“An Awesometalk With” LAURA FRANCES KEYES, Mary Todd Lincoln performer

January 26, 2009: Barry Cauchon



Laura Keyes as Mary Todd Lincoln. Photography by Andrioli

Hi and welcome to another “An Awesometalk With”. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Miss Laura Frances Keyes. Laura is a talented actress and researcher who lives in Rockton, Illinois. She has an impressive resume, having performed in over 30 different plays in the past ten years. But now, 2009 brings a new challenge for her. Laura is taking on her first ‘one woman show’ with a performance of Mary Todd Lincoln, a historical figure who is near and dear to Laura’s heart.




Actress Laura Keyes performs as Mary Todd Lincoln in her own 'one woman show'


BC: Welcome Laura. It’s wonderful to speak with you today.


LK: Thank you. This is really an honor.


BC: Well, it’s actually an honor for me because I have never spoken with a Mary Todd Lincoln performer. So thank you for joining me.


LK: Of course!


BC: I want to start off by asking you about your ‘one woman show’. Would you tell us about it, along with the setting and how you portray Mary?


LK: Well, as you said, it is a one woman show. My working title is called “Mrs. Lincoln”. If I come up with anything snazzier later on perhaps I’ll use it (laughing). It is currently in development, which means that just a couple of weeks ago I was still doing research and I am still finishing up writing and editing the play. And in a sense, it is a play. Some people might call it just a 45 minute monologue but I consider it a short play because it has a setting. It has characters. It will have development. It has a short introduction and it will have an ending and not have me just saying a final sentence and walking out of the room.


BC: What is the time period of the piece?


LK: It will be set in the late afternoon of Friday, the 14th of April, 1865 which, as many scholars will know, is just a few hours before the Lincolns leave the White House to go see the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC.


BC: That’s an interesting time period you chose for Mary Lincoln for sure. What lead you to use that particular moment as compared to a different one in her life?


LK: Well, to be perfectly honest, I did choose another time period in her life to start off with. My first thoughts were to set the one woman show in the middle of 1875 when she was confined to Bellevue Asylum after she was declared insane.

But through a number of persuasions and other decisions, I decided to go with this.

I did choose this day because there had been so much sadness in Mary’s entire life. Her mother died when she was 7 years old. And people just kept on dying throughout her life. By 1865, she had lost two of her sons, her father, and her grandmother with whom she was very close. Many of her brothers and brothers-in-law she had lost, not physically, but emotionally, because they had fought for the Confederacy. In essence, they were lost. She never spoke to them again. She had known so much loss in her life.

But then, for five days, from the 9th of April, when the war ended, to the 14th of April, that was probably the happiest time in her life.  There was nothing bad that could happen. The war was ended. She might have been looking forward to reconciling with some of her siblings although that’s very unclear. We do not have definitive evidence one way or the other. So to answer your question I set the play on this day because it was so happy. There is evidence in letters and journals that said Abraham and Mary were both so happy on this day. They took a private carriage ride and were looking forward to when and where they would retire, after his term was over. And then the whole world comes down around her ears.


BC: So by choosing this particular setting, you’ve put Mary in the moment before the crisis, in the calm before the storm. It’s a really nice piece of theatrical staging because your audience knows what’s about to happen, but you, as Mary, are not yet at that stage. You…are still in that happy place.

Briefly how is the play set up? Do you just speak for 45 minutes or is there a preface before the start to help explain the premise?


LK: There will be a short introduction done by another individual. Usually the host of wherever I will be performing. And that introduction will be written by me and I will just hand that person the card to read. And as you said, it will simply set the scene, it will remind the people of the date, because I do think that is important to really make clear that Abraham is still alive. Then the program will be for about 40 minutes followed by a social time for me to answer questions that the audience might have.


BC: You’ve really impressed me with your vast knowledge of Mary Lincoln. You’ve obviously done an incredible amount of research on her. From what you told me before the interview, you have a background in professional research. Do you not?


LK: I do indeed. I have Masters Degree in Library Studies which I earned in 2007. And before that, I was English major. And so I am very used to doing lots of research and writing about it. The difficult thing in this process has been to write this performance because I’m used to writing in a detached, academic way. I’m not used to writing in first person. I’ve had lots of fun while doing it. Many times I would just continue reading the books and then I’d have to go back and remind myself to take notes.

Many of the books written in the past three years have been of great benefit to me because some new evidence has come to light regarding Mary Lincoln. And they have been more…well researched. That’s just my opinion but I think they are better researched than ones from a couple decades ago.


BC: And you’ve obviously combined this talent for research with your love of acting. As I hinted at the beginning of this interview, your resume is quite extensive. I was quite amazed to see that you have performed in over 30 different plays since 1999.


