|New York City Hall April 24, 1865. Photograph by J. Gurney & Son|
It is at once impossible to believe and yet all too easy to gain comfort from the fact, that it is almost thirty years to the day when Ben and I walked together up those steps and into City Hall. We weren't alone of course.
On that particular morning thousands waited to gain entrance to the building. Throngs milling about and soldiers everywhere! Everywhere the eyes looked there was humanity. All waiting to pay their respects to our dear, departed president.
I remember it all. I remember how it had rained in the early morning hours on the day following his assassination. How, when the news of his passing reached me that morning, the clouds had parted and rays of sunlight had come filtering across Broadway. Church bells peeling the saddest of news. Abraham Lincoln had been struck down by J. Wilkes Booth! Booth!
It was Easter. The first Easter of peace in four years. Four years of murder and misery. Our country laid exhausted, weakend by four long years of agony. The prospect of a true and everlasting peace after all of the destruction and horrors we had experienced made our nation grateful and optimistic for the future.
Our leader, Father Abraham, as the negroes and children called him, admonished us when talk of punishment and retribution arose in those final months and weeks of the war. He told us to embrace our brothers who had fought against us. To lay away our differences once and for all time and return to a nation united. His kindness seemed fathomless.
And all at once, shattered! One last monumental orgy of death cast upon the very man who sought to forestall it. By a New York actor! My mind reels as it did the day the news reached me.
Walking to my studio that morning, I saw their faces. People I passed were to a man, woman and child, stricken. As if we were all in some crazy dream where the promise of a better future had been taken from us. Snatched back! We would return to a never ending battle of destruction and death. I saw men in top hats and coats with the worry of the unknown about them. Women, already weeping, children with their look of silent solemnity. Negroes throwing themselves to the ground in abject despair. All around me, the world had gone insane once more.
I recall it all as if it were this morning and yet I find myself thankfull that it isn't. April of 1865 was a long, horrible affair.