephole to observe the President's box. Since guard John Parker had deserted his post, Booth made an easy entrance to the box, timing his assassination to coincide with a mirthful moment on stage.
The security on such occasions was minimal, Sergeant Smith Stimmel later wrote: "President Lincoln flatly refused to have a military guard with him when he went to places of entertainment or to church in the city. He said that when he went to such places, he wanted to go as free and unencumbered as other people, and there was no military guard with him the night of his assassination. The only person other than Parker that could have protected him in the theater the night of his assassination was a civilian who was employed at the White House, known as the carriage footman. When the President went out with his family, and sometimes with invited guests, to places of entertainment, this footman would go along and ride on the seat with the driver. When they reached their destination, he would hop down and render such assistance as a handy man could." Parker himself deserted his post near the door to the presidential box in order to get a better view of the performance.
The President was seated in a rocking chair, holding hands with his wife. Booth unloaded a single shot from his derringer into the back of the President's head, cut Major Rathbone with a hunting knife when he tried to interfere and then himself jumped to the stage. 
The Assassination of President Lincoln
Booth caught his spur on the American flag in front of the box and broke his leg as he hit the stage floor. Yelling "Sic temper tyrannis," he limped off stage to the rear of the theater where an employee held the reins of Booth's horse. Inside the theater, cries of "Shoot him!" and "Kill the murderer" rang out. 
After the assassination, Henry (Harry) Ford, treasurer of the theatre, testified that he included an upholstered sofa and matching rocker in the furnishings. Theatre employee Joe Simms concurred with this, saying, "...I saw Mr. Harry Ford and another gentleman fixing up the box. Mr. Ford told me to go to his bed-room and get a rocking chair, and bring it down and put it in the President's box. I did so. The chair had not been there before this season. It was a chair with a high back to it and cushioned."
James L. Maddox, another theatre worker, remembered Simms carrying the rocker into the building on his head. "I had not seen that chair in the box this season; the last time I saw it before that afternoon was in the winter of 1863, when it was used by the President on his first visit to the theater."
To Lincoln's right sat his wife Mary, and just beyond her were their guests, Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris. Of course, as you (hopefully) know, around 10:30 John Wilkes Booth shot our 16th president at point blank in the back of the head, and the rest of the story is history.
Except for this chair.
What most do not know is that this chair now sits in the Henry Ford Museum - the actual chair that President Lincoln was sitting in at the Ford Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865! The rocker's importance became obvious immediately after Lincoln's death. The War Department held it as evidence during the trial of the assassination conspirators.
From an article in the Washington Post:
In January 1867, the War Department sent (the chair) to the Department of the Interior. Interior Secretary O.H. Browning acknowledged receipt of the chair, writing, "It will afford me satisfaction to have the Chair deposited in the proper place, among other relics, in this Department for safekeeping."
Soon after, the chair - along with the stovepipe hat Lincoln wore to the theater that night - were put on display at the Patent Office building. They were exhibited for only a year or two, and in 1869 the two items were delivered to the Smithsonian. They were kept in storage, their exact whereabouts a closely held secret.