LK: That is correct. And that is how I got involved in this.


BC: And to that point, our audience should know that this is not the first time you’ve played Mary Lincoln.


LK: You’re absolutely right. This whole thing started a little less than a year ago when a friend of mine that I had previously worked with called me up and she said “I’m going to be doing a play in the summer and I want to send you a copy”. Now we’ve acquainted with each other for awhile so I knew that she was not outright telling me that she was going to give me a role. That would have been unprofessional. However she definitely wanted me to read it and she wanted to know my opinion of it. And in conjunction with the sesquicentennial of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (http://www.lincoln-douglas.org/) that were first given in 1858, Freeport, Illinois (which was a site of one of the original debates) was going to produce a play. And their original intent was to produce a play about Lincoln. And when my friend, Lynn Jones, was searching for a play, she actually found that a lot of plays about Lincoln were kind of boring and kind of dull and kind of blah! And they always ended the same way. And so she found one simply called “Mrs. Lincoln”. It was written by Thomas Cullinan published in 1969. It was very gripping. One year ago I did not know everything that went on with Mary and her being declared insane. After reading the play I started my own research. So when it came time to audition I was there the first night. And still, I was shocked when Lynn cast me in the role of Mary. Mary was 56 years old in 1875 and, at that point in time, I was 25 years old. I was shocked. I thought that she had made a joke, but she said that I could do it. And it took me a couple of weeks to be convinced that I could do it.


BC: And just to clarify, the setting for this particular play is 1875 versus 1865 which you will be doing now.


LK: Yes. That play that I did in the summer of 2008 was set in the summer of 1875 when Mary Lincoln was declared insane by a court of law and confined to Bellevue Asylum in Batavia, Illinois. It was very intense, but I found that I was immediately drawn to Mary and to her story and to her struggle that she went through to be understood – to try and convince people that she was not insane. And that’s why I first started to do my research. I shared whatever I found with the rest of the cast.


BC: You mentioned that when you played 56 year old Mary you were 25 at the time. So to age you on stage, that must have been an interesting process. How did they accomplish this and will you be following a similar approach in your current play?


LK: First of all it won’t be a similar situation if only because right now I am portraying Mary at 46 and because I want to keep the idea of her being happy and, in a sense, full of life I’m not going to age myself that much.

However things could change. Perhaps I will receive comments that I should age myself. But for now, my decision is to keep her young looking.


Regarding what happened in the play, early on we made that decision that we were going to age me actually beyond 56. Our aim was early 60s because our thought process was that Mary had been through so much stress in her life. We did have one photograph of Mary taken in 1875. And she looked older; she looked old and tired, like a very stressed woman. And so our aim was to make me look like someone in her early 60s.


I had a team of one hairdresser, two make up artists, and a personal costumer who worked on me every single night. And it was such a process! It took an hour and twenty minutes from start to finish. On the last performance, I asked someone to take photographs of me going through every stage of the process. I wanted to remember this. Not only did I want to remember the people who helped (because I couldn’t have done this on my own), I wanted to remind myself that it took a long time to get into that. And that was just the outward appearance of her. I had to work on adjusting my posture. Not just because I was in two different corsets throughout the play, but it was the idea that one would not have moved very quickly in 1875. Nowadays we are used to moving very quickly – jumping up from your desk or go running and talk to the person over here and answer the phone. But back then there was no reason to move very quickly…unless there was a fire or something.


BC: (chuckles)


LK: I had to work at moving a little bit more slowly, but not so slowly that people thought I was under water. I did read somewhere, but can’t remember the reference, that she did suffer from arthritis so I tried to be careful of that. Also, I added some gestures and little ticks just to make her an interesting person because no person is ever perfectly, perfectly still. They have little habits that people don’t even notice that they are doing. And there are other little things that I added, especially in one scene where Mary has a very long discussion with her son. There were moments of silence which were actually very uncomfortable on stage. As an actor you’re trained to never want silence… you always want something going on. Well there had to be silence in this scene because the silence spoke just as much as the words – there is a reason why these people weren’t speaking. And so I had to think of something to do while there was silence. And so all of these outward appearances, they all came together to be Mary Lincoln.


I put so much time and effort into this, that when it was over I cried because it was such a wonderful experience. But I never thought that it would continue.


BC: You had a lot of really great feedback on your performance and because of that it started you thinking about portraying Mary again. Is that correct?


