150th Anniversary Commemoration at the Newsuem

News: Then and Now

News travels fast. Americans are accustomed to receiving current events and details within hours or even minutes of their occurring. America runs on the “24 hour news cycle.” After the attacks on the World Trade Centers in 2001, it took approximately 16 minutes to broadcast the horrific events, and less than an hour for President Bush to speak to the nation on the matter [1]. However, before Internet, mobile devices, and electronic newspapers this was not the case. Most news traveled through the vernacular, but official news took hours to be written up and printed in a local newspaper and then distributed by newspaper boys the next morning.  Today the assassination of President Lincoln is infamous as one of the greatest tragedies in American history.  Its immediate significance as the first assassination of a US president was paralleled by its long-term significance in the way that it has since shaped American culture. The way it was reported was revolutionary and began a transition in American journalism to the way news is consumed today [2]. This post will explore the exhibit on display until January of 2016 at The Newseum and the significance it holds in remembering President Lincoln.

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While most Lincoln commemoration is through Ford’s Theater with free admission and funded by taxpayer money, the Newseum is an incorporated museum that uses grants, donations and admission cost to fund exhibits and operation expenses. The general admission cost for President Lincoln is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination exhibit is $21.95 with discounts for children and senior citizens. The Newseum exists to uphold all first amendment rights, most clearly the right to free speech and the freedom of the press. The Newseum’s primary purpose is not necessarily to honor President Lincoln or to instill national pride and unity in its patrons the way Ford’s Theater does. Rather, the museum’s primary purpose in this exhibit is to attract a wide audience willing to pay the admission fee to fund further exhibits so they can continue on their larger goal of promoting first amendment rights. Image Source: [3].

(Video source: [2])

Revolutionary News

IMPORTANT

________________

ASSASINATION

OF

PRESIDENT LINCOLN

The President Shot

At the Theater

This Evening

As the first newspaper to break the news of Lincoln’s assassination [2], the New York Herald closely followed the condition of the President over an 18-hour period as it declined rapidly. The Herald’s coverage of Lincoln’s assassination marks a step in the quick evolution of the news cycle.  In 18 hours, the New York Herald published 7 editions with updates on the president’s condition.  These updates began at 2:00 AM on the morning of April 15, 1865.

The publication timeline is as follows:

2:00 am: The first edition of the New York Herald to break the news was published and distributed at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of the 15th. Blaring the headline “Assassination of President Lincoln,” few Americans would have seen this paper until the next morning when many were already communally mourning and sharing the news.

3:00 am: While the first edition of the Herald contained mostly mundane news about protests and parades in New York, this second addition dropped many of the other headlines to advertise “THE LATEST NEWS” concerning the condition of President Lincoln.

8:45 am: The first report of the President’s death, the headline read: “EXTRA: Death of the President!!”

There is an entire website dedicated to ensuring that a copy is indeed a verified original, and “not a week goes by” without a fake turning up. The 8:45 edition of the Herald is the most commonly faked newspaper as thousands of copies have been made and sold. This memory of Lincoln is archived and displayed, as well as falsified and commodified.

There is an entire website dedicated to ensuring that a copy is indeed a verified original, and “not a week goes by” without a fake turning up [7]. The 8:45 edition of the Herald is the most commonly faked newspaper as thousands of copies have been made and sold. While this image is low quality, it is the only verified image of the original because it is from the Newseum website and a scanned copy of the paper on display.  This memory of Lincoln is archived and displayed, as well as falsified and commodified. Image source: [2].

10:00 am (two 10 am editions): The first edition alerted Americans of the reward for John Wilkes Booth, the man who was suspected of shooting the President. The second edition contained a staff report from D.C. describing the “bells throughout the city…tolling” (Washington Post).

2:00 pm: Nearing the end of the saga, the afternoon newspaper reported eight pages of updates including details about the death of the President and what was done with his body. The paper claimed, “strong men weep in the streets” (Washington Post). However, following a warning to guard against Booth’s escape over the Canadian border is the headline: “Inauguration of Vice President Johnson as PRESIDENT.”

3:30 pm: The last Herald of the day contains details of Lincoln’s autopsy and many reactions to the assassination. However, the dominant story is the “CAPTURE of BOOTH.” The Herald mistakenly believed that Booth had been captured outside of Baltimore, when in actuality he was to be captured several days later in Virginia [4].

These “breaking” updates resemble the live news stream that Americans today expect on their TVs, computers and phones. However, in the mid 19th century, reliable news was often slow moving and most news was vernacular. Through their quick reporting of the assassination and death of the President, the New York Herald set the precedent for the news coverage of future American tragedies.