This old chair has been through a lot. It's a wonder it even survived through the time Henry Ford purchased it.
In 1893 the chair was sent to a museum that Union veteran and Lincolniana collector Osborn Oldroydit opened at 516 10th St. NW, the house in which Lincoln died. There it stayed for the next four years. It was returned to the Smithsonian, where in 1902 it finally received an official accession number - 38912 - and was cataloged in the Department of Anthropology. And it was there that the chair remained...in storage. Then, in 1928, Blanche Chapman Ford, the widow of Harry Clay Ford (the original owner of the chair who loaned it to the Ford Theater for Lincoln's use), wrote to the Smithsonian. Was it true, she asked, that they had the chair, and if so, "Will you kindly tell me why it is not on exhibition?" She added that if it was not of use to the museum she would like to have it.  Smithsonian curator Theodore Belote responded that it was the museum's policy not to show objects "directly connected with such a horrible and deplorable event." Perhaps, but Brian Daniels, a Smithsonian Archives research associate who has studied the circuitous history of the chair, thinks there was another reason: Belote, the son of Maryland slave owners, was not fond of Lincoln. He was happy to see the chair go.
In the spring of 1929, Blanche Ford's son George collected the chair. That December it was on the auction block, selling for $2,400 to Israel Sack, a Boston antiques dealer who conveyed it to Henry Ford for his new museum.  
"This is the chair that embodies a transformative moment in time for America and indeed the world," said Christian Overland , vice president of the Henry Ford museum. 
The Henry Ford Museum does a wonderful job presenting the chair so it can be seen at nearly every angle.
A rare look at the back of the chair. 
This was taken on April 15, 2015 -
the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's
assassination.
"It kind of is like the one that got away," Daniels said.
I have read that the Smithsonian as well as the Ford Theater has asked numerous times for the chair for their own respective museums. Of course, the Henry Ford Museum has always responded in the same way - a resounding "no."
And, to be honest, I'm glad. The Henry Ford Museum painstakingly restored the chair in 1999 and placed it in a temperature-controlled environment to ensure its longevity for generations to come, and has done a beautiful job in displaying it; it is now part of a permanent exhibit - one that I absolutely love - called "With Liberty and Justice For All," which explores the often painful evolution of America's fight for freedom.
The exhibit focuses upon four key transformative moments in the American quest for freedom: the Revolutionary Era, including original documents such as Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," a copy of Paul Revere's etching of "The Boston Massacre," letters written by George Washington, and an original copy of the Stamp Act, among other historical pieces of our Nation's founding, through the "Antislavery Movement and Civil War Era, the Woman’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. It highlights the people and iconic artifacts that were involved in those moments, and involves visitors in the important debates and struggles." 
 And right in the middle of all of this "With Liberty" collection, amongst the Civil War artifacts, you will find the iconic "Lincoln rocker."
I believe the rocking chair that Lincoln was in when he was shot garners more attention than anything else in not only this exhibit, but the entire museum. When you can stand just inches away from this piece of furniture (separated only by glass), the realization of what occurred and all who were affected by the dastardly act of John Wilkes Booth - to this very day -  hits you unlike anything you felt before.
I don't know...it's hard to explain...
But I am very glad the Henry Ford Museum not only has this chair, but presents it in such a respectful and respectable way. 

