Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Contrary to the spurious accusations of my colleagues in the days leading up to the events of April 24th 1865 and directly thereafter, I must defend myself and say I did not dislike Mr. Lincoln.  Indeed, I found him to be an entirely sympathetic and thoughtful man placed in dreadful circumstances.

Year after year, the blood of our countrymen spilled out upon American soil and our president grew weary and old beyond his years and in front of our eyes, if photographic evidence could be testimony to this fact.  As if this was not burden enough, he would bury three of his very own dear children before they could reach manhood.  Contending with the first lady and her madness was still another reason.  All must have weighed heavily on his soul.

I have, like many, heard tales of Mrs. Lincoln and her inconsolation at the loss of one family member after another after another and then obscenely, her husband.  The horrors she has been subjected to in her own right.  I have heard tales of her and Mr. Lincoln's attempts to make contact with their little boys by way of seance, mediums.  I know well of their feelings of not wanting to let go.  Of wanting to believe in something, some means of reaching out once more to my dear Phebe, long in her eternal rest.

Of willing myself to believe in a way of crossing over to the departed.

Ten years had passed and there still was not a morning I did not wake to thoughts of my Phebe.  That long ago winter of '59 and the wicked outbreak of cholera ran throughout Manhattan and the neighboring city of Brooklyn.  In little time, it found it's all consuming way across the threshold of our door on Henry street and after a valiant struggle to persevere, Phebe died in my arms.  I wanted to die with her, having spent days holding her close, praying that the fever would jump across and infect me and leaving her to live.

It was not to be.

January 29th, 1859 New-York Daily Tribune

Days, weeks passed and I was not myself.  All attempts to relieve me of my deep feeling of loss met with little comfort nor respite.  Finally, I resolved to seek solace in attending to my children who had lost even more than myself, the love and devotion of their mother, all too soon taken from them.  While, it was effective, I never stopped loving her and hoping to find some way to make contact with her prior to our everlasting reunion in the great hereafter.

I must admit, like Mrs. Lincoln, my own grief bore upon me my own form of madness lo those so many years on.  Which made it more incredible that, in the spring of 1869, I became embroiled in the trial of Mr. William H. Mumler, a man who purported himself to be a spirit photographer.

Mr. Mumler had been in operation for several years by that time.  His ability to conjure up the spirit of one's departed and invoke them to appear in the sitter's portrait was in great demand.  In fact, Mrs. Lincoln herself was said to have anonymously (so as not to alter the aunthenticity of the outcome) sat for likeness taken by Mumler and, there resting his hand upon her shoulder, was Mr. Lincoln himself smiling benignly down on her.

Enter, the great showman and humbug propagator himself, Mr. Phineas T. Barnum!  Ever desirous of the public's attention, Mr. Barnum and his own various sideshow vagaries were promoted and displayed with the greatest effort towards causing the loudest clamour.  He was a man truly larger than life.  Paradoxically, it was Barnum who contributed to the city's legal charges of deception brought against Mumler.

I wanted to believe, dear reader.  In fact, I entered into the courtroom that day inclined to say as much.  To tell the jury thusly.  That I had seen my loving Phebe's visage once more.  That she stood hovering over my shoulder much like Mr. Lincoln had for his Mary Todd.  While waiting to testify, I looked across the room at Mr. Barnum, his confidence overwhelming.  I wondered how he would hold up if someone so dear to him was to be taken from him.  By chance his eyes met mine and after a moment, I believe I saw something in his countenance change almost imperceptibly.

Maybe he saw the longing that shone in my own eyes even after all those many years.  For at that moment, I saw something similar in his.

April 22nd, 1869 New-York Daily Tribune

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