Beware the people weeping
By: RANDAL BERRY, SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Good Friday was the day Of the prodigy and crime, When they killed him in his pity, When they killed him in his prime Of clemency and calm When with yearning he was filled To redeem the evil-willed, And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.
There is sobbing of the strong
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping …
... From The Martyr by Herman Melville, written a year after the death of Abraham Lincoln. On this day 148 years ago, our 16th president was murdered by the cold-steady hand of actor John Wilkes Booth while attending a play.
This act, which took place in 1865 in a downtown theater in Washington City (now Washington, D.C.) stunned the world, the nation, even the war torn Southern states. It was a reminder that mankind is vulnerable. Upon Lincoln’s death, he became iconic.
It wasn’t always that way.
Lincoln was somewhat unpopular during the years he served as president. He was elected in a time when citizens had lost respect for the presidency because of past presidents’ performances. The press, particularly the larger influential newspapers in the Northern states that were pro-Democrat, were brutal in their portrayals of Lincoln while he was alive.
When time passed and the nation had mourned his death, the media began to treat Lincoln more kindly. How could they not like Honest Abe, author of the Emancipation Proclamation speech proclaiming it was time to“bind up the nation’s wounds” in his Second Inauguration in 1865? As the Civil War ground down, Lincoln appeared futuristic.
As viewed today, Lincoln is immortalized in statutes, memorials, postage stamps, film, biographies, and coin and paper currency.
His popularity continues to rise partly due to film director Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning movie and National Geographic’s recently televised Killing Lincoln. Websites dedicated to Lincoln pop up weekly.
John Wilkes Booth was the son of the great tragedian Junius Booth and brother of Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth. After the assassination he was immediately branded as a Southern sympathizer by the media for his one mad act. Many years later, authors researching his life and Booth’s overall character revealed other possible motives for murdering the president.
A year earlier, a plot to kidnap the president by Booth was hatched, intending to use the captured Lincoln as a bargaining chip for the release of Confederate soldiers who languished in Union prisons. As the War Between the States began to wind down, attempts by a ragtag gang of Booth’s cronies failed miserably. The war would soon be over, but Booth’s hatred for Lincoln was still percolating. What was Booth’s reason? To be regarded as a martyr for the South? Or sheer lunacy?
Growing up in southern Maryland, Booth’s allegiance to slavery stayed with him into his early adulthood. For instance, with Booth in attendance, Lincoln gave an impromptu speech on the White House balcony four days before his death to a small crowd gathered on the lawn. Booth became enraged when he heard Lincoln say that blacks should be allowed to vote and be afforded full citizenship. He whispered into the ear of a co-conspirator, “That means nigger citizenship.” He then said in a normal tone, “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he’ll ever make.”
On April 14, 1865, at approximately 10:17 p.m., Booth entered the private box at Ford’s Theater where Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their guests were seated and ended Lincoln’s life. Booth miraculously escaped the theater and was gunned down 12 days later when trapped in a burning tobacco barn in Virginia.
In 2015, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death, print and electronic media will no doubt again remind us of “beware the people weeping” along with the current day’s woes.
Randal Berry works at the Little Rock Zoo and is webmaster of www.Lincoln-Assassination.com and author of Shall We Gather at the River, annotations of The Unwritten History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Smoot.
Randal has had a fascination with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the conspiracy theories since he was a about 11 years old.
And you thought Randal's only interest was reptiles!
BEST SNAKE HANDLER: The Little Rock Zoo's Randal Berry, the guy who had to take care of those poisonous snakes mysteriously shipped into Little Rock last year, has this year made a couple of informational videos about Cammie, the zoo's 20-foot python. The first video showed the snake — given to the zoo by pole vaulter Jeff Hartwick of Jonesboro, a breeder — being unloaded from a car by four men. “Come on, girl,” Berry told the snake. He then filmed the snake eating a thawed rabbit. He was recently filmed by a television crew about the poisonous-snakes-in-a-box mystery for a future episode on “The Most Extreme” on Animal Planet. He does naked mole rats, too; just enter his name on youtube.com to see his shows.