LK: Yes. Three different people within three weeks called me and asked if I would give a talk on Mrs. Lincoln. And at first they didn’t want me to come dressed up. They thought that I would just come and share my experiences and share the research that I had done. The first person that asked me I said “Oh, maybe. I don’t know. Let me think about it.” And the second person that asked me I said “Oh, well, that would be interesting.” And by the time the third person asked me (and these people did not discuss amongst themselves. I know they didn’t) I was so surprised I actually said “You know, there might be something to this . . .!” And that’s when I started talking to some friends who are Civil War re-enactors. My friend Donna said “Oh Laura, this could be great. You would love to do this. This would be perfect for you.” And so it was through the help of a number of my friends, especially these Civil War re-enactors, that I started down the right path on First-Person Interpretation.


BC: What is the premise of your one woman show? Do you address the more somber side of Mary? Her history of mood swings, ill temperament, etc. Or does the play center on just the happy time you discussed earlier? Is any of Mary’s history brought up in the story?


LK: This one woman play won’t really address the different mood swings and behavioral issues that were very prevalent in the play that I did and have been much commented on. And I’ve decided not to address them because I would like to focus on the good times and the happy moments. I have set up a situation where Mary is talking with her seamstress, Lizzy Keckley, who is also a little known person in history. But Lizzy is slowly making a comeback.


BC: …a former slave who became her seamstress.


LK: That is correct. By many accounts, they were very close friends. Lizzy was a seamstress who owned her own store in Washington DC; She closed that down in order to be a companion to Mary Lincoln. And they were very close. There were many letters showing that they were very close friends. And so the situation that I have set up in my one woman show is that Mary is reminiscing to Lizzy and the audience just happens to be there and be listening in.


BC: I did want to ask about you how you got into theater? Did your family get you into it or visa versa?


LK: Kind of visa versa. I was always interested in theater through elementary school. When I was in 5th grade I had the lead role in the Wizard of Oz – I was Dorothy.


BC: That’s not on your resume (laughing)!


LK: It isn’t because that was 5th grade.


BC: Thirty-one plays and counting!


LK: Throughout high school I took theater classes; I was in the drama club. And it broadened my horizons to learn that sometimes it doesn’t matter how talented you are, the director still casts her favorite.


BC: (chuckling)


LK: So soon after that, I did branch further out into community theater. I became involved with a few theater companies. I was on the Board of Directors of one for a while. And after a few years, I began to get my father involved. My father has a very good singing voice and has always been a bit of a clown. Slowly but surely I got him to audition for things. And to this day, he really enjoys doing it. He’s had some very good roles and I’m very proud of him.


The rest of my family has gotten just a little bit involved. My younger sister was happy to help with costumes and such before she got into Nursing school which takes up a lot of her time right now. And my mother enjoys being on the script committee and participating behind the scenes.



Laura's dress was made by a local seamstress in Rockton, Illinois. Photography by Andrioli

BC: Did you make your own costume or dress for this?


LK: I did not, no. While I do have a number of costume credits to my name, I purposely tried not to volunteer myself for doing a lot of things for the play in the summer of 2008, because I knew I would be really involved learning all those lines. I did do little things such as point out lots of historical inaccuracies (laughing). After awhile I think that those costume and prop ladies didn’t like my suggestions, although I was trying to be nice about it. But I would point out things like “You know, they didn’t have Velcro back then. You might want to change that”. Or “They didn’t have plastic back then, might we get a cup made out of china”? They had a ball point pen on stage …


BC: (laughing)


LK: … and I said “No, no, no. fountain pens I believe were invented in 1885. We’re talking about 1875. No one has a time machine here”!


And so for my presentation, I’ve actually purchased one of the dresses that I wore in the play. It was leant to the theater by a local seamstress and once I knew I was doing this presentation, I called her up and I made her an offer and she accepted it. The dress is very well made. It had to be adjusted just a little bit as the hemline was a little short for me. The dress was adjusted by my friend Donna and now it fits me wonderfully. It looks gorgeous. I had my portrait taken in it…


BC: …which looks fantastic. Two of the photos are posted here in this article.


LK: Yes, thank you for including them. The photographer Andrioli did a wonderful job.


I did make many items that will be used during my presentation – my reticule, things like that that. Also …umm, okay, I made all the underclothing; there I can just say it!


BC: (laughing)


LK: …but you’ll never see those. And that’s actually many layers of underclothing that you’ll never see that I made myself.


BC: Knowing what Victorian undergarments even looked like along with knowing what was required to make those dresses … ahh … ‘puff out’, is definitely not my specialty (laughing) as you can tell.


LK: (laughing)


BC: So I will trust that your sewing talents have been true to form.


Umm…after that awkward little moment, let me ask you this Laura. Where and when is your first performance?


