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What You Didn't Know About the Lincoln Assassination

I'm reading Assassination Vacation right now, a book by Sarah Vowell about her trips across America to visit destinations involved with Presidential assassinations. My description doesn't do it justice, because it's fabulously funny and interesting all at the same time. This type of thing is right up my alley, anyway. A group of us are headed to Chicago for Lollapalooza in August and I'm already plotting out things I want to see on the road trip there "“ Al Capone's grave in Hillside, Ill., for one. I just wrote a post about gangsters for Neatorama and it has my curiosity up.

The thing about this book is that I've learned so much about history that I didn't learn in school "“ at least, I don't remember learning it in school. I suppose it's entirely plausible that I was taught it and either didn't retain it or was too busy writing notes to care about the Lincoln assassination plot. Anyway, I thought I'd share some of what I've learned so far.

The Lincoln Administration Assassination?

If everything went as planned, it wouldn't have been just the Lincoln Assassination "“ it would have been the Lincoln Administration Assassination. At the same time John Wilkes Booth was offing Lincoln, two accomplices were supposed to be doing the same to Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Booth thought he could also kill General U.S. Grant, who was supposed to have been attending Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater with the Lincolns. Johnson's assassin chickened out and didn't even attempt; the Seward attempt was unsuccessful. He was stabbed a number of times but survived. U.S. and Julia Grant declined the Lincoln's invitation, so Henry Rathbone and his fiancee Clara Harris went in their place. Rathbone was a military officer and Harris was the daughter of U.S. Senator Ira Harris. In a weird side note, Rathbone's mother married Harris' father, making them step-siblings as well as husband and wife when they eventually tied the knot.

The Kidnapping Plot

jw-booth.jpgActually, before it was an assassination plot, it was a kidnapping plot. Booth wanted to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for Southern Prisoners of War. In 1865, Booth spent about $4,000 of his own money to arrange the kidnapping. There are couple of reasons why the plot failed. At one point, Booth was lying in wait to kidnap Lincoln, but he didn't show up at the right time. Then, a couple of days after Robert E. Lee surrendered, Booth was in attendance when Lincoln gave a speech about giving black people the right to vote. Infuriated, Booth decided a mere kidnap attempt wouldn't do "“ assassination was the only answer.

His Name is Mudd

muddPeople will still debate this point today "“ did Dr. Samuel Mudd have a part in the assassination, or was he merely a doctor doing his duty? Here's the story: After shooting Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth jumped off the balcony to escape. The spur of his boot got caught in the flag hanging on the balcony and he fell to the stage rather ungracefully, breaking his leg.

He somehow managed to escape on horseback anyway, and went to Dr. Mudd's house in southern Maryland on his way to Virginia. Mudd set Booth's leg and even had a carpenter make him a pair of crutches. Mudd never contacted authorities, not even when he went to town the next day and saw the news of Lincoln's assassination (if he had not heard of it before then). A couple days later, he finally asked his cousin to tell the Cavalry what happened. Mudd was questioned and didn't tell the whole truth, thus making him suspicious. He said he had met Booth before, but only once, and only coincidentally. The truth was, the pair had met at least twice before the fateful night in April when Mudd fixed Booth's leg. The first time, Booth was scouting out the area "for real estate" and was introduced to Mudd. Some people believe he was there to recruit Mudd in the assassination plot. The second time, Booth, Mudd, and two other men who had roles in the murder had drinks together in Washington. Mudd accidentally (or not) forgot to mention the second meeting.

Mudd was convicted for being part of the conspiracy to murder Lincoln, and he served nearly four years at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, about 70 miles from Key West. After one escape attempt, Mudd was an outstanding prisoner who saved the lives of many inmates when Yellow Fever broke out at the Fort in 1867. When prison doctor died, Mudd took over his duties.

Both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan wrote letters to the Mudd family during their administrations stating that Samuel Mudd had only been performing his duties as a doctor, and was clear of all suspicion.

John Wilkes Booth's Mummy

booth mummy
Most people believe that John Wilkes Booth died when soldiers caught up to him at the Garrett Farm in Virginia. When Booth refused to surrender, the barn he was hiding in was set on fire, and Booth was fatally shot in the neck. I guess the soldiers wanted to cover their bases. But of course, some people believe it wasn't really Booth in the barn. Supposedly, Booth escaped, and a look-alike died in his place. Here's how that story came about: In the 1870s, a man named Finis Bates became friends with a man named John St. Helen. St. Helen became very ill and thought he was on his deathbed. He confessed to Bates that he was John Wilkes Booth. St. Helen recovered and denied ever saying it, then skipped town. Then, roughly 30 years later, a man named David E. George died and had confessed to someone else that he was John Wilkes Booth. Bates traveled to Enid, Oklahoma, where George had died, to see if it was the same man he knew as John St. Helen. It was. The body was mummified, sold and toured for a while, including at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Its whereabouts today are unknown.

The Robert Todd Lincoln Curse

RTRobert Todd Lincoln might have been the kiss of death for Presidents. He wasn't actually at Ford's Theater when his father was shot, although he was invited to go. He was informed that the elder Lincoln had been shot and made it to his deathbed. A little more than 16 years later, in 1881, President James A. Garfield invited Robert Todd (Garfield's Secretary of War) to accompany him to his alma mater, Williams College, to give a speech. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau at the train station on his way to the speech, with Robert Todd standing right there. Fast-forward another 20 years and you'll find Robert Todd at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y. You know who else was there? President McKinley and his assassin, Leon F. Czolgosz. Although Robert Todd didn't witness the shooting, he was definitely present when it happened. In Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell says that when Robert Todd was asked to attend some White House function later in life, he declined and grumbled, "If only they knew, they wouldn't want me there."

A few other tidbits about the Lincoln Assassination:

"¢ Later in life, Henry Rathbone lost his mind and tried to kill himself. Although that attempt failed, he succeeding in shooting his wife, Clara, before stabbing her to death. He went after his kids, too, but that didn't pan out. His son, Henry Riggs Rathbone, later represented Illinois in the U.S. Congress.

"¢ Like Robert Todd Lincoln, maybe Ford's Theater was cursed. The government bought the theater from owner John Ford, then gutted it to create an office building. In 1893, the inner structure of the building collapsed and killed 22 people. The building was then used as a warehouse for a bit, and then remained empty until it was reconstructed to look like the original theater. It reopened in 1968.

"¢ You can find one of John Wilkes Booth's legacies in Central Park. Well, a legacy of sorts. On November 25, 1864, Booth performed Julius Caesar with his two brothers at the Winter Garden Theater in New York. Proceeds from the play went to buy a statue of Shakespeare for Central Park, and it's still there today.
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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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