“An Awesometalk With” Nikaela Zimmerman, Kansas State Historical Society; owners of the Lincoln conspirators gallows crossbeam

June 24, 2009: Barry Cauchon 

nzimmerman

Nikaela Zimmerman, Assistant Registrar/Conservation Technician for the Kansas State Historical Society

Earlier this month, John Elliott, my friend and research partner on Fort McNair and the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary, sent me a photo of an artifact in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS). It is a portion of the gallows crossbeam that was used to hang the four Lincoln conspirators. I contacted Nikaela Zimmerman, Assistant Registrar / Conservation Technician at the KSHS and she graciously consented to an interview about the crossbeam, the exhibition it is currently displayed in and the Kansas State Historical Society’s role in preserving Kansas history.  Note: The photos of the Gallows Crossbeam and the Bloodstained Playbill from Ford’s Theatre are courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.

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B. Hi Nikaela. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. The first thing I’d like to ask you concerns the Kansas State Historical Society. Can you tell us a little bit about the society and the role it plays in Kansas?

N.  The Kansas State Historical Society as a whole was founded in 1875. So we’ve been around almost as long as Kansas has been a state. Kansas became a state in 1861. We were founded by a group of Kansas editors and publishers. And we didn’t become a trustee of the state so we weren’t officially the state historical agency until 1879. We are the official repository and guardian of materials related to the history of the state of Kansas. 

B. Is the collection housed at the Kansas Museum of History?

N. It is! When the society first started out, it wasn’t broken down into divisions. It was all one umbrella. Now we’re broken into several different divisions. Within the Kansas State Historical Society the Kansas Museum of History is one of those divisions. The Library and Archives is another division. And we also have an Education division, a Cultural Resources division which includes Archaeology. And then we have sixteen historic sites throughout the state that are under another division. So we’re all part of one whole. We all serve the same purpose of preserving Kansas history. So we all do slightly different things.

B. Not knowing exactly how the system works, can you tell me how many museums are under the umbrella of the Kansas State Historical Society?

N. For the state of Kansas, we’re it. We are the official history museum. Basically, every county in the state has its own small historical society and they’re independent of us. Now, throughout the state, our historic sites are part of us and we manage them. We have a person there who works for the state who manages that site and the artifacts that are kept at that site. But for the most part, it’s us.

B. The reason I originally came across your website was because you have an exhibition on right now called Lincoln in Kansas which has a number of artifacts that relate to the blog that I write and am involved with. Would you tell us a little bit about that exhibit?

N. Sure. Since 2009 is the bi-centennial of Lincoln’s birth there are many museums in the United States that are doing exhibits related to him. It might sound a little odd that Kansas would have a Lincoln exhibit but Lincoln did visit Kansas in 1859. So the exhibit focuses on that and the other connections that Lincoln had with our state. At the time of his visit to Kansas, the territory was in the midst of a bloody battle to be entered into the Union as a free state. Lincoln was a rising political star. In the previous year he had just done the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The visit to Kansas was beneficial to both the territory and to Lincoln. People in Kansas thought that if they had Lincoln on the side of the Free-Staters it would increase their chances of getting into the Union as a slave-free state. And it benefited Lincoln because he was testing the political waters leading up to the 1860 Presidential elections. And it was a great opportunity for him to build some contacts in this part of the country and in a new area; not only for his campaign but for his law career. So while he was here he visited several cities in northeast Kansas like Atchison, Leavenworth, Troy and Elwood. In each city he gave a speech. He used that opportunity to practice and perfect a speech that he would deliver later at Cooper Union in New York. And many historians as you probably know cite that speech as one that turned around his presidential campaign. So that’s a large part of the exhibit, focusing on his visit to Kansas and what he did while he was here.

B. What artifacts are in the exhibit that relate to Lincoln’s visit?

N. There aren’t too many left. The sites where Lincoln spoke…most of them are gone now, so only pictures of them remain.

There’s a plaque which marks the building where Lincoln spoke in Leavenworth. It was the Planters House Hotel and there was a plaque on the building before it was razed. So we’ve got that.