LK: It will be on the 12th of February, Abraham’s birthday. And it will be at Talcott Free Library (www.talcotfreelibrary.com), here in Rockton. The ladies there have always been very good to me. A couple months ago when I when I first started this research they noticed that I was checking out lots of Lincoln books and I was requesting Lincoln books from different libraries.  Eventually they agreed that any new Lincoln books to come in, I was the first one to get them. And so it’s kind of a small town library atmosphere. But I’m really looking forward to it. I will truly be amongst friends when I do it for the first time.


BC: Terrific. Do you have any future plans or hopes?


LK: I did receive, through a third party, a name and phone number of a woman who wants me to give a performance for them back in Freeport.


Also, I have just received an invitation to do the same presentation for a group of librarians in Rockford (IL) in April, so we are just making those final arrangements.


I have applied for membership with the Association of Lincoln Presenters which is an association that has about 250 members.


BC: And that’s nationwide, too!


LK: That is correct. They have number of members from all over the nation. This association does have a website and also a link to Abraham and Mary presenters that interested parties could contact. I’ve yet to learn if I have been accepted into the Association. I had to write some small essays in order to apply for membership.


They have a very good mission statement. On the application form, they asked me what evidence I could give them to show that I have done this before and if I had, had I done it successfully. And so I had nothing to give them except the newspaper clippings that were written for the play. I was interviewed for the newspaper a handful of times during the summer of 2008 while the play was going on. So, I sent that in and hopefully I will learn about that soon.


BC: Laura, I hope it really works out for you. It’s been a very interesting and informative interview and I’ve really enjoyed talking with you today. Is there anything you’d like to share with the folks here before we close off?


LK: I want to say thank you to you, Barry, and everyone else who is reading this interview. I appreciate the interest in Abraham and Mary Lincoln. I really do. Even though I am not a history major, I’ve always been interested in history and as some random famous person once said “Those who do not know history are cursed to repeat it”! I do agree with that in the sense that I think everyone should know their history. My personal mission is that I want to educate people of Mary Lincoln’s true life. There are so many books out there but a lot of people would much rather sit and listen to a 40 minute presentation rather than sit and read a book that would take them a weekend to read. So that is my mission. I can only hope that I accomplish that mission and I thank the people for being interested in reading this blog and for possibly coming to see a performance.


BC: Laura, thank you very much.


LK: Thank you.


BC: If anyone is interested in contacting Laura to book a performance, you can either contact her at the following email address: Keyes97 AT aol DOT com or leave a message on my email at outreach@awesometalks.com and I’ll make sure she receives your inquiry.











Other interviews posted to date:

“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’ (posted on December 30, 2008)

“An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th Composite Group Historian (posted on December 16, 2008)

“An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian (posted on December 08, 2008)


“An Awesometalk With” HAROLD HOLZER, Lincoln Scholar (posted on November 10, 2008)



January 12, 2009: Barry Cauchon

By today’s standards, the speed at which the government resolved the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 was unbelievably swift.

Let’s look at the time frame from the moment John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger to shoot the President at Ford’s Theatre on April 14 until the moment the trap was sprung to hang the four condemned conspirators on July 7. What you will find is that, from start to finish, the entire process took under three months, or exactly 83 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes.

That fact seems unfathomable when you consider that during this time period the following took place:

  • The President was shot, died of his wound and his body was sent on an extensive funeral train tour around the northeast United States before finally being buried in Springfield, Illinois.
  • John Wilkes Booth was tracked, cornered and killed in Virginia.
  • Hundreds of potential conspirators were questioned, detained, arrested and even imprisoned. All would be released with the exception of eight that would eventually stand trial for the conspiracy related to the crime.
  • The military trial of the eight conspirators was assembled, witnesses gathered and presented, verdicts reached and the convictions and sentences carried out.

Here is a breakdown of these events (all occurring in the spring/summer of 1865) and the timeframes associated with them.  Note: All times are approximate as very few ‘exact’ times are known for many of these events.

83 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes ‘or’ 2 months, 22 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes– The time it took from the moment Lincoln was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the moment the traps were sprung to hang the four convicted conspirators on Friday, July 7 at 1:26 pm.

9 hours, 7 minutes – The time in which Lincoln remained alive from the moment he was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the time he died at 7:22 am on Saturday, April 15.

11 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes – The time it took from the moment Lincoln was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the time John Wilkes Booth died at around 7:00 am on Wednesday, April 26 after being shot in the neck at the Garrett farm by Sergeant Boston Corbett. 

13 days, 6 hours – The time it took for Lincoln’s Funeral Train to leave Washington DC at 8:00 am on Thursday, April 21, travel through 180 towns and cities while participating in eleven public viewings, and finally reach Springfield, Illinois where the President was buried on Wednesday, May 4 at around 2:00 pm.

