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Library of Congress
Library of Congress

John Wilkes Booth's Three Plots Against Lincoln

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

On this day 152 years ago, John Wilkes Booth entered Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre, raised his Derringer, and shot the president in the back of the head.

It was actually Booth’s third plot against Lincoln. In August 1864, Booth recruited two longtime friends, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen, to help him kidnap the president. The abduction, he reasoned, would force the Union to free certain Confederate prisoners. 

Their first plan, according to Lincoln author David Donald, was to attack Lincoln in his box at Ford’s Theatre on January 18, then tie him up and lower him down from the balcony to make a quick getaway. They didn’t get a chance to test this asinine plan because Lincoln changed his plans at the last minute, opting to stay at home instead of going to the theater on a stormy night.

By Lincoln’s second inauguration in March, Booth was able to get increasingly closer to his target. In fact, he and his would-be accomplices were able to attend the inauguration as personal guests of Senator John Parker Hale’s daughter, Lucy—who also happened to be Booth’s girlfriend. During the day’s events, Booth got close enough to lunge at Lincoln and had to be restrained by police. Though he explained that he had simply stumbled, Booth later mused, “What an excellent chance I had, if I wished, to kill the President on Inauguration day!”

In mid-March, Booth met with six men to discuss the second kidnap attempt, which was to occur while the president would be attending a performance of the play Still Waters Run Deep at a hospital. Again, the men were thwarted when Lincoln decided to stay in town. Though Booth had apparently been considering assassination as an alternative to kidnapping for some time, Lincoln’s April 11 speech pushed him over the edge. After the president voiced his intention to allow educated African Americans and all black veterans to vote, Booth declared that it would be the last speech Lincoln would ever give. Sadly, he was right. After two failed kidnapping attempts, the third time was a charm for John Wilkes Booth.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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