Lincoln was possibly distantly related as a cousin to a man in Kansas named Mark Delahay who became a judge later on. So there are a few artifacts relating to the Delahay’s.

There is a pot (laughing)…this is crazy! There is a pot lid that may have belonged to Lincoln’s mother and then she gave it to another family member and it was passed down through the line and ended up in Kansas. So these are a collection of strange, random things in that section of the exhibit just because it’s a difficult period to collect from since the territorial period was 1) so long ago and 2) things that they had were so expendable.

B. In all the museums I’ve worked in and visited in my career, it’s those kinds of artifacts that I love most; the unique ones with the strange stories attached to them.

However, two of the artifacts that we spoke about earlier this week are not related to Lincoln’s visit to Kansas but rather to his assassination and the conspirators involved. And it was through connections in Kansas that these artifacts came to be in the KSHS’ historical collection. Can you tell us about these artifacts and how they ended up in Kansas?

N. The two artifacts you are talking about are; one is a gallows crossbeam and the other is a fragment of a playbill.

The gallows crossbeam came from the gallows on which the Lincoln conspirators were hanged in 1865. Again, it seems a little strange that such a piece would end up in the state of Kansas. What possible connection could there be?

A section of the gallows crossbeam taken from the scaffold used to hang the condemned Lincoln conspirators on July 7, 1865.

A section of the gallows crossbeam taken from the scaffold used to hang the condemned Lincoln conspirators on July 7, 1865.

We’ve had the piece of the gallows in our collection since 1885. It’s one of our older artifacts. At the time it was collected our secretary was named Franklin G. Adams and he strongly believed that history should be collected while people who experienced it were still alive. So he was going out trying to find things, especially related to the Civil War, that could illustrate what happened. And he could still talk to the people that experienced it and have a good oral history, a good record of what those people experienced.

He found out from a colleague in Washington D.C. that the gallows used to hang the Lincoln conspirators was being stored in pieces at the Washington Barracks. And so he wasted no time in contacted a man named Lieutenant Sebree Smith who was at the Washington Quartermaster’s Office and asked him if might be willing to send a piece of the gallows to the historical society for the collections. And as luck would have it Lieutenant Smith had been stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a period of time. He considered himself a Kansan and he happily agreed to send as much of the crossbeam as the historical society wanted. So at the time he shipped out the piece of the gallows that we have in our collection he also acquired a sworn statement from a man named George Tatsbaugh, who stated that he worked as a storekeeper at the Washington Arsenal from 1865 to 1881 and he witnessed the “top beam of the ‘Surratt Scaffold’ [as it’s sometimes called] was buried in 1865 under a large pile of timbers to secure it from curiosity seekers”. He went on to say that he did recognize the piece being sent to Kansas as the top beam from the gallows. And we’ve had it in our collection ever since.

B. One thing that I noticed when I read your brief on it was that the piece was made out of pine. And that surprised me. I didn’t know that about the scaffold. And my next question dealt with what part of the crossbeam did this section come from.

N. There was a little correspondence between Adams and Smith about which section of the crossbeam it was. Because when Smith sent the original letter to Adams saying “Yes, we have this” he indicated that the crossbeam had two mortise points in the middle. And Adams had looked at the pictures that Alexander Gardner had taken. He had also seen the drawings from Harper’s Weekly and he could not understand because in those depictions there was only one support beam in the center so why would there be two mortise holes? So he sent back a letter and Sebree Smith cleared it up by saying “Whoops, I was wrong. Looking at it again there was only one”! And if you look at the piece we have there’s one mortise.

B. But at this point you do not know if you have the center piece or one of the ends?

N. Right. It came from somewhere along the top crossbeam.

B. It can only be one of three locations by the looks of it (laughing).

That’s exciting. It’s a very interesting piece.

N. We are very excited to have it. It’s pretty cool.

B. It’s on display right now in the Lincoln in Kansas exhibit. Is this, and the other artifact that we are going to talk about in a minute, normally on display?

