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Thursday, June 16, 2016


     We'll be choosing a new President soon.  Thinking about our former leaders reminded me of a school project long ago.
    It was the spring of 1960 when we were given an American History class assignment. "Break up into groups", bellowed Mr. Bromir, , "Come up with something creative about our past".
     My two friends and I were giddy with excitement as we considered dying at the Alamo or bringing Hitler to his knees. When I suggested that we re-enact the assassination of President Lincoln they were ecstatic. The sad story had everything junior high thespians could hope for, war, murder, and a group hanging.
    We had fake mustaches left over from Halloween (we had been beatniks), a friend had a pistol, and we had plenty of ketchup for blood.
    Since Alan was the skinniest of us (we called  him "Bone Rack"), he got to play Lincoln.  John, drawing the shortest straw, had to dress up in drag to become Mary Todd Lincoln. That left me to portray America's most hated man (Trump had not been born yet), John Wilkes Booth.
    Our location scout (me) chose to film at my place in Miami Springs. It had everything we needed, period furniture, a playhouse, and a swing to serve as our gallows.

   We began with the conspirators meeting at Mary Surratt's rooming house.  We gathered in the playhouse and I told everyone, "Nobody can smile or look at the camera. It's gotta look like the real thing. Our camera can only take 12 pictures."  
      We ended up with five usable photographs. We projected them (as slides) onto a classroom screen as we took turns reciting our version of the story. It went something like this.


    It was the spring of 1865 and the Civil War was drawing to a close. The popular actor, John Wilkes Booth, a southern sympathizer, gathered with friends.They made plans to kill the man they hated most, President Abraham Lincoln.
Here, Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt meet with Booth at the rooming house.  As we go over the plan my little brother, Bruce, breaks a major rule, "Don't look at the camera!" .

    On April 9, 1865, our country's bloodiest war finally ended.  Four days later President Lincoln's wife talked him into stepping out for some fun.  Big mistake. 
   They didn't have movies back then so they went to see a play at Ford's Theater nearby.
John's wig is just what it looks like, a mop head. At the time, we thought it almost looked like Mary Todd's hair.

While they were watching the funniest part of the comedy, "Our American Cousin" -and everyone in the audience was laughing- Booth snuck up behind the President. His little gun held just one bullet  and he fired it into  Lincoln's head. 
Mary Todd's expression makes it look like she was in on it.  Using this photo as evidence present day conspiracy theorists may explore new territory.

     When Booth jumped from the President's box down to the stage, he broke his leg. He waved a knife, yelled to the audience, "Death to the Tyrant!", and escaped to Virginia.

    He stopped to get help from his friend, Dr. Samuel Mudd.  Later Mudd was imprisoned on an island near Key West for aiding the assassin.  Key West was not a fun place then.  There was no air-conditioning or Sloppy Joe's.

     Our slain President's body laid in state in my living room's rotunda, long enough to take this photo. 
A few days later it was taken back to Lincoln's home state, Illinois, for burial.  My little brother and sister did a pretty good job of looking sad.  Neighbor Mary Brown (with her baby sister) ended up looking like Fidel Castro, who was just a kid (with no beard) back then.

       The U.S. Army chased Booth across Virginia until they found him hiding in barn.  Booth refused to come out so they set it on fire. When a gun fight broke out Booth was killed.  
    The remaining conspirators were quickly rounded up, put on trial, and found guilty.  Four of them, were executed in public hanging including Mary Surratt.  As you can see she did not go without a struggle. 

Thus ends our version of the infamous story. It may not end up in the Library of Congress but it will always be enshrined in the Grove Guy's Cyber-journal.

  Addendum-  Years later I toured Ford's Theater, a fascinating place which still puts on stage productions. In the basement museum you could view Booth's pistol along with the hoods and nooses used to hang the conspirators.  I also saw Booth's neck vertebrae. The mini-ball is embedded in it.  
 Two years ago I toured the Library of Congress.  On display were the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night he was assassinated. I remember his glasses and a wallet that looked like yours or mine.

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