When Lincoln dies

Ronda Rich's picture

[Editor’s note: This is third in a three-part series.]

Charlie Tinker, according to his diary, was feeling poorly on the morning of April 15, 1865. He had left the office on April 12, gone home and to bed. A doctor visited and said he must stay in bed since he had an intermittent fever.

Sadly, that sickness would confine him to bed for the next two days, meaning that the last he would see of his good friend, Abraham Lincoln, was when the President had comically frolicked out of the telegraph office on the 11th.

“The maid came into my room and said she had heard on the street that President Lincoln and Secretary Seward had been killed at 5 o’clock that morning,” Charlie wrote. He dismissed it as idle talk until his wife, Miss Lizzie, returned from the market and said she had heard a similar story.

Isn’t it amazing to think of a time when the assassination of a president was spread via word of mouth and newspapers?

Charlie hurriedly dressed, “swallowed” his breakfast and headed to his office at the War Department. On his way, he saw people on the streets excitedly discussing “matters of apparent interest.”

Let me pause here to point out two differences between Tink’s family and mine: First, none of my people ever had a maid. Second, unlike the discreet Tinkers, we would not have minded our own business. We would have stopped on the street and asked, “What’s goin’ on?”

This goes without pointing out the biggest difference here: Tink’s people won the war. My people were forced, after a heart-spent effort, to tuck tail and go home.

In front of Secretary Seward’s house were guards. One informed Charlie that the President was dead (Seward had been seriously injured in an attack but would live). At the White House, “I met our porter John Bailey coming from the office from whom I learned that President Lincoln had been assassinated in Ford’s Theater about 10 o’clock last night by John Wilkes Booth, an actor.”

Charlie goes on to accurately detail the events that are historically recorded. Like the Tinkers I know, he did not embellish. He stuck to the facts and nary a fact was incorrect.

Now, my family? We’re loathe to stick strictly to the facts because we always think they sound better prettied up.

“Our office feels most mournful,” he wrote of that day. “We had learned to look upon him in his daily visits as a companion while we venerated him for his goodness as a father. We had no heart for work, bitter tears flooding every eye and grief choking every utterance.”

Just an aside here: My people would have been weeping, wailing and gnashing teeth. We are unrestrained for we believe in a good, hearty show of grief. Tink’s people are more dignified. I already knew that our families didn’t have a lot in common but Charlie’s diaries underscore that.

April 18: “The remains of Abraham Lincoln lie in state at the White House. I took Lizzie at noon and we saw him in the East Room.”

The Tinkers, as befitting their relationship to the President, were seated near the front at his funeral.

Charlie Tinker celebrated the memory of his good friend for the rest of his life. He named his son Arthur Lincoln Tinker and spent the rest of his long life participating in history events about Lincoln’s presidency and endowing his legacy in any way possible.

After his service in Washington, Charlie moved his family to Brooklyn, New York where, as typical of most New England descendants of the Mayflower, he was heavily involved in community and was chairman of the deacons of the Washington Avenue Baptist Church.

“Hey, Tink,” I said as I pulled out a program from a deacons’ supper meeting that Charlie had organized. “I have finally found something we have in common.”

My great-great grandfather was a Baptist, too.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.]

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