N. No. Unfortunately, they are not normally on display. They are kind of special things that we pull out for exhibits like this. And just for safekeeping they are usually kept in storage. At all times, 24/7, you can go onto our website and see images of them and read the provenance. Both of them can be found in the “Cool Things” section of our website.

B. If my readers have not been to your website, it’s definitely worth a visit. Go to www.kshs.org. To find Cool Things, click Collections and you will find the link there.

The second artifact is related directly to the assassination and it came from Ford’s Theatre. It’s a small corner of a playbill from the performance of Our American Cousin on April 14, 1865. It looks like a small tear or cut corner of the playbill. What are your thoughts on this Nikaela and the story behind the artifact?

A corner of a bloodstained playbill taken from Ford's Theatre on the night of Lincoln's assassination, April 14, 1865.

A portion of a bloodstained playbill taken from Ford's Theatre on the night of Lincoln's assassination, April 14, 1865. The blood is Abraham Lincoln's.

N. It looks like the piece was cut. I have a feeling that the man who owned it cut it into pieces and maybe kept some of it and maybe divvied it up amongst other people who were interested because it’s a very clean cut.

The man who donated it was named Dr. Thomas D. Bancroft. And he was very active in Kansas during the territorial period. He was part of the Free State movement in Kansas. He fought with James Lane and John Brown against guerrilla fighters from Missouri which are two names that are heavily associated with the abolitionist movement. And he was also part of the frontier guard who protected the White House under the leadership of James Lane during the first days of the Civil War. So during that time the frontier guard was quartered in the east room. He may have met Lincoln during that period. He was also present at Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural. So there’s a possibility that he somehow knew, or at least met, Lincoln. 

Most importantly though, Bancroft attended the play in Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot.  He was among the men who stood at the head of the stairs to keep the crowd back as Lincoln was carried from the theater.  As Lincoln passed the men, drops of blood fell to the floor near where Bancroft was standing.  Once Lincoln was carried from the theater, Bancroft went back and he wiped up the spots with his program. And he kept it in his possession until donating it to the historical society in 1901.

So it’s also another, slightly disturbing, but very interesting artifact.

B. Absolutely. And again it’s good to hear the connection to Kansas because people would not normally think of the state of Kansas as being the keeper of artifacts from that period in our country’s history.

So I’m glad I came across you folks.

N. It’s interesting when you go through the exhibit to see how many connections there were between Lincoln himself or Lincoln and the assassination that appear in Kansas. Like John Wilkes Booth once performed Hamlet at the Union Theatre in Leavenworth which is ironic because then, Lincoln spoke there. Boston Corbett, who was the man responsible for shooting John Wilkes Booth in the manhunt afterwards. He became the Sergeant at Arms in the Kansas House of Representatives and was later sent to Topeka State Hospital after pulling his gun and threatening to use it in the Kansas House. He escaped from the State Hospital and then disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to him. The woman who wrote to Lincoln as a child and told him he should grow a beard later move to Kansas, to Delphos, Kansas and she’s buried there. And another woman named Vinnie Ream was a young sculptress from Kansas. As a teenager she moved to Washington DC and sculpted a bust of the President when she was sixteen. And then when she was eighteen she received a commission for a Lincoln statue that went into the US Capital. And Lincoln’s last sitting with her in her studio was April 14, 1865. And he left from there to go to Ford’s Theatre. So there are a lot of interesting connections.

B. Amazing stuff! 

N. Yeah. It’s so much fun.  

B. It sounds like you are a fan of that period. 

N. I am. I think Lincoln is very interesting. It’s fun that we have this exhibit up and it’s fun that we get to study a little more in depth about his connections to Kansas.

