The Dark, Bloody Morning Lincoln Died
Rain fell upon the mourning crowds that gathered in the streets on the morning that Washington learned that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated the night before.
Fred Petersen found his father sound asleep in his tailor shop. Soon they were heading home on the wet clay streets, a cold mist enveloping them as they walked. By the time they returned, [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton had thrown open the death room windows to let in some fresh air. The president’s face was cold as stone, and the blackness had spread beyond the eyes to the forehead. That wasn’t what threw William Petersen off, though.
When Petersen’s eyes fell on the stinking piles of bloody bandages and leaking mustard plasters, he became unglued. The heaps of medical refuse loomed large in the narrow hallway. The boardinghouse owner stormed into the death room and rudely grabbed the stained top pillow out from under the dead president’s head, terrifying the Ulke brothers. Raising the thick window blinds, he tossed the pillow, possibly still wet with Mr. Lincoln’s blood, out onto the fieldstone courtyard two stories below. As soon as he came to his senses, Petersen loudly explained that his house was a mess, full of blood and mud and unwashed basins. Before the president was buried, Petersen would try to bill the federal government for every single thing he had provided for the president’s makeshift hospital. Even, falsely, for his own time.
Dr. Leale gently smoothed the president’s contracted facial muscles. He moved the fallen jaw upward and knotted the handkerchief to hold it in place. He said he took two silver dollars from his pocket to cover the eyelids, although other men have also claimed they were the ones who placed the 1854 and 1861 coins on President Lincoln’s face. When the coins were in place, Leale drew a white sheet up over the martyr’s face. The doctor had not been seated once since he sprang from his cane-bottomed chair at Ford’s. He was tired and sad, and his shirt was stained with the president’s blood. He left Petersen’s house in a contemplative mood, but he was shocked back to reality by the cold rain dropping on his bare head. He realized he had left his hat inside the theater.