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Preview of Lincoln’s Final Hours by Kathryn Canavan

On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died from a gunshot wound inflicted by John Wilkes Booth the night before. Most of us know how the general story goes—Lincoln and his wife, Mary, were attending a show at Ford’s Theatre when Booth pulled the trigger and ran out of the building. However, most of us aren’t intimately familiar with the play-by-play of events leading up to and following the moment in which Lincoln was fatally shot. What were these smaller details of Lincoln’s final hours?

UPK author Kathryn Canavan supplies them in the forthcoming title Lincoln’s Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of America’s Greatest President. For your reading pleasure, below is Chapter 10, “Booth’s End Game,” in which the Lincolns enter the theatre to much fanfare.

When the green Lincoln carriage pulled up at Ford’s, footman Charles Forbes swung down to the wooden carriage platform. He tugged at the door handle, causing a set of steps to spring forward. Fred Petersen watched from the other side of the street as Mr. Lincoln and Mary alighted first, then Miss Harris and Major Rathbone. There’s no way of knowing whether neighbors on either side of Petersen’s boardinghouse were also watching. The owners of both houses, like many of the actors and musicians at Ford’s, were reportedly secesh.

When the two couples walked through the fourth arched door at around nine p.m., the play was already in progress. The gilt braid and buttons of the army and navy filled the seats. Veterans of almost every major skirmish had come to Ford’s to celebrate with President Lincoln and General Grant. As he walked past the lobby clock and ascended the stairs to the dress circle, Mr. Lincoln carried his size 7⅛ black silk top hat, made by local haberdasher J. Y. Davis, the one with the thin silk mourning band buckled over the standard hat band in remembrance of eleven-year-old Willie. If the president put a hand in the pocket of his Brooks Brothers suit as he walked up the stairs, his fingers might have brushed any one of nine items he was carrying, including his ivory-handled pocketknife, an oversized monogrammed handkerchief, his soft brown leather wallet with a five-dollar Confederate note and nine newspaper clippings inside, and two pair of eyeglasses, one mended with a piece of string. Mr. Lincoln had been wearing reading glasses for almost eight years. He was forty-eight when he bought his first pair at a jewelry store for 37½ cents. Mrs. Lincoln, whose cataracts may have already been affecting her sight, carried the small black leather case that held her opera glasses.

Led by sixteen-year-old doorman Edmund Schreiner, the foursome probably crossed the dress circle as quietly as possible, but their arrival might have been broadcast by the metal hobnails in the heels of the president’s black leather boots. When the audience members, like dominoes first touching, each became aware that the Lincolns were heading for the presidential box, heads swiveled, and waving and howling broke out in every corner of the building. Then the blare and crash of the orchestra interrupted actress May Hart’s lines. Witnesses disagree whether the full orchestra broke into “Hail to the Chief” or Handel’s more sedate “Hail the Conquering Hero Comes.” Either way, the timbre of the orchestra was fully met by hundreds of war veterans cheering hysterically, letting out their pent-up feelings of admiration for the man who had led them through four harrowing years. With the trumpets still blaring and the drums sounding, Captain Joseph R. Findley thought that surely such a reception was rarely given to any man. Cast members came out from the wings to watch the president. Rows of theatergoers glanced around for General Grant and were disappointed, but nonetheless, the hysteria didn’t stop for five solid minutes.

From his balcony seat, Captain Oliver Gatch noticed that Mr. Lincoln walked slowly, his great body bent forward and his shoulders wearing a noticeable stoop. His high silk hat was in his left hand. In response to the deafening ovation coming from every part of the house, the president smiled a sad smile. His delighted wife curtsied several times.

May Hart tried to remember her lines as she stood at the stage’s edge with Laura Keene, staring over the footlights into the dress circle, where the Lincolns, Major Rathbone, and Miss Harris were proceeding to their box. Hart, like Captain Gatch, noticed that Mr. Lincoln’s tall figure was bent, and the sadness on his face seemed out of place on such a gala evening.

The crowd continued its wild cheering as the Lincolns stepped into the box. President Lincoln leaned in front of the lace curtains that screened the box from audience view and acknowledged the applause with a dignified bow, bringing the fanfare to a hush. The president signaled Ned Emerson, who was on stage at that moment, to go on with the play. Then he stepped in back of the curtains and seated himself out of sight. “How sociable it seems, like one family sitting around their parlor fire,” Miss Julia Shepherd thought to herself as she watched from her seat in the dress circle.