B. The exhibit is at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, Kansas. How long does the exhibit run until?

N. The Lincoln exhibit will be open until July 26, 2009.

As well, we are also in the process of raising funds to try to preserve some of our Lincoln artifacts. We have a banner that was used at one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We have a silk umbrella that was used to shield Lincoln from a snow storm in Utica, New York. And we have a dress that was worn at Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural ball. Those things are all in need of conservation and treatment. But it’s so expensive to do that, we have to have a grant and we have to have matching funds. So we are having a “Lincolns for Lincoln” campaign and if anyone would like to donate to help us get those artifacts preserved they can do so on our website.

B. If anyone is interested in donating to help this worthy cause, I’ve posted the information below.

Nikaela, this has been great. Let me ask you one last question before we end our conversation. Do you have any other things planned for the Kansas History Museum in the future?

N. Right now we are working on our permanent gallery. We’ve been in our building for 25 years and it’s kind of time for an update. So we’ve been taking it kind of a piece at a time and this summer we are working on a section about Explorers. But we’ve also recently upgraded our Trails section and a section on Bleeding Kansas, the period leading up to statehood and the Civil War. So, they are very interesting and much prettier to look at now than they were before. And we have an exhibit about the importance of the automobile in Kansas that should be opening with any luck after the first of next year.

B. Do you have anything opening for the latter part of the summer after Lincoln in Kansas ends?

N. Unfortunately when Lincoln goes down we are going to take a bit of a break because of the economy. So our main thing this summer is that we do a film festival each summer that’s outside on the lawn and we project up onto the wall of the building. This year we are exploring the Hollywood version of history and museum work. It’s always a lot of fun and people get a kick out of sitting outside to watch a movie even when it’s 110 in Kansas in July.

B. Nikaela. Thank you very much. It’s been wonderful talking to you and I look forward to catching up with you and the Kansas State Historical Society in the near future.

N. Thank you.

DONATIONS: If people wish to donate to the “Lincolns for Lincoln” fund they can go to the following URL: http://store.kshs.org/store//product.php?productid=17705&cat=413&page=1.  There is a drop down menu where they can designate where they wish their money to go, and they should select “preservation of collections”.  Since the exhibit went up at the end of January, we’ve raised over $1000 towards the conservation of the Lincoln artifacts.  Most of that has been through coins in a donation box.  People love Lincoln!

END 

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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INSTANT REPLAY – LINCOLN ASSASSINATION ARTIFACTS (where to find them)

June 15, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Instant Replay is a feature which posts previously run articles for those who may not have read them in the past. Please enjoy this Instant Replay of LINCOLN ASSASSINATION ARTIFACTS (where to find them) originally posted on August 3, 2008. To date, it is the #1 posting with over twice as many hits as the next closest article. Recently added is a portion of the gallows crossbeam which the Lincoln conspirators were hanged from (Kansas State Historical Society). Quite an amazing artifact.

Enjoy the story.

https://awesometalks.wordpress.com/2008/08/03/lincoln-assassination-artifacts-where-to-find-them/

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

LINCOLN ASSASSINATION ARTIFACTS (where to find them)

UPDATED: July 29, 2013: Hi all: Thanks to some great comments and observations from my readers, I’ve made a couple of changes to the article.

TO MY READERS: If you know the location of any artifacts related to the assassination, conspirators and trial, execution, etc. that are not on this list, then please let me know and I will be happy to include your submittal, once confirmed.

Best. Barry

NOTE: The new listings are preceded by the designations (NEW-KSHS) Original Posting: August 3, 2008 – Barry Cauchon

Here is a list of locations where Lincoln Assassination / Aftermath Artifacts can be found in public institutions. Many more remain in private collections which are not listed here. If you know of any items that I’ve missed, please let me know and I’ll gladly add them to the list.

1. Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana  http://studebakermuseum.org/

  • Carriage that the Lincoln’s took to Ford’s Theatre on the night of the assassination

2. National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC  http://www.nmhm.washingtondc.museum/

The bullet, the probe and skull fragments from Lincoln's autopsy

The bullet, the probe and skull fragments from Lincoln’s autopsy

  • The ball (bullet) that killed President Lincoln recovered during the autopsy.
  • Skull fragments from Lincoln recovered during the autopsy.
  • The probe used by Dr. Barnes to remove the ball and skull fragments from Lincoln’s injury during the autopsy.
Path of bullet through John Wilkes Booth upper vertibrae

Path of bullet through John Wilkes Booth upper vertibrae

  • John Wilkes Booth’s 3rd, 4th and 5th Cervical (Neck) Vertebrae (showing the path of the bullet that killed him)
  • (NEW RN) – Blood stained cuffs from the lab coat worn by Dr. Edward Curtis (assistant surgeon who, along with Dr. Woodward, performed the autopsy on President Lincoln).

3. Smithsonian Institute – National Museum of American History  http://americanhistory.si.edu/news/factsheet.cfm?key=30&newskey=946

Although not assassination artifacts, here are a pair of cast hands and two plaster Life Masks made from 1st generation molds taken from Lincoln during his life. The original molds were made by two different artists, Leonard Volk and Clark Mills.

Cast hands by Leonard Volk

  • A pair of cast hands and the first Life Mask made in 1860 by Leonard Volk just prior to Lincoln’s nomination for president at the Republican convention.

  • The second was made by Clark Mills on February 11, 1865 just two months prior to Lincoln’s assassination.
Lincoln's Top Hat worn to Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865

Lincoln’s Top Hat worn to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865

  • Lincoln’s Top Hat that he wore to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.
Drum and drumsticks used at Lincoln's funeral

Drum and drumsticks used at Lincoln’s funeral

  • Drum and drumsticks used during the funeral parades for President Lincoln in late April, 1865

Canvas hood worn by male conspirators during captivity for the Lincoln assassination

  • Canvas hood used to cover the head of one of the seven male conspirators during captivity. On April 25, 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered that the heads of all the conspirator prisoners be convered with a canvas hood. Only an opening in the area of the mouth and nose allowed breathing and eating. The hoods were worn 24 hours a day until June 6, 1865 when Major General John Hartranft, Special Provost Marshal in charge of the prisoners and execution had them removed. He felt that the prisoners were suffering too much because of the hoods. Mary Surratt was not required to wear the hood for fear that public indignation would be strong.

4. Library of Congress, Washington, DC http://www.loc.gov/index.html

Contents of Lincoln's pockets at time of his assassination

Contents of Lincoln’s pockets at time of his assassination (with the exception of the newspaper which was published after the assassination).

  • The contents of Lincoln’s pockets from the night of the assassination. Some of these items include: nine newspaper clippings, a pair of spectacles and a pair of reading glasses and their cases, a lens polisher, a watch fob, a pocket knife, a brown leather wallet containing a Confederate $5.00 note and a linen hankerchief.

  • The playbill from the April 14, 1865 performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre

5. Chicago History Museum  http://www.chicagohistory.org/

Lincoln's Deathbed from the Peterson Home

  • Lincoln’s deathbed originally from the Peterson House located across the street from Ford’s Theatre. Lincoln was so tall, he had to be laid diagnally across this bed to fit
  • Other furniture from the Peterson house includes a rocking chair, bureau, candlestick, engraving, and gas jet
  • Mary Todd Lincoln’s blood-stained cape that she wore on April 14, 1865
  • Padded hood used by one of the male conpirators while in captivity after the assassination

6. Ford’s Theatre, Washington, DC http://www.fordstheatre.org/ or http://www.nps.gov/foth/

Ford's Theatre circa 1860s

Ford’s Theatre circa 1860s

Derringer used to assassinate President Lincoln

  • John Wilkes Booth’s derringer used to shoot President Lincoln
Booth's knife and sheath

Booth’s knife and sheath

  • Booth’s knife and sheath used to stab Major Rathbone on the night of the assassination
John Wilkes Booth's boot

John Wilkes Booth’s boot

  • Booth’s boot and spur
  • Inner door where Booth had carved a small peep hole to see the President prior to assassinating him.
  • Wooden stick used by Booth to wedge the outer door shut to the Presidential Box.
  • The dress coat that Lincoln wore to the theatre that night.
Chair from Presidential Box at Ford's Theatre April 14, 1865

