David R. Wrone|21 August, 2022
There are times, however few, when even mute stones can teach lost folk and even inform wizen pols. They can in crisis impart an appeal for urgent reform and urge the politicos to apply balm to make whole our wounded Gilead our plighted country. Once in an odd, serendipitous moment in the nation’s capital I wandered into an instance where stones carried a mighty lesson. But the age-old problem raises its head of whether anyone in their helter-skelter busy life saw it. That is a hard question to answer.
One day in February 1970, in Washington D. C. this idea came crowding through my mind as I looked through a dusty window on the 2nd floor of an old brick building at 918 F Street that had that had just become a new home for the office and many records of the peripatetic Assassination Archives and Research Center, an organization concerned with political murders. I was looking into an over one-hundred-year-old alley whose silent stones held a history with great political meaning.
Late in the evening of April 14, 1865, a horse had come thundering over those very cobble stones bearing a dybbuk with a broken leg, the sleazy and narcissistic actor John Wilkes Booth. Earlier at 10:15 an addled Fate had ruled his actions when he had snuck into Ford’s Theater presidential box; There sat Abraham Lincoln. He could slip in because the throat of the guard who had been ordered to sit outside the door had become parched and whiskey pulled him from his chair to go down stairs to the bar to quaff his thirst.
Booth fired a single, terribly wounding, .44 caliber bullet from his Derringer into the head of Lincoln, jumped to the stage floor from the box seat, but caught his leg on some drapery, and landed badly on the boards, breaking his femur. Lincoln died the next morning at 7:22, the time ever after used by horologists to set display time pieces.
When news reached the far away Illinois prairies shocked friends who had known him for 25 years and had held him in the highest esteem were stunned. In one village, Clinton, where he had from time-to-time on a legal circuit practiced law, a wealthy land owner citizen uttered ‘“Our Christ-like leader” has fallen.’ The Irish revolutionary editor of the paper that Lincoln had weekly mailed to him in Washington was beside himself with grief. And, a child wept in the street. On the far away battlefields in Virginia when the news came of the wretched act, desperate generals feared for a moment they could not hold in check their maddened troops, who fain would revolt and march on the capital to destroy what they (falsely) perceived to be a rebel dastardly coup d’état launched with the killing of the man whom they adored beyond all measure.
Booth had hobbled to the theater’s back door, pushed through it, mounted his tethered horse, and galloped down the alley to F street, turned right to pass 918 and escaped. 12 days later with Modoc tenacity Union soldiers had finally trapped the Wiskanupic* in a rustic wooden tobacco barn in Virginia.
To drive him out they set it afire. One Sgt. Boston Corbett of the 16th N. Y. Cavalry sighting through the belching flames and roiling smoke of an opening in the plank wall slats spied him. A decidedly odd man, certifiably Jesus-mad, who a few years before in the midst of anguish over unchristian sexual urges, in his room had with scissors snipped off his offending private parts. Through the fire he shot and killed the assassin.
Today, Washington has not forgotten this man Lincoln who had saved the nation; several businesses now thrive on the coin that they pluck from tourists by exploiting his death and Booth’s flight. Where profit is, therefore is their country and morality is an orphan. Around the District also there are several places and memorials devoted to coining Lincoln, for what is the nation’s savior worth if not to make them some money.
Several statues are dedicated to him. One infused the soul of the recently arrived new Wisconsin Congressman Fighting Bob LaFollette who as he looked up at it, vowed to buckle on his armor and burnish his shield to fight the good fight for a better world. Like Horatio’s fabled stand at the bridge, he would years later come home wreathed in glory, on his shield. to a state wrapped in sorrow.
Odds and ends of the Lincoln assassination clutter several of the district’s 100 museums and art galleries. Here a pistol, there a fragment. In one a blood- stained cloth from Lincoln’s autopsy that a corrupt Navy medical officer assisting in the 1963 autopsy of President John F. Kennedy said he saw with blood on it; he peddled to the beguiled nation as his excuse for lying along with a pox of Navy admirals about why he burned the first draft of JFK’s autopsy in his home fireplace. He did not want JFK’s blood-stained document around for the ages to see and ponder and gawk at.
For the second draft he also used stuff from the local newspaper (!) that apparently Naval medical schools must have taught him, a singularly act and every fact in it in gross error. He also as well as invented, just conjured these Oswald damming facts. He missed two of the bullet wounds (!). His corruption arose when he had heard the claimed assassin L. H. Oswald had been shot and fortuitously the military knew there would be no cross examination of their role in the autopsy. So, in addition to medical knowledge he had crime detection knowledge, a Sherlock Holmes in green medical scrubs
We must note the place of the hanging of the gang that conspired with Booth occurred in the district area with several of the soldiers guarding the group Menominee Indians from Wisconsin who had months earlier been “piped into service” and rushed to the battle front in a week without training of any kind.
To focus merely on Lincoln’s murder though is a diversion from the bloody realty that help define the nature of the District of Columbia, which I think must be the most violent actual and celebrating one on earth. There were several assassinations. Ambassador Orlando Leterrier was blown up on embassy row, President James Garfield was shot and killed at the railroad station on 12th street. The nation suffered no loss for he was a man without moral compass and a common murderer who when his staff told him the Sioux Indians were starving from his troops having cooped them and then denied rations, famously remarked “let them starve.”
* * *
Puerto Rican nationalists blew up five Congressmen. A statue to Martin Luther King, Jr., murdered by persons unknown stands on the mall, paintings of assassinated President McKinley killed in Buffalo hangs in galleries as Mammon worshippers’ a fond tribute to a fellow swine. Near the far side of the polluted Potomac River rests the graves of President John Kennedy and his brother Robert each shot by unknown persons in faraway cities.
In the District are statues marking some of our many wars, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Revolution. There are 17 memorials and statues to military around the area, a massive war building in the Pentagon and several forts. Also, there are so many statues to generals and other professional soldiers sprinkled around the several score are sometimes referred to as a cast iron regiment.
There is also to be found a statue to Daniel Boone driving a knife into a Shawnee Indian and a political propaganda frieze of future VP Richard Johnson in a battle killing the Indian leader Tecumseh who had dared to retain a fragment of his original land for his beleaguered tribe. (RJ’s role was a simple federal lie, someone else did and he just took the glory, after all he was a general. His troops with unalloyed joy mutilated dead Indians and cut off body parts for souvenirs—fingers, ears, jawbones, scrotums, skin for strops, etc.
In the capitol dome are friezes of one of history’s most despicable persons, Hernan Desoto. He landed with a force in the southern area of the future nation with a military force and proceeded to war against Indians. He fed his war dogs on Indian prisoners of war.
There are numerous sites where anti-war protests, war riots, crowed control by armed force have occurred.
There is one to Andrew Jackson who is infamous as a war leader for his sneak into then Spanish Florida capturing a Creek Indian chief who had just saved an American officer from execution and freed him. Jackson hung the pagan savage. He later as president in D. C. beat off a deranged attacker whose pistols aimed at him unfortunately misfired.
There are various statues in the Statuary Hall that qualify.
In addition, in the Archives we have the heads of 100,000 Indians and of many more skeletons.
*Wiskanupic is a Menominee Indian word for a force of evil--a bearded snake!! that comes out of the ground and does wrong.