tv American Artifacts The House Where Lincoln Died CSPAN April 21, 2021 9:17am-9:49am EDT
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♪♪ each week, american history tv visits museums and historic places. you're looking at peterson house here in washington, d.c., where president abraham lincoln passed away on april 15th of 1865. up next, a tour of the former boding house located cross the street from ford's theatre where abraham lincoln was shot 150 years ago. >> this is an interesting house that has a great history even before abraham lincoln was assassinated here. it was built by william peterson and he used this house as a
boarding house. and so this is really a relic of 19th century civil war boarding house culture. once upon a time, everybody lived in boarding houses here, congressmen, senators, even vice presidents of the united states lived in group homes. so this house, aside from its history of being the place where abraham lincoln died is an important part of antebellum civil war history. this house is also a great museum of immigrant culture in washington and boarding house life in washington, d.c. i've been coming here for years. i started coming here in 1986 when i joined the reagan administration. and i've been coming here for years. and i'm very excited that this year, for the 150th, there's going to be a big commemoration for abraham lincoln. in past years, i'm usually here alone. no one comes to the house on the night of the assassination. i might find one or two people here when i sit on the steps of
the peterson house and contemplate what happened. a couple of years ago, the park service almost arrested me sitting on these steps because a guard accused me of being a homeless loiterer. i tried to tell her, i serve on the ford's theatre society council of adviser. two minutes later, two squad cars rolled up and they questioned me and said, how do we know you're not a homeless man who is going to damage this house. one of them came to his senses and rolled his eyes and asked me to enjoy his evening. i've had quite a time coming to this house. and sadly, it's been abandoned by the public for a long time. but this year, the 150th anniversary is going to be different. lincoln arrived at ford's theatre. the play was under way. he was late. and no one at the peterson house noticed lincoln arrive. people were going to bars and taverns to celebrate the union victory in the war and surrender
robert e. lee. it was a quiet night on the street. the play you see under way. lincoln's carriage pulled up and stopped in front of that big gaslamp and lincoln went inside. around 10:15, the doors of ford's theatre burst open and first dozens and hundreds and over 1,000 people came rushing out those doors screaming. at first, some people thought the theater was on fire. then they heard the shouts, lincoln's been shot, burn the theater. find the assassination. and that got the attention of the residents of this boarding house. the first person who noticed what was happening was a guy named george francis who lived on the first floor. he came outside and walked into the street and he could only get hallway across and people were screaming, the president was dead. he walked right up to the president's body as it was being carried across the street. another border on the second floor heard the noise too. he came downstairs and went outside. he saw the commotion too and he
heard the shouts that lincoln had been shot. there were so many people outside in the street. he retreated, came back to his house and went up these stairs and stood at the top of the staircase. he was watching as the soldiers pounded on the door of the house next door and couldn't get in. he saw that there was lincoln in the middle of the street being cared by soldiers and they didn't know where to take the president. he went inside, got a candle and stood at the top of the staircase and shouted, bring him in here, bring him in here. and the doctor heard that and shouted to the officers and soldiers, take the president to that house. so they crossed the street and came up these stairs. as lincoln was being carried up the staircase, he was still alive, unconscious. and the sight of abraham lincoln here at the top of the staircase was the last time the american
people saw him alive. the doctor came in this doctor. and he told stafford, take us to your best room. the hallway is narrow. it was filled with the lincoln entourage, with the doctors and soldiers, and there was a narrow staircase on the right. stafford knew the best room was the front parlor occupied by the francises. it was locked. mrs. francis had seen the president being brought to the house and she was already dressed for bed. she wanted to put on clothes. she didn't unlock this door either. and all that was left was this little room at the back of the hallway which was occupied by a civil war soldier. but he was out for the evening. and so stafford led them to this
back room here. you can see how narrow the hallway is. there's barely enough room for soldiers to carry him down this hallway. they took him into this room and laid him on a spindle bed in the corner. lincoln didn't even fit on the bed. he was too tall. the doctor ordered soldiers to break off the foot of the bed, but it wouldn't come off. so they had no choice but to lay abraham lincoln diagonally across the bed. and the doctor ordered people out. he needed to examine the president. he knew he had been shot in the head but he didn't know if he had other wounds. once the doctors were alone, they stripped him naked and began their examination. they observed he had no other wounds. they thought he might have been
stabbed. because almost everyone had seen john will ks booth show the dagger on the stage. as lincoln was lying here on the bed, mary lincoln came to the front door of the peterson house and they went to that front parlor. we'll go that way and see what mary lincoln did. when lincoln was first brought in this house. he had no body guards. so strangers came into this house and observed lincoln in that bed. they lingered in these hallways. and it was not until 15 or 20 minutes later that lincoln was under the full protection of the u.s. army. they entered the house and soldiers and officers cleared everyone out who was unknown to them and didn't belong here. mary lincoln was frantic by then. she came screaming where is my husband? where is my husband? why didn't he shoot me? and then mary lincoln entered
this front parlor. and she sat on a horse hair sofa in this room. this was the front parlor of borders. mary lincoln would spend much of the night of april 14th and april 15th in this room. she didn't spend the night at her husband's side. she spent most of the night here with close friends. she was very upset. she couldn't stand to see her husband wounded and unconscious. and so much of her time was here crying, sobbing. when clara harris, one of her theater guests that night came in and mary lincoln saw harris' dress covered with blood, mary began screaming, my husband's blood, my husband's blood. it was actually the blood of ms. harris' fiance. mary lincoln was wrong.
