On Thursday, Feb. 12 and Monday, Feb. 16, West Chester University celebrated the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America.In order to commemorate the occasion, two days of events were scheduled. The event was known as “The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Birthday Bash,” and it chronicled the life and the death of the man who brought an end to slavery and sought to heal the country after the Civil War.
These events ran on Thursday, which was his actual birthday, and also on Monday, which was President’s Day.
Among the laundry list of things that took place were re-enactments, guest lectures and musical performances.
To cap of the week, a documentary about John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Lincoln on April 14, 1865, was shown.
The video, called “The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth,” began at 7 p.m. in room 615 of the Francis Harvey Green Library. Room 615 is also known as the William Darlington Special Collections Room and it played host to nearly all of the bicentennial events.
The film was a History Channel Production and it followed Booth from the early days of his conspiracy to simply kidnap Lincoln, through the actual murder of the president, up until Booth’s cornering and eventual death at the hands of U.S. soldiers as he hid out in Virginia.
It covered every step of Booth’s fateful choice to kill Lincoln, but it mainly focused on his 12-day flight from authorities as he made his way from Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. to the Garrett Family barn where he was eventually gunned down.
The conspiracy began as a plot to kidnap Lincoln and smuggle him into the South, but once the Union army captured and forced the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, this course of action was no longer possible.
This caused Booth to reinvent his plan as an assassination plot that would “cut of the head” of the U.S. government, according to the documentary.
In addition to Lincoln, Booth also targeted Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward, both of whom were also considered to be enemies of the South.
Booth went after Lincoln, while two of his associates went after the other two statesmen. Of the three, Booth was the only one who was successful.
After the assassination, Booth fled south, along with co-conspirator David Herold. The two men used the still fresh wounds caused by the Civil War to their advantages as they traveled South with assistance of several Confederate loyalists.
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton eventually placed a $100,000 bounty on Booth’s head, which the documentary points out would equal about one million dollars by today’s standards. The film also notes that many people treated the bounty as a sort of a gold rush, as they sought to capture Booth more to cash in then to serve justice.
Eventually Booth was shot after he refused to exit the Garrett’s barn where he had been spending the night, with their consent.
“He (Booth) sought to go out in a blaze of glory,” according to the film, Booth refused to leave the barn, even after it was set ablaze by the Union troops. He was shot when it became clear that he would not surrender peacefully, and was carrying two guns.
Throughout the documentary, historians walk the actual route that Booth and Herold took during their flight South. Towards the conclusion of the film, the viewer is taken to the former site of the Garrett family’s barn. Neither the barn, nor their home, still stands on the site. The site itself is actually now located on a traffic median the divides a major highway.
The film ended by pointing out that Booth thought that he would be celebrated forever for his actions, though actually quite the opposite happened. Booth was considered to be a villain not only by the North, but by most Southerners as well. Lincoln had intended to spare the South the harsh, post-war treatment that it eventually received as a result of his death.
Instead of a grand monument in his honor, Booth has only a small clearing on a highway median to mark the spot where he died, something that most people who drive past probably don’t even notice.
Prior to the film, WCU student Jesse Lang was announced as the winner of a Lincoln inspired poetry contest. Lang performed his winning work; a rap entitled “Abe Lincoln is My Homeboy,” for the assembled crowd.
Colin McGlinchey is a fourth-year student majoring in English and minoring in Journalism. He can be reached at CM646588@wcupa.edu