72 days, 10 hours, 26 minutes ‘or’ 2 months, 11 days, 9 hours, 26 minutes – The amount of time David E. Herold had left to live after giving himself up on Wednesday, April 26 around 4:00am when cornered with John Wilkes Booth on the Garrett farm to the time Herold was hanged, along with three other conspirators at 1:26 pm on Friday, July 7.  Note: For those of you who are perfectionists, yes it is known that David Herold did not die quickly on the gallows and struggled for several minutes after the drop. Therefore several minutes are missing from the time listed above.

51 days ‘or’ 1 month, 20 days – The period of time that occurred from the start of the military conspiracy trial on May 9, to its completion on June 29.

24-1/2 days ‘or’ 3 weeks, 3-1/2 days – The time it took from the moment Abraham Lincoln was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the first day the military conspiracy trial began on May 9.

3 days – The time it took from the night Abraham Lincoln was shot on Friday, April 14 to the arrests on April 17 of the first five conspirators who would be tried. Arrested on that day were Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, Michael O’Laughlin, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold. George Atzerodt was arrested on April 20, Dr. Samuel Mudd on April 24 and David E. Herold on April 26.

1 day – The time it took for the military commission to end the conspiracy trial on June 29 and reach verdicts for all eight conspirators on June 30. They agreed to the following sentences. Four conspirators were sentenced to hang (Surratt, Powell, Atzerodt and Herold), three were given life sentences (Mudd, O’Laughlin and Arnold) and one was given a six-year sentence (Spangler).

1 day – The amount of time it took Andrew Johnson to review and approve the conspirators sentences on July 5 to the time the conspirators first learned of their fates on July 6. At noon on that day, General John Hartranft visited each of the conspirators in their cells, where he read and hand-delivered the sentences personally.

1 day, 1 hour, 26 minutes – The amount of time it took from the moment General Hartranft informed the condemned prisoners of their fates at noon on July 6 to the moment the traps were sprung hanging the four convicted conspirators at 1:26 pm on July 7. The death warrants indicated that the executions needed to be enforced between 10 am and 2 pm on July 7. And as history shows, this order was carried out.






Here are some Lincoln related interviews that I recently conducted. Enjoy.



“An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian (posted on December 08, 2008)


“An Awesometalk With” HAROLD HOLZER, Lincoln Scholar (posted on November 10, 2008)

“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’

Welcome to another edition of “An Awesometalk With”. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Mr. Roger Norton, the creator and Webmaster of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site website. Mr. Norton contacted me in early December, 2008 in reference to an interview I did with Dr. Thomas Schwartz (see “An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian). It turns out that Dr. Schwartz was a former student of Mr. Norton’s. It’s a small world.


I can tell you that I genuinely felt honored by his email as I am a fan of Mr. Norton’s website. I believe it is one of the best sites on Abraham Lincoln online today.

As you will read, Mr. Norton considers his site ideal for students, teachers, families and the general public. It contains accurate and easy to understand information, and he genuinely enjoys sharing it with anyone interested in President Lincoln, his family and their times.

I hope you enjoy our chat.




NOTE: This interview was constructed from several written correspondence between Mr. Norton and myself over the course of several weeks.


December 30, 2008

BC: Welcome Mr. Norton. It’s nice to be able to share your thoughts with my readers today. I’d like to begin by asking how your website got started.

RN: I taught American history at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove, Illinois, from 1966 – 1994. When I retired from teaching, I looked for a way of staying in education without being in a classroom. In 1996 I created a website on the Lincoln assassination. Within a short period of time, the site was enlarged with stories about Lincoln’s life. Then I added a site on Mary Todd Lincoln. The entire website was named the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, and I invited people to e-mail me with their questions concerning the 16th president, his assassination, and his family.

BC: It really is a wonderful research site. And being that it just celebrated its 12th birthday on December 29, 2008; I imagine that it is still going strong and is as popular as ever?

RN: After a few years, search engines began listing my Lincoln pages near the top, and the number of visitors rose dramatically. The site, which is currently composed of 87 different Lincoln-related topics, is averaging about 1.4 million visitors a year.

BC: Wow. I had no idea that you were generating those kinds of site visit numbers. That’s awesome!

RN: It will celebrate its 12 millionth visitor (since 1996) early in 2009. February is always the busiest month. The web pages have a counter at the bottom which is a link to the site’s statistics.

It’s my estimation that I have replied to over 40,000 Lincoln-related e-mails since 1996. About half of these e-mails come from students, and about 10 percent come from overseas. Lincoln is especially popular in Europe and India.

