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The Day Lincoln Died for Me

Abraham Lincoln/ Lib of Congress

Abraham Lincoln has a number of ties to Seacoast, NH. But Lincoln has ties to everywhere. Sometimes you just have to go to where history happened. No historic site in America, none is more powerful than the bedroom in the Peterson House in Washington DC. In April 1865 Lincoln was carried here from Ford’s Theater across the street. Today, it looks exactly the same.




For all our pretensions to being an historic region, when push comes to shove, our Seacoast still plays in the minor leagues. There's never been a textbook battle here, no truly famous son or daughter, no world-renowned natural disaster, no earth-shattering discovery. We've had our fair share of tragedy and triumph -- shipwrecks, fires, colonial uprisings, homecomings and celebrity visits. Ben Franklin installed a lightning rod. Paul Revere delivered a message. Washington slept here. We repeat these familiar local stories like a sacred mantra.

Don't get me wrong; that's not a bad thing. Our relative obscurity has acted as a sort of preservative, coating the region with what passes for an historic varnish that is centuries thick. Our collective memory is strong, and each generation paints another thin protective coating. That's the main reason people visit here today. Compared to most historic destinations, this place is practically untarnished.

Who cares if none of the three world leaders actually showed up for the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905? Who's counting when 400 local men defeated an army of only six British soldiers at Fort William and Mary? So what if the most famous guest at Wentworth-by-the-Sea was President Eisenhower's brother Milton? It's our history, durn it, and that's all that matters.

Abraham Lincoln died in mid April, and this was going to be a column about Abraham Lincoln's connections to the Seacoast, and unlikely as it may seem, there are plenty. I'm not just talking about Lucy Hale of Dover again, fiancé to John Wilkes Booth who assassinated the President. There was also Lincoln's campaign trips to the Seacoast, the ones some say built his New England popularity that eventually won him the election. He used the trips as an excuse to see his son Robert Todd, who was then a student at Phillips Exeter Academy here.

Lincoln's Assassination / Lib of Congress

I might have written pages about the Isles of Shoals link to Wilkes' brother actor Edwin Booth, but I didn’t. Edwin Booth, according to Ripley, once saved Robert Todd Lincoln from stepping in front of a speeding train. I was going to tell you about the Lincoln saddle in a glass case on the third floor of the Woodman Institute in Dover, or the Lincoln House were Todd visited with his dad in Exeter.

No, sometimes even a diehard cowboy has to get out of Dodge to take his bearings, and so not too long ago I found myself standing at the foot of the bed where Abraham Lincoln died. You probably toured the famous Peterson House in Washington, DC with your fourth grade class. I was sick and missed that field trip by about forty years. But I know the story like my own name. I know that the first doctor on the scene did not know why Lincoln lay slumped and silent in his rocking chair at Ford’s Theater until his finger slipped into the tiny bullet hole at the back of the President’s head. I’ve read book after book on the assassination, so that it plays out in my mind like a long slow motion film. I can see Lincoln being carried across the street from the theater to this 10-by-15 foot boardinghouse room, the assassin's .44 caliber bullet still lodged in his brain just above the eye.


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Monday, February 19, 2018 
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