The moderately recent invention of the telegraph played a large role in the revolutionary nature of the Herald’s reporting. The slow circulation of the news lent itself to rumors and word-of-mouth, however the Herald kept its most recent publication up to date with the President’s condition to comfort and inform an anxiously waiting Union of their President’s health. This event can be collectively remembered because of the way it was collectively documented. The country experienced this unprecedented tragedy together as the news traveled across the country via the telegraph but was often preceded by screams, tears, or even confederate celebration as individuals learned of the assassination and death of their President.

The Emancipator in Memory:

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It is important to note that not everyone responded to this information in the same way, and therefore it was reported differently around the country.  Some in the South were overjoyed to learn of Lincoln’s assassination, and many newspapers in the South were the last to report the news.  One of the very last known papers to report on the assassination of President Lincoln was the Houston Telegraph, a pro-confederacy publication that was one of the last of its kind still in existence in 1865.  The Telegraph did not report the death of the President until April 24, over a week after the event and even after California had broken the story on April 16.  The Telegraph stated that: “The killing of Mr. Lincoln…may be more wonderful than the capitulation of Lee’s army.”

It is important to note that not everyone responded to this information in the same way, and therefore it was reported differently around the country. Some in the South were overjoyed to learn of Lincoln’s assassination, and many newspapers in the South were the last to report the news. One of the very last known papers to report on the assassination of President Lincoln was the Houston Telegraph, a pro-confederacy publication that was one of the last of its kind still in existence in 1865 [8]. The Telegraph did not report the death of the President until April 24, over a week after the event and even after California had broken the story on April 16. The Telegraph stated that: “The killing of Mr. Lincoln…may be more wonderful than the capitulation of Lee’s army.” Image sources: [5] & [6].

Zelizer claims that memory is material; that collective or social memory cannot just exist in someone’s head. Collective memory “links…the personal lives of individuals with the shared experience of the collective” [9]. The Newseum’s display of these seven editions of the New York Herald, together for the first time since 1865, goes one step beyond. This exhibit chronicles the way the Herald used news to link the individual and the collective, and the exhibit will then link that memory to the collective American audience of the 21st century as they celebrate the life of the “Great Emancipator.” These newspapers represent a form of the material memory of the first assassination of an American president. There are many other forms of material memory of Lincoln (seen in other posts on this site, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Penny), however these newspapers differ in that they were not created to be reflective and commemorative but rather informational.

Lincoln’s Assassination in JFK Memory:

Because Lincoln was the first US president to have been assassinated, his death set a precedent for future presidents and the way in which future assassinations were reported.  Nearly 80 years later, in 1963, JFK was shot and killed by a sniper.  While there had been other presidents shot and killed between Lincoln and JFK, Kennedy’s assassination is arguably the second most notable assassination is US history, as well as being the most recent.  Newspaper headlines read: “KENNEDY ASSASSINATED” and “JFK SLAIN” mere hours after the fatal shooting occurred [10].  As the country distances itself from both of these tragedies, vernacular myths have begun circulating concerning uncanny coincidences between the first and last assassination in US Presidential history.  For example, both Lincoln and Kennedy were concerned with Civil Rights, both lost children while living in the White House, both were shot on a Friday, and both names have seven letters [11]. Vernacular memory has allowed these myths to persist, and today countless websites are dedicated to dissecting the similarities between these two mens’ deaths.  The significance of the connection of these two men is profound.  Not only has the assassination of Lincoln persisted in the official, dominant memory of the country, it has permeated the vernacular and mythic memory and become the standard to which future assassinations will be held in the way they are covered on the news and remembered in memorialization.

Sources:

[1] http://www.history.com/topics/9-11-timeline

[2] http://www.newseum.org/exhibits/current/president-lincoln-is-dead/

[3] http://www.thewardrobeworkshop.com/2011/05/rolling-thunder-memorial-day-sarah-palin-dressing-the-part/

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/2015/02/12/d865c35c-ae21-11e4-abe8-e1ef60ca26de_story.html

Washington Post as a source for the timeline and details of each edition.

[5] http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth234935/m1/1/

[6] http://flashbackdallas.com/2014/04/14/lincoln-assassination/

[7] http://www.historicpages.com/lincfake.htm

[8] http://www.historybuff.com/library/reflinclast.html

[9] Barbie Zelizer, “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-39.

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/22/john-f-kennedy-front-pages-newspapers-day-killed-assassination_n_4283342.html

[11] http://www.snopes.com/history/american/lincoln-kennedy.asp

 

 

 

 

One thought on “150th Anniversary Commemoration at the Newsuem

  1. Caroline Weber

    This is a very interesting post about how Lincoln is being remembered in the DC area. I am from southern Maryland and have been to the Newseum numerous times. I always like how they have exhibits that fit with today’s current events and I am excited to check this out when I return home! I think it’s neat how it gives the viewer a snapshot into how news spread during that time, since it is so different from the way in which we gather news today.

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