BC: I understand that you had to change you web address earlier this fall. Did you lose readership because of this? And what caused the problem?

RN: Barry, right now my visitors are WAY down from a year ago because one of my web servers quit the business on October 31, and I had to switch about 2/3 of my site to my other server (and thus have new URL’s). I have currently lost many of my good placements in Google, Yahoo, etc. Right now I am averaging about 1,564 visitors a day; a year ago in December it was about 3,100 a day. Over the next few weeks [the 2008 holiday season], the number will grow considerably lower because schools are not in session. Then it will pick up again in January.

BC: What a shame about your loss of search engine placement. I know that it takes a long time to build up that kind of placement and get into the upper listings with the major search engines.  

RN: I am hoping that I will regain my Google placements within the next several months, but I know it may be a year or more before my number of visitors returns to the levels it used to be before the URL changes. All my stats are at http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=mrsosa66.

BC: Mr. Norton, can you tell us a little bit about your personal history and how you first got interested in Lincoln?

RN: I was born September 19, 1943, in Oak Park, Illinois, and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. I attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I then attended Indiana University where I received a Master of Science in Education degree.

As a youngster growing up in Illinois my early interest in Abraham Lincoln came from the stories told by my grade school teachers. In the 1960’s I became particularly interested in Lincoln’s assassination with the publication of a book entitled “Twenty Days” by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.

My interest in the assassination led to my mock trial unit in the classroom.

BC: To clarify, as a teacher, you would have your own students perform the mock trial of the Lincoln conspirators as part of their curriculum?

RN: [Yes.] Each year in December I explained to my classes that we were going to reenact the trial following Lincoln’s assassination. I picked prosecution and defense attorneys before the winter vacation. Each attorney was given a copy of “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” by Jim Bishop. Additionally, the lawyers were given a list of their witnesses and told to prepare testimony for them. The lawyers were advised that the local library had a copy of Benn Pitman’s transcription of the original trial. The lawyers had the entire two-week vacation to prepare their case.

After vacation each class elected a judge, and I picked the witnesses and defendants through volunteers. The jury was thus composed of the shy students who preferred not to take part in the oral simulation. We tried only six defendants [rather than eight]; Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold were dropped as some eighth graders had problems getting a grasp on those characters. As my classes averaged about 33 students, many of the original witnesses were not used, and in some cases students were required to play more than one role.

After a few preparation days for the witnesses to learn the lines written by the attorneys, we started the trial. In contrast to the actual 1865 trial, the defendants were allowed to take the witness stand. I allowed the trial to go for around ten class periods. Then, after final statements, the jury was excused to vote on the six defendants. Oftentimes the verdicts were different from 1865, particularly in the cases of Mary Surratt and Samuel Mudd. However, the only times Lewis Powell was ever found innocent was when William Bell (William Seward’s butler) did a poor job of testifying.

BC: That is a fascinating school project Mr. Norton. I can’t imagine how beneficial it was for the students. Was this something that you developed yourself, and for how many years did you run this mock trial?

RN: No, when I started teaching another teacher on the staff was doing a mock trial unit, so the idea didn’t originate with me.  For several years I experimented with different trial simulations including the one that followed the Boston Massacre.  Eventually I decided the Lincoln conspiracy trial was my favorite, and over the last 24 years of my teaching career that’s the one that was done in my classroom.

BC:  You also mentioned that some of the outcomes were different from the actual trial. I am particularly interested in knowing what the outcome was for Dr. Mudd. Would you elaborate on that for us?


RN: The majority of time Dr. Mudd was found innocent.  But in those days books such as Dr. Edward Steers’ “His Name is Still Mudd” had not been published.  Most Mudd biographies were either neutral or sympathetic towards the doctor.  When my student lawyers researched the case they had trouble finding reasons he might be guilty.  Steers’ book opened a lot of eyes with its persuasive arguments about the doctor’s complicity with Booth.  I would recommend both Steers’ book and Michael Kauffman’s “American Brutus.”  Kauffman takes a different view than Steers, and readers can decide for themselves what they think of Mudd’s guilt or innocence.  Both authors present convincing arguments.  I exchange e-mails with both authors (both of whom have helped me with my website), so I will keep my personal opinion private.

BC: Returning to your current Abraham Lincoln Research Site, where do you produce and maintain it?

RN: I operate on a computer in our den which contains several bookcases holding about 350 books on Lincoln and family. In essence I am a “research librarian” who only deals with one topic. Questions from students are mainly related to research and help for homework. Questions from adults cover a myriad of topics ranging from clergymen seeking a Lincoln quote for a Sunday sermon to travelers wondering why there is a statue of Lincoln in Parliament Square.