At about the same time, Louis Carland walked through the side door from Ford’s to Taltavul’s. The costume maker looked to his right and caught a glimpse of John Wilkes Booth’s back as the actor strolled out the canopied front door. He looked to his left and saw Taltavul wiping the lower end of the bar. He supposed Booth had just finished a drink.

Booth’s fateful end game had begun.

Interested in reading more about the last moments of Lincoln’s life? Then you should be on the lookout for Lincoln’s Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of America’s Greatest President by Kathryn Canavan, coming this fall!

(ADVANCE COPY: Above excerpt may not reflect published text—please check against final copy before quoting from the book.)

The Civil War: What Did the Women Think?

There are a lot of books out there about the Civil War, so it can be hard to know where to start if you want to learn more. If you’re looking for some unique books about the time period, you’ve come to the right place! These three books follow the lives of four women throughout the war by looking at the writings they left behind.

Cover of Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War   Cover of Cecelia and Fanny  Cover of Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary

  • Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire: First published in 1867, McGuire’s diary provides an intimate view of daily life in the South during the war. She wrote about her hardships, past triumphs, and family activities alongside reports of military rumors and life behind the lines of battle. Her actual entries are pretty fascinating, but James I. Robertson provides additional information that helps explain where Judith’s story fits in the wider narrative of the conflict.
  • Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship between an Escaped Slave and Her Former Mistress by Brad Asher: Letters from Fanny Ballard to her escaped former slave, Cecelia, illuminate the friendship these two women maintained throughout the upheaval of the Civil War. Fanny’s family lived in urban Louisville, and her letters provide a rare glimpse into the urban context of slavery and the resulting social atmosphere of the city. It was pretty rare for an escaped slave to become friends with their former owner, and rarer still that letters exist between the two. Another unusual aspect of this book is that it focuses on slavery in an urban context, instead of plantation slavery.
  • Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary by Josie Underwood: The politically prominent Underwood family of Bowling Green, Kentucky, played a vital role in ensuring Kentucky remained in the Union – despite the facts that they disapproved of Lincoln and owned slaves. Twenty years old at the start of the war, Josie details her opposition to the Confederate occupation of her city and her heartbreak that so many friends and family members were on opposite sides. Josie also wrote about her daily life, arguments with her family, and her personal hopes with the future – she was like any young woman today struggling to find her place in the world.

The Civil War section of your bookseller of choice can be intimidating at first, though more options means more chances to find the story you’re looking for. Hopefully these books help you along in your quest for Civil War knowledge!

If you’ve read these three, which one was your favorite? Or, if you haven’t, do you keep a journal for history? Let us know in a comment below!

William H. Mumler: One of Photography’s First Forgers

Ever heard of Spirit Photography? The occupation entails exactly what it implies: the attempt to capture paranormal entities on film. The field has been disregarded completely now, and all of the photographs have pretty much been disproven, but it’s regarded as one of the biggest hoaxes in the early days of photography and one of the first instances of photography forgery. So in honor of the holiday that revels in bamboozlement, let’s take a look at these incredibly fake, but still uncanny, photographs.John_J_Glover

While it is common knowledge now, the idea of double exposing photos was a foreign concept when Spirit Photography came to public’s attention. After taking a self-portrait of himself in the early 1860’s, William H. Mumler (pictured below) discovered the outline of a figure standing behind him.

gm_10226501Mumler thought nothing of it, but the people he showed the photograph thought it resembled the likeness of his deceased cousin. Seeing the opportunity to make a profit, Mumler started his very own Spirit Photography business, operating as a medium for families that lost family members in the Civil War. His charade didn’t last long however; Mumler was brought to trial in 1869 on accounts of fraud. He was dumb enough to get caught by putting the ghostly apparitions of still living residents of Boston in his photographs. Not surprisingly, people started to recognize the “spirits” in their portraits walking down the streets. Mumler’s trial garnered so much attention that the famous P.T. Barnum testified against him, unsuccessfully though. Mumler failed to be found guilty, but his photography business was ruined, leaving him penniless until his death in 1884.   Mumler_(Herrod)

The most famous picture Mumler ever took was of Mary Todd Lincoln actually. Mumler didn’t know it was actually her at the time of photo, as she used the pseudonym at the time of the session. The photograph was widely circulated and is now known to be fake, but it one of the first examples of photography forgery.

Mumler_(Lincoln)Learn about more hoaxes, historical and mythical, from some of our books here.


Kentucky Travels: Top Travel Destinations from My Old Kentucky Road Trip

Are you planning a trip to Kentucky anytime soon? You know, the Derby will be here before you know it. Whether you’re from Kentucky or are traveling here soon, My Old Kentucky Road Trip (a blog, and now a book, coauthored by current staff member, Cameron M. Ludwick and former staff member, Blair Thomas Hess) has a few suggestions for the next time you’re up for some uniquely Kentucky fun!