it was not her husband's blood. it was major rathbun's blood. he was taken from that floor and taken home. here's where mary lincoln spent much of the night. secretary of war stanton and secretary of the navy wells arrived at the peterson house shortly after lincoln was taken here. they were first at the home of secretary of state. they heard the secretary of state had been stabbed to death in his bed, and he almost was killed. when they got to the mansion near the white house, they heard that lincoln had been shot. they rushed over here in a carriage. by the time they got here, thousands of people had gathered at the corner of 10th and "f" street and a carriage couldn't push through the crowd. the two most powerful members of the cabinet had to disembark
from the carriage and push their way through and come into this house. so stanton came through this door into this room and he saw mary lincoln here. he decided he couldn't operate here. so stanton came through this room and into the back parlor here which was the francis' bedroom. it was here on a table that the secretary of war began the man hunt for john wilkes booth. witnesses were brought here and stanton questioned them. a union soldier who knew shorthand sat at this table with stanton and took the first testimony of witnesses who saw john wilkes booth murder the president. stanton spent most of the night here in a table in this room, sending telegrams to army commanders in new york and throughout the northeast. throughout the night, he sent
messengers from this room to the telegraph office and from that office, messages were brought back here. this room became the command post for the entire army of the united states under the secretary of war while lincoln was dying in the back bedroom. stanton was one of lincoln's favorites. he had an iron will. even though they didn't get along well before the election, stanton once humiliated lincoln at a trial they staffed together. lincoln knew he was his right hand. he once said that stanton was the rocky shore upon which the waves of rebellion crash and are broken. stanton was devastated, but he threw himself into the work. he was imperious, fearsome,er barking commands. sending orders all over the country to hunt for john wilkes booth on trains and boats. the orders went out everywhere. catch the assassin and find him. the man hunt began in this room
before lincoln even died. once word got out to official washington that lincoln was here this became the center of attraction for all important people in washington. over 100 people made pilgrimages here during the night. some came because they wanted to help. they knew stanton would need them. some were friends of mary lincoln and they wanted to comfort them. others were journalists who were not allowed to enter the house. and while all of this was happening, thousands of people in the street gathered right in front of this house, some tried to stand on tippy toe and peek through the windows. but the blinds were closed and they couldn't see. and so throughout the night, with regularity, official visitors came to the front door of the house and were admitted to see the dying president. more than a dozen doctors came. they knew they couldn't help lincoln. he had been shot through the brain. some people came because they wanted to say one day that they had been here, they had seen the
great lincoln on the night he was assassinated. some came so they could tell their grandchildren decades later, i was there the night lincoln died. and so more people were in this house who really needed to be here. it was certainly appropriate that the members of the cabinet come. but there were too many people here in this little house as abraham lincoln was dying. so mary lincoln would sometimes come out the front door of the parlor and venture to the back. and her female friends escorted her down this hallway. by then, the bed had been pulled away from the wall so doctors could surround it and treat lincoln and observe him. several times during the night, mary lincoln sat in a chair right here next to the bed pulled away from the wall. she really couldn't control herself. at one point, when it sounded like lincoln was gasping and about to die, she let out a
terrific shriek. mary lincoln did not have a lot of fans in washington. but it was not right to treat her that way in the presence of her dying husband. but she was so upset and unnerved, she really couldn't bear to be in this room. and so she only made a few trips back here throughout the night. and she was not present when the president died. she was sitting in the front room. lincoln lingered throughout the night. many men would have died within minutes after being shot in the head, but he rallied. and daylight came. around 6:00 in the morning, secretary of the navy wells decided to go for a walk. he had decided that some high official should be at lincoln's side throughout the night in the morning hours. and he really left it to secretary of war stanton to question witnesses, to begin the man hunt, begin the
investigation to see if other cabinet members had been marked for death. and wells was here that night more as a mourner and witness for lincoln rather than a person who was active in the investigation and the activities that night. so wells found it hot and oppressive that morning and he walked outside, a light rain had begun. and he was astonished to find several thousand people keeping vigil on the street outside. many of them were black. either free men who had never been slaves or freed slaves, men and women, gathering in silence. and wells was touched by that. the street was silent. by that point, there was no shouting, there was no screaming. a hushed crowd stood outside. and they asked wells, how was the president? and he couldn't answer them. so he came back and by 6:30 in the morning, it was obvious that lincoln was not going to last much longer.