BC: I like your site a lot, Mr. Norton, as I can see many people do. Is there a simple formula as to why that is?

RN: I believe the site’s appeal is due to the fact that it is written mainly for students, teachers, families and the general public. Lincoln scholars would find little new by reading my research; my goal has been to bring Lincoln and his legacy to students and the average American.

BC: In case my readers are unfamiliar with your website, I wanted to let them know that all your information is free. This is not a pay-per-view site.

RN: The Abraham Lincoln Research Site is a not-for-profit website. I operate it simply because I enjoy the subject matter and the ego satisfaction of helping people. It has been a truly wonderful retirement experience.

BC: It certainly has been beneficial to untold numbers of students and other researchers. You must be proud?

RN: Lincoln‘s life story is an inspiration for all Americans as his accomplishments and perseverance to succeed in life were phenomenal. The purpose of my website is to share his experiences and character with as many people as possible. I think this is especially important nowadays in a country that is deeply in need of positive role models.

BC: I couldn’t agree with you more Mr. Norton. I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with my readers and look forward to speaking with you again in the future to see how you and your website are doing.

Thank you.


If you would like to visit Mr. Norton’s website please click on either of these attached link.

Abraham Lincoln Research Site    http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln2.html 









Other posted interviews to date:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


 “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 


“An Awesometalk With” Robert Krauss, 509th Composite Group Historian 

(posted on December 16, 2008) 




September 13, 2008. Barry Cauchon

Well, here I am, writing this report to tell you that I never did make it down to Springfield, Illinois for the “Blaze Your Own Trail in Illinois-Bloggers Meet Up” event (see posting from Sept 12, 2008 entitled “Blaze Your Own Trail in Springfield, Illinois”). Despite my best efforts, Hurricane IKE was an unexpected factor in my travel itinerary, and I never even got off the ground.

The organizers of this event had gone way out of their way to make me feel special. They had set me up for two nights free accommodation at the State House Inn in Springfield. As well, a reporter from the local newspaper, The State Journal Register (http://www.sj-r.com/) (Illinois’ oldest newspaper), was writing a story about the event and asked to interview me (why, I’m not sure but it would have been nice to find out). All I had to do was show up…and that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the plan fell apart.

My strategy was to drive from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Buffalo, New York and then fly from there to Chicago. I had a rental car set up at that end which I would use to drive the additional 3-1/2 hours south to Springfield. This would all have been done yesterday so I could be fresh to spend the day at the event on Saturday.

“Oh my, how these things can go astray”! LOL.

To start with, my drive from Toronto to Buffalo, which is normally about 1-1/4 hours took almost 2 hours due to the weather (rain, rain, rain), road construction, rush hour and Friday evening traffic. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I also followed the ‘wrong’ airport signs that are posted just beyond the Canadian border. I was headed for the Buffalo Niagara Falls International Airport. However, these signs (symbols only) directed me to the Niagara Falls International Airport. Sorry folks from Niagara, but I can’t figure out why your tiny commuter airport is called an International one? It was not only very small, but the doors were locked and no one was there (except for cars in the parking lot). What’s all that about?

So it was now 5:00pm, with no map in hand, and being lost somewhere on the backroads of Tonawanda in Erie County. My flight was scheduled for 7:07pm. So much for checking in two hours prior to my flight!

I placed a call to a good friend that I knew was still at work. She looked up my location and the real Buffalo Niagara Falls International Airport. It turned out that I was only about 15 miles away. I still had to fight standstill traffic and rainy conditions for the next hour but eventually I arrived at the airport just after 6:00pm (1 hour before my flight). At check in, I was invited up to the counter by some very tired looking United Airline reps. It seems that air traffic all across North America had been affected by IKE and their airport was no different. They had been run off their feet since 11:00 that morning. Then they gave me the news that my 7:07pm flight was delayed until at least 8:45pm. So, all my rushing and panicking to get there on time meant …. SQUAT!

I passed through security easily with no waiting (go figure!) and then proceeded to wait it out. The flight was listed as delayed (and that never changed). By 10:00pm, I checked on it one more time and was told that the flight would not be happening tonight. Hurricane IKE had personally cancelled my flight. Bastard!

The airline did offer to fly me out first thing in the morning. However, if I took that one I would never make it to the event in time and would have ended up missing at least half of it. At this point, I pulled the plug on the trip, tipped my hat and bowed in defeat to the Mighty IKE! He had won the battle for now. However, it was comforting to know that in just one-weeks time, Hurricane IKE would be but a sprinkle of its former self and end up dying a slow death somewhere out over the North Atlantic. So with patience, let’s see who gets the last laugh! Ha ha….ha ha haaaaaaa! Bastard!