My Old Kentucky Road Trip

reposted with permissions from; originally published November 17, 2011. Photos courtesy Elliott Hess Photography,

Kentucky was the 15th state to join the Union and the first on the western frontier. High Bridge located near Nicholasville is the highest railroad bridge over navigable water in the United States. Post-It Notes are manufactured exclusively in Cynthiana; the exact number made annually of these popular notes is a trade secret. The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817. Pikeville annually leads the nation in per capita consumption of Pepsi-Cola. Teacher Mary S. Wilson held the first observance of Mother’s Day in Henderson in 1887; it was made a national holiday in 1916. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was the creation of two Louisville sisters in 1893. More than $6 billion worth of gold is held in the underground vaults of Fort Knox; this is the largest amount of gold stored anywhere in the world. Cheeseburgers were first served in 1934 at Kaelin’s restaurant in Louisville. Middlesboro is the only city in the United States built within a meteor crater.

There’s no other place like Kentucky.

©Elliott Hess Photography

In the spirit of the Kentucky Department of Travel’s “There’s Only One” campaign, we’ve put together a short list of some of the “Only One” destinations we’ve visited. We’ve had a great time on our travels so far—we want you to enjoy the Bluegrass State as much as we do!

  1. Lexington is known as the Horse Capital of the World
    OK, we’re a little biased here. We’re both born and raised Lexintonians, and we’ll be the first to tell you there’s no where else in the world like it. The rolling hills of Bluegrass and sweeping fields of thoroughbred horse farms are just the start of its beauty. While you’re there, take a walk through Gratz Park or visit downtown and Cheapside Park. There are tons of great things to do in Lexington
  2. Take to the high seas Ohio River on the Belle
    The Belle of Louisville is a historic steamer docked on the riverfront in downtown Louisville. Take day cruises, dinner cruises or special event cruises. A few years ago, our friends joined us for a special fireworks cruise on the Belle on the Fourth of July. It was a beautiful night of dancing and fireworks.
  3. Take a tour of Bourbon Country
    We road tripped to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. It was a fun an informative day full of good friends and great bourbon. But the Maker’s Mark distillery is just one stop on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. 95 percent of all bourbon is distilled, aged and bottled right here in Kentucky. That makes it a must-see.©Elliott Hess Photography
  4. Hang out with the buffalo in Land Between the Lakes
    Blair has a soft spot for Land Between the Lakes and the bodies of water that surround it (Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley). Her grandparents live in one of the neighboring counties, and she spent countless summers growing up there with her brothers and sister. Enjoy the great food, all of the miniature golf, the lovely resorts along the lake — Lake Barkley State Resort ParkKentucky Lake State ParkPrizer Point, just to name a few — and if you look close enough, you’ll even spot a few buffalo. How very uniquely Kentucky.
  5. Whether to rock climb or to eat some delicious pizza, people come from around the world to see Red River Gorge
    This canyon system on the Red River in east-central Kentucky is about 44 square miles of high sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, waterfalls and rock shelters. ‘The Red’ attracts rock climbers and boulder-ers from around the world to experience the tons of bolted routes in overhanging, pocketed sandstone. When you’re there, be sure to check out Natural Bridge State Park. This natural sandstone bridge spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. And don’t you dare leave without stopping at Miguel’s Pizza in Slade, Kentucky. Some of the best pies we’ve ever tasted.

Check out more of the items from the “There’s Only One Kentucky” list here.

©Elliott Hess Photography

Kentucky Travels: Featuring One of Our Favorite Kentucky Writers

When you live in Kentucky, it’s hard not to be Kentucky proud, and we’ve certainly got a lot to be proud of! Wonderful sports, parks, derby races, food, bourbon—the list goes on. Part of what makes Kentucky so great is the support and love you feel as a community, and today we are sharing one of our favorite Kentucky native authors, Gurney Norman.

Gurney Norman is a professor at the University of Kentucky in the English Department and currently teaches and advises students interested in creative writing. He started out as a student at the University of Kentucky, and, after graduating, moved to California to attend Stanford. Being from a small town in eastern Kentucky has not limited Gurney to one place. As a young writer Gurney traveled across the country, and his experiences have been reflected in his writing throughout the years. Gurney has written numerous books and essays, including Divine Right’s Trip: A Folk-Tale and Kinfolks (“Fat Monroe” was actually made into a short film that you can view here). He also was a contributor to Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes which is published by the University Press of Kentucky. In addition,  Gurney has over 16 awards/honors to his name, including being named Poet Laureate in 2009–2010.

