A Son, A Brother, and Assassins
Posted by Laurie Frost on August 4, 2009
My virtual tag-along on Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation is just about over, but before leaving it behind, I thought we should have a look at some of the folks who made this trip possible and a couple of hanger-ons.
Once again, all photos credits are to the Library of Congress.
John Wilkes Booth (LC-DIG-ppmsca-13706) has name recognition, but what about those executed as his co-conspirators?
At first I had trouble finding a shot of Lewis Thornton Powell, who failed to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward the night Booth shot Lincoln. The Library of Congress prefers one of Powell’s other names, Payne (Vowell mentions that he also went by Paine). Once I got that worked out, I had no trouble finding what I think is the picture (credit: LC-USZ62-130829) of him Vowell talks about:
He smouldered, decked out in a jaunty, crumpled, double-breasted trench coat, staring at the camera dead-on. . . .the way he was reaching into his pocket struck me as gallant, as if he were Cary Grant pulling out a monogrammed cigarette case to offer a dame a smoke. Of course, right after that picture was taken, the government strung up Powell’s pretty neck.
Booth was killed when apprehended. Of his co-conspirators, four (Mrs. Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold, and George Atzerodt) were hanged, and four sent to prison in Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas, Florida (Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Samuel Arnold, Edman Spangler).
I failed to find a picture of Mrs. Surratt or of Dr. Samuel Mudd at the Library of Congress, but here are the rest, photographed by Alexander Gardner, who also shot Payne/Powell.
David E. Herold (LC-B817- 7784), who was with Booth when he was caught; Edman Spangler (LC-B817– 7787), Samuel Arnold (LC-B817- 7778), Michael O’Laughlen (LC-B817- 7783), and George Atzerodt (LC cph 3a24066), who didn’t follow through on his assignment to kill Vice-prresident Andrew Johnson, but was executed just the same.
Can you recall the names of the other two assassins? Vowell has fun with the way Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Assassins, contrasts these two men’s personalities. Garfield’s was Charles J. Guiteau, who went to the scaffold singing; McKinley’s, Leon Czolgosz, a grim anarchist. So much for lasting noteriety. Photos of these two are less than sparse.
If you look closely at this collage of nine images you’ll see Pres. Garfield, his doctors, the depot and room where he was shot; the coffin at the Capitol, and Guiteau and Guiteau’s gun (LC-USZ62-80339).
There are only two photo selections in the Library of Congress of Czolgosz, and for one the rights status hasn’t been evaluated, so we’ll make do with this (LC-USZ62-99204).
Finally, a few pictures of two other memorable characters from Assassination Vacation. Vowell is clearly intrigued by the way that John Wilkes Booth’s brother Edwin’s acting career and social standing survived after his brother killed the much loved (and not least of all by Vowell herself) Abraham Lincoln. She writes of passing Edwin’s statue in Gramercy Park and visiting New York City’s Players Club, which he founded.
Here he is as Hamlet ( LC-USZ62-53046) and out of costume ( LC-DIG-cwpbh-00728).
And then there is Robert Todd Lincoln, or, as Vowell deems him, the “presidential angel of death.” His connection to Lincoln is obvious, but it is his weird coincidental eyewitnessing of Garfield’s and missing by moments McKinley’s assassinations that gains him this Vowellian tag. Moreover, although a fan of his father’s, she isn’t one of his son’s.
Possible explanations for her antipathy:
- when Mary Todd Lincoln fought his efforts to have her placed in an asylum, son Robert “instigated a nasty public insanity trial.”
- as Garfield’s Secretary of War, RTL was responsible for seeing that the relief ship to support the Greely North Pole expedition was dispatched to the 25-man team with supplies for their second year in the Arctic. It was never sent, and 19 died. The remaining six survived by eating their dead comrades. When the cannibalized corpses were discovered, the government claimed that the survivors had used the dead as “shrimp bait.” Vowell notes: “That’s how ugly the scandal was — that turning human flesh into shrimp bait was the positive spin.”
- during McKinley’s term, Robert served as special counsel to the Pullman company during its suppression of labor negotiators.
- yet he survived to represent his family, “clearly enchanted,” at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.
Robert Todd Lincoln in 1865 (LC-DIG-ppmsca-19229) and 1922 (LC-USZ62-33031)
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