To think...on this very night... 


Much of what you just read came from the many books I own about our 16th president, and the info about what is now known as the Lincoln Rocker came directly from
American Lincoln Online


 
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~And now a news article that coincides (in a way) with the above post~ 

Children of Civil War Veterans Still Walk Among Us, 150 Years After the War
To their living sons and daughters, the soldiers in blue and gray are flesh and blood, not distant figures in history books.
by David A. Lande
Published November 11, 2014
How many people alive today can say that their father was a Civil War soldier who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln in the White House? Fred Upham can.
Despite sounding like a tall tale and a mathematical impossibility, it's documented truth. Fred's father, William, was a private in the Union Army's Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was severely wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run, in 1861, and later personally appointed by President Lincoln to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Fred's in exclusive company—the dwindling group of children of soldiers who fought, North against South, 150 years ago.
All are very old "children" (Fred, 93, is not the oldest among them), born mostly in the 1910s and 1920s to Civil War veterans and young brides. The fathers, typically on second marriages, were in their 70s or 80s when these children were born.
Fewer than 35 of these remarkable offspring are now on the rolls of heritage groups that keep track of them. They're referred to as "real" sons and daughters and are given a place of honor at the ongoing events commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
"They're a true link to another part of this country's history," says Gail Lowman Crosby, president of the real daughter club for the United Daughters of the Confederacy  (UDC). "Whether Confederate or Union, they're a treasure. The stories they tell today are the stories they heard as they sat on their daddy's knee."
Iris Lee Gay Jordan is one of only 11 surviving daughters of Southern soldiers documented by the UDC. She was nine when her father, Lewis F. Gay, died, in October 1931. Her eyes still well up with tears as she remembers him.
"Mostly, he told stories on Sundays," she says. "I could sit on the porch and listen to his stories all day." Corporal Gay had been in the Confederate Army's Fourth Florida Volunteer Infantry. He saw combat in numerous bloody battles across the South: in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. He was reportedly one of only 23 soldiers left in the Fourth Florida by war's end.
Iris's and Fred's fathers were lucky. After being captured in separate battles in 1861 and put in prisoner of war camps—William Upham was sent south to Libby Prison, in Richmond, Virginia, and Lewis Gay north to Fort Delaware, near Wilmington—both were released the next year in a prisoner exchange that swapped Union soldiers for Confederates.
Their treatment as prisoners, they both said, was humane at this early stage in the war—in contrast to the horrors that happened later on in notorious places like Andersonville, in southwest Georgia.
"Prisoners were exchanged only sporadically for part of the war," says Derek Mills, educator at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. "Those who were exchanged early on were very lucky. As the war dragged on, exchanges broke down and didn't happen much again until the war was nearly over."
Iris and Fred say their fathers held no animosity toward their captors. "My father said that the men in the North were just like he was," Iris says. "He told us, 'We were all far away from home, and we all would much rather have been home with our families.' There was no bitterness on his part at all."
Clifford Hamm—whose father, John, fought for the South, serving in the 71st Regiment, North Carolina Troops—recalls, "My seventh- and eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Little, taught about the war from the Southern point of view. To her, it was the war of Northern aggression—not the Civil War, because there was nothing civil about it."
Clifford, who followed in his father's warrior footsteps as a U.S. Marine in World War II, says he still thinks of the War Between the States the way Mrs. Little did.
"My father would never acknowledge the South was defeated," he says. "He used the word 'overcome'."
Extraordinary even among this exclusive group of Civil War children are four surviving siblings from the same family: Charles Parker Pool's sons, John, Garland, and William, and his daughter, Florence Wilson. Their father served in the Union's Sixth West Virginia Infantry.
"My father didn't like to talk much about the war," Garland says. "He did say the main reason he wanted to fight was that he didn't want to see the nation divided, and because he was against slavery."
William remembers the story of his father's company capturing a Confederate soldier who had a slave as his personal attendant throughout the war. The slave, freed when his master was taken prisoner, had asked Pool's company commander for his gun. "The slave clubbed the Rebel with it and stood over him saying, 'The bottom rail is now on top.' "
Whether Northern or Southern, these Civil War sons and daughters shared a collective experience as they grew up: In school, when they proudly told how their fathers had fought in the Civil War, teachers and classmates scoffed, saying it couldn't be true. "There's been a lot of sideways glances over the years," Fred says with a chuckle.
"They told me," says Hazel Jeter, daughter of Silas D. Mason of the First Maine Cavalry, " 'It must have been your grandfather or your great-grandfather.' They thought I was lying and looked at me like I was crazy."
Probably nothing could compare to the incredulous looks young Fred Upham received when he said his father shook hands with Abraham Lincoln.













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3 comments:

Gina @ VictorianWannaBe said...

Hi Ken,
Wow what a story about the Lincoln rocker, it is a beauty! What a shame it was in storage for so long, so glad it is on display now. I don't believe I had ever seen the real actual chair before, only lithographs or drawings of it.
Thanks for reminding us again of the events of that evening as well as the path the chair took before finally being on exhibit.
Wonderful post!
Have a great week,
Gina

Deborah Lundeen said...

Thank you Ken for the post. It was very interesting and included information that I had not heard before, your usual good work.

Bama Planter said...

Hi Ken. I loved reading this. Our Sons of Confederate Veterans honored a Real Daughter a few years ago at our meeting in Selma, Alabama. Before the evening was over, she was so giddy she was singing songs for our unit. Her children and grandchildren were in shock that she could sing. I played the pump organ and she sang Dixie. It will always be a great memory for me. Marshel at Bamaplanter.blogspot.com