Gurney has left his mark on the hearts of the people of Kentucky through his writing, his teaching, and his storytelling, and we thought he deserved this honorable mention. While corresponding in email with Gurney, we discussed his writing and I decided to ask him the question: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What made you want to pursue a writing career? To which he answered:

“I was fifteen when I actually wrote a complete story. It was a mystery story in which a boy was fighting his ‘evil’ uncle on a narrow footbridge only inches above the raging waters of a river in flood. The man was his uncle-by-marriage. The aunt was out of the picture, suggesting that the man had murdered her. The bridge might be swept away at any moment but the boy and man kept on fighting. I can’t remember the boy’s name. My later stories featured a boy named Andrew. In this first story I imagined the boy to be about twelve years old.
Unfortunately I did not write the last page of the story, so it still is not finished. I seem to have lost the manuscript some time in the past sixty years. The story was handwritten, about seven or eight pages.

Interestingly, to me at least, my father had died about a month before I wrote the story. It was not about my father but I was still in a certain mood following my father’s funeral so I do feel a connection between the two events.”

Gurney’s writing heavily involves family and traditions, reflecting his deeply rooted love for Appalachian culture. Being raised in both Virginia and Kentucky, Gurney feels a strong connection to the land and the people of Kentucky and has involved himself in Appalachia his whole life. Even though Gurney has been firmly rooted in the Bluegrass for quite some time now, this did not keep him from spending time out west or joining the U.S. Army.

If there is one thing we can learn from Gurney, it’s to remember where we came frombut to not forget to travel, explore, and grow. As Kentuckians we should always be proud of where we come from, and we can show this by traveling and cultivating ourselves in the outside world and through our writing and creative outlets. Kentucky is a wonderful place. Let us show the world how great it truly is.


Crane Giveaway!

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It’s the first day of Spring! To celebrate this momentous occasion and hopefully banish the cold weather for good, we are having a book giveaway! Remember Colonel Hogan from Hogan’s Heroes? Well we have an entire book discussing his life from his start on public radio to his untimely death.

On June 29, 1978, Bob Crane, known to Hogan’s Heroes fans as Colonel Hogan, was discovered brutally murdered in his Scottsdale, Arizona, apartment. His eldest son, Robert Crane, was called to the crime scene. In this poignant memoir, Robert Crane discusses that terrible day and how he has lived with the unsolved murder of his father. But this storyline is just one thread in his tale of growing up in Los Angeles, his struggles to reconcile the good and sordid sides of his celebrity father, and his own fascinating life.

For your chance to win a free copy of this exciting and well-written book, click here!

To learn more about Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved murder, click here!

Happy National Poultry Day!


Following the theme of yesterday’s blog post about random holidays, we thought we would share one that is sure to be near and dear to every Kentuckian’s heart: National Poultry Day! From Colonel Sanders to the World Chicken Festival, its no secret that the folks of the commonwealth love their yard birds. To celebrate this unique holiday, we wanted share the history of a native Kentucky chef!

Kentucky’s Cookbook Heritage by John VanWilligen highlights the life of Thelma Clay Linton of Harrodsburg, KY, who was a respected caterer and an important leader in the business, social services, and religious communities. Linton lived to the ripe old age of 101. Susanna Thomas’s introductory essay states, “In our town of Harrodsburg in Mercer County, Kentucky, Thelma Clay Linton is an institution, revered for her outstanding country cuisine and her remarkable character”. Here is her recipe for fried chicken pulled from her cookbook, Thelma’s Treasures: The Secret Recipes of the Best Cook in Harrodsburg:

Fried Chicken (1992)


Puritan oil


Put the chicken pieces in a big pot of water. Add two tablespoons of salt for every one chicken that you use. Soak the chicken in the salty water overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, drain off the water, pat the chicken pieces dry.

Mix the flour (enough to coat all of the chicken) with the pepper and the paprika and a little bit of salt to taste. Coat each piece of chicken with this mixture.

In an iron skillet, add the Puritan oil and cook it until it sizzles. The grease should be even up with the chicken. Then add a few pieces of chicken and turn down the heat to medium. Cook the chicken a half hour or so on one side and flip it and cook it a half hour on the other
side until it is evenly browned. Remove the pieces from the pan as they are done and drain them on a paper towel.

To learn more about Kentucky cookbooks, recipes, and chefs, check out Kentucky’s Cookbook Heritage by John Van Willigen on our website!