I’d like to mention one nice act of kindness that happened for me this morning. I had informed everyone that I would not be attending and I received an email back from Mr. Thomas F. Schwartz, the Illinois State Historian who was scheduled to give the opening remarks today at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I had particularly wanted to meet this man and enjoy a good chat. He told me that his wife’s travel plans had also been affected by the storm. She was stuck at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport most of last night and didn’t get home to Springfield until after 2:00am. Thank you Tom for the note. It was very much appreciated and made me feel a little less isolated by the circumstances.

To sum up, I am sorry that I missed this event. Everyone that was involved made to feel very welcomed and I would have loved to have met the organizers, fellow bloggers and of course, Thomas Schwartz.

Despite my disappointment, my story is of little consequence compared to those who have actually been affected by the storm itself. Thousands of people have had their lives turned upside down by IKE, and other storms like this. My problems are miniscule compared to theirs. So don’t forget them! Many of these people need our help so do what you can. Mostly, please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. They need to be our priority right now.

Stay safe!






If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by two Lincoln experts:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


  “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 




September 12, 2008: Barry Cauchon

About one month ago I received an invitation to attend a one-day, special event on Saturday, September 13 in Springfield, Illinois. It is called “Blaze Your Own Trail in Illinois – Blogger Meet Up”. The event is sponsored by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and has been organized by Edelman Digital out of Chicago.

Well, today is the day I fly down to Chicago and then drive the additional 3-1/2 hours south to Springfield. It’s my first trip to Springfield so I am really pumped about it.

Bart Simpson. A resident of Springfield, ???

Bart Simpson. A resident of Springfield, ???

Most people think of Bart Simpson when they hear about Springfield. And although the show has a running gag about what state Springfield is actually in, I can assure you that I’m headed to Springfield, ILLINOIS, the Land of Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield for many years, marrying and raising his family, practicing law, serving in the Illinois House of Representatives and eventually, running his campaign for President of the United States. So for me, this is the place to be right now.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois

The event has been nicely organized with the morning being dedicated with a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM). I am really looking forward to spending some time here.

As some of you may know, I am a Senior Project Manager in the business of planning and building exhibits for museums, corporate environments and touring events. I spend a great amount of time in museums, 90% of them usually under construction when I am involved. So it is always a pleasure for me to just enjoy the artifacts and content of the finished exhibits without worrying about the showcases, the climate control systems, the audio visual and multimedia presentations, the graphics, the artifact mounts, the shipping and installation, etc.

There is an incredible infrastructure that goes into building a museum and I absolutely love the process. What you finally see as a visitor to one of these places, probably took several years to plan and execute. Be proud of the museums in your towns or cities. They are works of love and the people who bring them to you really know their stuff.

OK, enough preaching about how wonderful history and museums are (BUT THEY ARE!!!!). Let me get back to my trip to Springfield.

Thomas Schwartz during construction of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Thomas Schwartz during construction of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Mr. Thomas Schwartz, the Illinois State Historian, will be giving opening remarks at the ALPLM. I have had the opportunity to correspond with Mr. Schwartz recently and look forward to meeting him and discussing some topics of personal interest to me. Look for some of these discussions in later postings here. Stay tuned.

Anyway, after our visit to the museum, we will have a brief trolley tour of downtown Springfield and then a hosted lunch. Awesome!

The afternoon offers several optional tours. Of course since this is my first time in Springfield, I want to do them all!

Option 1 will allow us to visit Lincoln’s Home and the Lincoln Herndon Law Office.

Option 2 will cover the Illinois State Museum and the Dana-Thomas house (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright).

In both options, a visit to the old State Capitol will be possible if time permits.

Option 3 will be a Lincoln History Walk.

“Oh my, oh my, what shall I do, what shall I do!”

Since this is my first time to Springfield, I want to soak up all that I can about Abraham Lincoln and his early history here. So Options 1 and 3 are calling out to me. But I hate to miss out on the visit to the State Museum and the Dana-Thomas House. The old State Capitol building is a must along with my own side trip to Oak Ridge Cemetery to visit Lincoln’s Tomb.

That’s a full day for sure. After dinner, it is probably an early night for me as I’ve got to get on the road by 3:00am Sunday morning to get back to Chicago’s O’Hare airport to catch my morning flight back home. It’s a whirlwind tour but I’m ready to rock.

Upon my return, I will write a full report on this exciting trip. Who knows what other things will happen while I’m there. I look forward to the visit and to meeting all the attendees and our hosts.

Have a great weekend and enjoy history!






If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by two Lincoln experts:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


  “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008)