the breathing became more labored, less frequent. and so the doctors fished pocket watches out of their suit coats because they wanted to mark the moment when abraham lincoln died. and that came at 7:22 a.m. on the morning of april 15th, 1865. that was when lincoln's heart made its last beat. the doctors recorded the time and one of them said he's dead. he's gone. ens witnesses say no one spoke for a few minutes and the secretary of war said to the doctor, doctor, will you speak? he said a prayer for lincoln and then stanton pronounced words that really were immortal and remembered wrong for the last 150 years. the secretary of war stood in this room and looked at abraham lincoln's body and said, now he
belongs to the angels. we remember it today as now he belongs to the ages. but research has revealed that it's best remembered by the stenographer, tanner, whose pencil broke as he was writing down what was said in that room. he remembered that stanton said angels. plus it's characteristic with his temperament, he wouldn't have said something as profound as now he belongs to the ages. i have no doubt that in this room, stanton said, now he belongs to the angels. people filtered out of the room one by one. stanton remained here alone with the president. at that point, he took small scissors or a razor and approached lincoln's body and he cut off a lock of lincoln's hair. not for himself, but for mary jane wells, the wife of the secretary of the navy, one of
mary lincoln's few close friends in washington. and he sealed it in an envelope, wrote her name on it and later mrs. wells framed the lock of hair with dried flowers that add dourned lincoln's coffin at the white house funeral. that was the first blood relic taken from abraham lincoln in this room by the secretary of war. then, it was time to bring lincoln home to the white house. the secretary of war sent for what was needed to convey the body of a dead president home to the white house. soldiers were sent. and they returned from a military shop, a few blocks away, carrying a rectangular, plain pine box. a rifle crate with a screwtop lid. when those soldiers rounded the corner with that box, the crowd moaned. they knew that the president had
died. they saw the cabinet members leaving, they knew, but the sight of that coffin was the real refutation of their hopes that lincoln would live. so that coffin was taken down this hallway and laid on the floor right here. and before lincoln's body was placed in the coffin, soldiers took a 35-star flag, possibly a 36-star flag, for the final state added to the union in the civil war, and they wrapped lincoln's naked body in the colors of the union. and the stars would have been wrapped over lincoln's face. lincoln had ordered that the flag keep its full compliment of stars during the civil war to symbolize that the union was permanent. and lincoln would not have minded being placed in that box. it was -- and so stanton stood
here as the lid was screwed on that box. there was no sound. you could hear the squeaking sound of the screws. and lincoln was carried out to the front door and down the curving staircase. a simple carriage awaited him and a military escort was there. it was not fancy. there was no band. no national colors, regimental flags. the officers were all bare-headed and they escorted lincoln home to the white house. that's not the end of the story of this house, the peterson house, once all the government officials had left, once the president's body was gone, once stanton left, the house was open. no one was here. anyone could come into this house and anyone who lived in this house could do whatever they wanted in this room. william peterson was furious that muddy boot tracks had
soiled his carpet. when he came in this room and saw bloody pillows, sheets, towels, he got so angry. he opened one of these windows and through a lot of that material out the window into the yard behind. two borders who lived in the ours, two brothers, one was a cameraman, a photographer, the other was a painter, and they decided they would bring up a camera and photograph the deathbed. it still had many bloody sheets on it, a coverlet was on the bed. they pushed the bed back into the corner to get a better photograph of the room. they set up the camera and pointed the lens towards the bed and towards this hallway. and they opened the front door. so the morning light streamed down this hallway. and they took one or two exposures of abraham lincoln's deathbed which were lost for almost 150 years.
