Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy

Abraham Lincoln died on this date in 1865, after having been shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre the night before. An episode of the 1970s TV show In Search Of..., which first aired in October 1981, suggested that Booth may have been part of a broader, high-level conspiracy, the shadowy details of which may never be fully known. "Were the right people brought to trial?" asks narrator Leonard Nimoy darkly. "Could others have conspired to kill Abraham Lincoln?" I really liked In Search of... as a kid in the 1970's, and so have enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE.  Various conspiracy theories are discussed starting at the 4 minute mark.

This episode seems, on hindsight, to be based in part on a book published in 1977 titled "The Lincoln Conspiracy," written by David W. Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr., which asserted that Booth was actually a pawn in a broader plot masterminded by members of Lincoln's own cabinet. A movie based on the book was also made the same year. The book accuses Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and his northern "Radical Republican" allies of providing Confederate sympathizer Booth with both money and information on Lincoln's movements.   But the 'Stanton Group' merely wanted Lincoln kidnapped until articles of impeachment could be prepared against him, or so goes this conspiracy theory. So they panicked when Booth actually killed Lincoln. Stanton and his conspirators then allegedly helped Booth escape to England to hide their involvement with him, allowing the dead body of another man killed on April 26th in Virginia to be mistakenly identified as that of Booth, thereby ending the manhunt for Booth and 'closing' the case.

This book was greeted with hostility and derision by historians and academics upon its publication, apparently. It may not be coincidence that author David Balsiger also published a book titled "In Search of Noah's Ark" in 1976, and an apparent follow-up work, "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark" in 1993.  I also found a video online today from 2 years ago where Balsiger discusses what are touted as "exciting scientific findings" about the Shroud of Turin.  Co-author Charles E. Sellier Jr. also wrote the novel "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams" that was turned into an NBC TV show in 1977, which I really liked as a kid as it happens.

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