Echoes in Time: Who Killed Lincoln? Review

ohioHistoryConnection2Last Saturday (April 3) I went to my first ever Echoes in Time theatre at the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society). This event is new to me, but according to the coordinator Mike Follin, it has been running for about six years. That’s six years of me missing out, you guys.

The topic for this talk was “Who Really Killed Lincoln?” which of course piqued my interest given my work-in-progress. I had to ask, why were they asking who killed Lincoln, don’t we know this for sure? Well, yes, and so we learned from Mike who played the “investigator.”

The Echoes in Time Set Up

echoesInTimeApril2015This particular Echoes in Time theatre started with the room set up to look like an 1800s personal study. Our seats were stadium style in the other half of the room, probably enough to hold 30 or 40 people. I made sure to pick a spot near the aisle and under a light, since I figured I’d be taking copious notes (I did) and didn’t want to distract anyone (pretty sure I didn’t). The audience was a range of ages, mainly on the elderly side, but there was one family with school-age children. I was the only young professional, as it were.

Once we were seated, an Ohio History Connection rep came to welcome us, thank us for attending, and mention the topics coming up for the theatre. There’s going to be a talk about the Reconstruction era in June, which is already on my calendar.

After that, our investigator shuffled into the room and was surprised to see he had an audience. He accused us of sneaking into his office, which elicited chuckles. Then he realized his opportunity, and he announced that since he had our captive attention, he was going to chat about the conspiracy theories, which is exactly what we wanted.

The Conspiracy Theories

The question, therefore, was not, “who pulled the trigger?” Come on, we all know that was John Wilkes Booth. The question instead was, “Who put John Wilkes Booth up to pulling the trigger?” That, of course, is a far more interesting question. Was Booth the mastermind we’d all like to believe? Was Booth a cog in the wheel? We learned there are five major popular theories about Booth’s participation, listed below:

  1. Grand theory
    The Confederate government hired Booth to kidnap Lincoln to force negotiations to end the war. When the war ended, the plan turned to assassination.
  2. Simple theory
    Booth was a Confederate patriot and racist who meant to kidnap Lincoln, not kill him. When kidnapping plans fell through because the war had ended, he turned to revenge and shot Lincoln. Using his acting prowess (he was the George Clooney of his day), he manipulated others into realizing his plan, and taking the fall with him.
  3. Eisenschiml’s theory
    Secretary of War Stanton was behind the assassination, because he didn’t do enough to stop it, and he didn’t like Lincoln anway. Evidence shows Stanton respected and admired Lincoln, and no one expected this, so he did his best to shut down the city to catch Booth.
  4. Banker/Jews theory
    Important European bankers like the Rothschilds offered Lincoln loans to finance the war, but he found other means; what an insult! Plus, Lincoln’s Reconstructionist policies were mild, which would have destroyed Rothschild commodity plan to take advantage of a crippled American agriculture.
  5. Pope theory
    Lincoln won a case for a Catholic father against a Bishop in his early lawyer career, and apparently the Catholics never forgave him. It’s a long game, and a long shot because there’s absolutely no evidence to support this since no one can confirm if Booth was Catholic or had any religious affiliation.

The Finale

The presentation was great, mainly because Mike is an entertaining historian. He had side comments that had us chuckling the entire time, and yet I still managed to scribble down four A4 (letter sized) pages of notes. He shuffled out of his office, thanking us for listening to his ramblings, and we applauded. Then he returned as Mike the historian (rather than the “investigator” character), welcoming questions and talk of other theories he didn’t have time to mention.

One guy was super into talking about how the United Kingdom probably helped the plot because they wanted to support the Confederacy. Mike shot that down pretty quickly with some interesting facts, and saying you can always find a connection if you really want to. I made a point of chatting with Mike after everyone left, and he was kind enough to give me contact information so I can shoot him a question whenever. So helpful for my new book!

Verdict

All in all, I’m excited to attend my next Echoes in Time. If you’re in town, make sure to look up the Ohio History Connection’s event calendar. It’s affordable (only $10) and well worth the time. Plus, you can wander around the free rotating exhibits for the rest of the day, which is always fun.

P.S. Since I’m sure you’re curious, historical evidence supports the Simple Theory.

Researching 1800s Grove City, OH

20140607 Century Village Primer
A Union school primer to learn your alphabet

Over the past couple of weeks I discovered somewhere between 100 – 230 men from the Grove City (or Jackson Township) area signed up for the Union Army in the Civil War. Janet Shailer, one of the authors of a book I’m using as primer for all things Grove City, gave me names of local historians who could go into more detail about that; I haven’t contacted them yet.

And then of course, there’s the Century Village in Grove City, OH. It’s a sort of living museum exhibit, a first-hand glimpse at how families living in 1850s-style log cabins and barns might have lived. This is an excellent little plot of land mostly intended for school field trips, but once a year they have a Civil War enactment day, and I was lucky enough to be in town this year!

It was a fantastic little field trip for me! Here are some pointers for those of you also working on in situ research…

Chat with the historians

Jones Log Barn - This small barn is exactly the size my characters need
Jones Log Barn – This small barn is exactly the size my characters need

Each building in the Century Village had hobby historians who were trained to tell you all about the building. However, once one of the historians realized I was interested in the Civil War and Grove City, and not just 1800s old stuff in general, she launched into a fascinating tale about how her husband’s grandfather was a Union soldier. She told me I’m researching the wrong part of Ohio, that I actually want southern Ohio because of the skirmishes and Underground Railroad.

I thanked her for her opinion, and was ready to tour the old school house until she stopped me to tell the anecdote about how a handful of men went to answer the Union call up in Columbus… but when they got there, they were told to go home, they had enough soldiers! And then came the second call, when the war refused to end… and then Grove City men refused to answer the call because they’d wasted their time before!

Moral of the story: Your elders have all the interesting stories the books don’t have time to tell you about. Collect on their knowledge.

Take more photos than you think you need

1850s log cabin with two rooms; my characters have a four-room house
1850s log cabin with two rooms; my characters have a four-room house

I took 41 photos in 45 minutes, and I regret not taking more! You might only have one opportunity to see your landscape / building / what-have-you, so take advantage for all its worth. Take photos of corners, and stairs, and how furniture relates to one another. Don’t EVER use flash photography unless told you can, because you don’t want to be kicked out. So you might want to bring a real camera, if your phone/tablet doesn’t handle low light very well.

That said, I used my phone to take pictures, with and without flash,  to show the difference between today and yesteryear. The upstairs of the log cabin was SO DARK, and it took me a while to realize because the only window on the second floor faced north, I believe. If it had been southern-facing, there might have been light all day (since I’m in the northern hemisphere). It’s little details like that which just seem to make the period come that much more alive for me.

Moral of the story: Take a picture, it lasts longer than your brain memory.

Obviously these are two quick hits in terms of insights, but honestly, this is my first time traveling to a location to study for one of my historical fictions. Previously, I tried to do everything via Google Earth, and the internet in general. It was really cool to stand in a bedroom/kitchen where they served hardtack and Johnny Cake, or in a barn where they were drying out corn. A patchwork blanket was strung in a wooden frame to hold a bed mattress, and an empty horse stall was the exact size to hide my character.

Go to your story’s location, if you can, and absorb whatever details resonate with you. This is the stuff of fiction.

Best,
Belinda