i consider that photograph to be the most vivid and sad and shocking photograph in american history. they never tried to commercialize it. they didn't try to make multiple copies, sell them commercially. but it's an incredible and touching relic of the mayhem of what happened in this room that night. one interesting thing, even though a photograph was taken in this room shortly after lincoln's body was taken out, for some reason, we haven't discovered any period photographs from 1865 taken of the peterson house after the assassination. matthew brady went inside ford's theatre and took a number of photographs. they photographed other places associated with the assassination. but for some reason, photographers did not set up their cameras in front of the peterson house and take photos the day lincoln died or the day after, the week after. it's a bit of a historical
mystery. i've looked for decades to find photographs taken of the peterson house shortly after lincoln died, but haven't found anyone and no one i know has found any. it's one of the lingering mysteries of the assassination. interestingly, private william clark came back the next day, the soldier who lived in this room. he was out all night celebrating the union victory. and that night, he slept in the very bed in which abraham lincoln died. he wrote a letter to relatives, i'm sleeping in the bed that abraham lincoln died. strangers offered money to come visit the room. they tried to steal little bits of cloth, and so souvenir hunters were trying to raid this room within hours of the president's death. the coverlet is long gone, stolen at the turn of the
century. some of the pillow cases survived. they're in the collection of the park service and the sheets were divided up into little swatches and all over the country in museums and private collections, one can find little swatches of the sheets that were on abraham lincoln's bed, many of them stained with his blood. this room looks very much like it did the night that abraham lincoln was brought here and died the next morning. the prints are the same ones that were on the walls that night. the carpeting is identical. the wallpaper is identical. in fact, a number of artists came to this room and sketched it and also described it. we also know from the photograph taken by the brothers what this part of the room looked like. and the bed, of course, is no longer here. and that's part of a sad story about the peterson family.
in 1871 william peterson was found unconscious on the grounds of the smithsonian institution. the old castle. he had poisoned himself with laudanum. the police revived him and he convinced that he had been taking laudanum for several years and he died. in the front parlor of this house, william peterson's body was laid out. four months after he died, his wife died, anna died. and her body was brought to this house and she too was laid out on this house. and so only six years after abraham lincoln died in their house, both petersons were dead and both were laid out in this very house. interesting footnote, after anna's death, an auction company was brought in to sell the contents. strangers gathered outside, came into the house, came down the halls, came into the parlors, the auction took place on the site. the two most expensive things at the auction were the sofa in the
front room, that went for $15. and the bed, upon which abraham lincoln died, sold for $80 which was eight or ten times what it should have cost if it was simply a bed. so an early historian and souvenir hunter recognized the value of the materials in this house and bought a number of things, including the deathbed and some of the other relics from this back room. that bed later was purchased by a chicago candy millionaire, charles gunter for $100,000 and it's now in chicago at the old chicago historical society. the peterson house had an interesting history after lincoln died. it was not immediately seized upon as an important national monument. the petersons moved back in after a few days, borders came back and it became a boarding
house again. and a historian who loved abraham lincoln and was obsessed with honoring lincoln occupied this house and he created a lincoln museum in the basement and in these rooms. and for a small price, visitors could come to the house that lincoln died and come this room. over decades, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of americans came and visited this room when it was a privately operated museum. it was not until decades later that the national park service took custody of the peterson house and restored it to its original appearance as it looked on the night abraham lincoln was assassinated. the peterson house is one of my favorite historical sites in washington. partly because it's not gigantic and grand like abraham lincoln's white house. it's not huge like ford's theatre where an audience of
1,500 or 1,800 sat and watched the mayhem had happened across the street. what i like about the peterson was without the intimacy. when i was working on my books, i would come to the peterson house at hours when i knew there would be very few visitors and i've stood in this room many times all by myself and imagined what it must have been like to stand here the night abraham lincoln was brought down that hallway and laid in a bed in this room. and the emotion and sadness really comes alive for me when i'm in this room. in fact, when i wrote about lincoln coming to the peterson house and dying in this room, i wrote some of my notes from my book "manhunt" when i stood in this room and imagined what it must have been like to be in this spot when abraham lincoln was laid in this bed and died
the next morning. i feel his presence when i'm in this house and in this room. coming up live today, house speaker nancy pelosi and the congressional black caucus honor the late congressman hastings with a memorial service at the u.s. capitol. that's at 10:30 a.m. eastern on c-span. at noon, the house returns for work on a bill that limits the president's authority to issue travel bans and prohibits discrimination based on religion. members will consider legislation requiring customs and border protection to provide legal council to certain individuals detained at borders. on c-span2, the senate is back to consider the nomination of gupta to serve as associate
attorney general. and at 10:00 a.m. on c-span3, the senate commerce committee considers the nominations of former senator bill nelson to be nasa administer and lena conn. we're streaming a hearing with michael bolton who is testifying on the events surrounding the january 6th attack on the u.s. capitol. that's live at 2:00 p.m. eastern. weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight we look at vietnam war oral histories. clyde romero served as a pilot during the vietnam war. he recalls his first tour and describes what it's like to be shot down. he discusses the high risks associated with the job and remembers some of his fellow pilots who didn't come back. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern and