The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. A Geneseo resident was present at Ford's Theater on that fateful night, April 15, 1865, and witnessed John Wilkes Booth shoot the president.
The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
A Geneseo resident was present at Ford’s Theater on that fateful night, April 15, 1865, and witnessed John Wilkes Booth shoot the president.
Henry Young was a member of Lincoln’s guards and was seated in the third row at Ford’s Theatre, not more than 15 feet from the box where Lincoln was shot.
“Booth walked quickly up to the rear of President Lincoln’s box. He paused a moment to pull the exit curtin aside. A second later, he stood beside Lincoln and, without warning, fired his gun,” said Young in an interview years later.
“Lincoln fell over while Booth sought to escape through the rear of the theater by jumping over the footlights. He wore heavy United States’ cavalry boot spurs and one of those caught in the stage. He stumbled, but quickly regained his feet, dashing a moment later through the rear door of the theater,” said Young.
As a member of Lincoln’s guard, Young quickly followed booth. “I reached the door through which he had gone and saw him disappearing through the theatre alley. There was no chance to shoot, and Booth got away.”
In his account, Young said, “It would be useless to attempt to describe the furore and excitement that followed in the theater. Women screamed and fainted, and men were worked into such a frenzy that Booth might have been torn to pieces if he had been caught that night.”
News of the Lincoln’s death reached Geneseo the following day.
“The news spread as though wind-winged, and 30 minutes had not elapsed ere it had been heard by every person in the city,” said the Geneseo Republic in an 1865 article. “The crime was too horrible for belief, and few, if any, gave credence to the report. None could believe that a wretch so utterly desperate, so depraved, so wicked and God-forsaken — a human being so brutal and cruel as to imbue his hands in the life-blood of our noble chief magistrate, to slay America’s best friend in this hour of his and the nation’s triumph over treason and rebellion.”
At 9 a.m., dispatches reached Geneseo confirming the news.
“Hearing that confirmation of the report had been received, hundreds of men and women, little boys and girls, flocked around the newspaper carrier, besieging him at every step and blocking his way with eager, outstretched hands for the slip of paper that should confirm their darkest fears.”
With the news of the president’s assassination confirmed “a dark gloom settled down over the city, the likes of which we never witnessed before and never wish to again” reported the Republic.
“Women and children wept, as though they had lost friends and relatives dear to them. There was no noise. No loud talk — a deathlike stillness pervaded the town. Men moved around slowly, thoughtfully, sorrowfully; the air was funeral and oppressive.
Geneseo mayor George Waite called on the citizens to meet at First Congregational Church at 4 p.m.
The Republic stated, “Long before the hour of meeting, nearly every building in town was draped in deep mourning, crepe hung at every door, flags floated at half mast, and the bells kept up their measured, mournful peals.”
The interior of First Congregational Church was hung in crape and the American flag was dressed in deepest black.
During the service, “a lurid storm cloud overspread the whole heavens, the lightening flashed and played athwart the cloud, the thunders rolled and muttered, and the wind howled a sad requiem that added ten-fold to the gloom that filled the place.”
“The nation has lost its best statesman and warmest friend,” reported the Republic. “In Abraham Lincoln, Illinois loses her noblest son.”