Chair from Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre April 14, 1865

Dr. Samuel Mudd's medical kit

Dr. Samuel Mudd’s medical kit

  • Dr. Mudd’s medical kit
Booth's compass found on him after his death

Booth’s compass found on him after his death

Booth's Diary written during his 12 days on the run after the assassination

Booth’s Diary written during his 12 days on the run after the assassination

  • John Wilkes Booth Compass and Diary

Wanted Poster

  • Wanted Poster
  •  US Treaury Guards Flag from Presidential Box which Booth’s spur caught on when he jumped to the stage.
U.S Treasury Flag which Booth caught his spur on when jumping from the Presidential box

U.S Treasury Flag on which Booth caught his spur when he jumped from the Presidential box

  • Original Framed portrait of George Washington from the Presidential Box

7. Peterson Home, Washington, DC.  (Note: This is a National Parks Service site across the street from Ford’s Theatre. The Peterson Home does not have it’s own website but here is the NPS site) http://www.nps.gov/foth/

Peterson House across the street from Ford\'s Theatre, Washington DC

  • The house itself is a protected landmark by the National Park Service. It is the place where Lincoln was taken after being shot at Ford’s Theatre (just across the street). Lincoln died at 7:22am on April 15 in the first floor bedroom

10. Kansas State Historical Society http://www.kshs.org/cool3/lincolnplaybill.htm & http://www.kshs.org/cool/gallowssection.htm

 The following two artifacts are currently on display at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, KS in an exhibit called Lincoln in Kansas. The show is currently on and runs until July 26, 2009. These two artifacts are normally not on display and have been brought out for this specific exhibition.

Blood-stained playbill from night of the assassination

Blood-stained playbill from night of the assassination. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society.

  • Blood splattered playbill fragment picked up by patron at Ford’s Theatre on the night of the assassination.
Gallows section from Lincoln Conspirators

Gallows crossbeam from the Lincoln Conspirators executions. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society

  • Section of the gallows crossbeam used to hang the four condemned Lincoln conspirators (Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt).
 11. Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan  http://www.thehenryford.org/museum/index.aspx
Rocking Chair (prior to restoration) used by Lincoln on night of the assassination

Rocking Chair (prior to restoration) used by Lincoln on night of the assassination

 12. Historical Society of Quincy and Adams Counties, Illinois  http://www.adamscohistory.org/

Note: These items are not on public display (see video news story link below)

  • Padded hood worn by one of the male Lincoln conspirators during their 2 months in captivity

  • Manicles worn by Lincoln conspirators

  • Keys to the conspirators’ jail cells

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-743969467360523349

13. Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia http://www.collphyphil.org/mutter.asp

  • (NEW-RN) Tissue from John Wilkes Booth cervical vertebrae (originally labeled as part of his thorax)

See   http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln83.html

14. Lincoln Room Museum in the Wills House, Gettysburg, PA. http://willshousegettysburg.com/

  • (NEW-RN) Hair sample from Abraham Lincoln’s autopsy.

15. Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana http://www.in.gov/ism/

  • (NEW-RN) Hair sample from Abraham Lincoln’s autopsy (Note: This item was part of the Lincoln collection obtained from the Lincoln Museum, Ft. Wayne, IN which closed in June/08).

16. Weldon Petz Abraham Lincoln Collection, Plymouth Historical Society & Museum, Plymouth, Michigan  http://www.plymouthhistory.org/lincoln.html

  • (NEW-RN & Dan Parker Plymouth Historical Museum) – Hair sample donated by Surgeon General Barnes family. Hair was culled from Abraham Lincoln’s during the initial exploration of the president’s wound after being shot.

  • Additional assassination artifacts (tbd) 

17. Huntington Library, San Marino, California

  • (NEW-BH) – Lewis Powell’s knife used in the attack on Secretary of State William Seward on April 14, 1865.

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Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com