Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Baker, Booth, and Lincoln

The assassination of President Lincoln, two madmen, a stuffed horse named Buckskin and the largest manhunt in U.S. history led by a man from Lansing, Michigan will be the focus of April programs hosted by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.

In April 2015, the Historical Society will sponsor 11 events and programs that commemorate this tragic time in U.S. history, said President Valerie Marvin.

“General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox only five days prior to when the madman assassin John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln,” Marvin said.

“The North went from celebrating their victory with shouts of joy to tears of grief for their slain leader within only days.  Interestingly, Lincoln was shot on Good Friday, elevating the symbolic nature of his death."

The unthinkable act would trigger a 12 day manhunt for the assassin when Col. Lafayette C. Baker, formerly of the Lansing area and head of the fledgling Secret Service, called on his cousin Lieutenant Luther Byron Baker, who later moved to Lansing, to accompany 26 members of the 16th New York Cavalry in pursuit of Booth.

Among the troop was another madman, Sgt. Boston Corbett, who would shoot and kill Booth, explicitly against the orders he had been given, on April 25 in a barn in Virginia ending the search for the assassin.

Luther Baker, along with his horse Buckskin, would move to Lansing where he would settle and buy real estate with his share of the reward money.

Later in his life, Luther Baker would go on a lecture circuit often accompanied by his horse, Buckskin.

On April 26, 150 after the capture and death of Booth, historian and national expert on the manhunt, Steve Miller of the Chicago area will describe the fateful manhunt, the actions of the 16th New York volunteers and the Bakers’ role in the capture and burial of Booth.

Throughout the month of April there will be events featuring authors, historians, walking tours, a Medal of Honor recipient and a look at the State’s Civil War flags.

Marvin said more than 90,000 men from Michigan went off to fight in the Civil War; serving with distinction in some of the most important battles of the war.

“The toll was incredible with 14,753 men making the ultimate sacrifice,” she said.

“And a Michigan man, Luther Baker, would lead the final act, ultimately becoming a national hero along the way,” Marvin said.

She said after the war, Luther Baker and his horse Buckskin often led Decoration (Memorial) Day parades and later Buckskin was stuffed and displayed at MSU where he became a favorite with local children until he disintegrated. 

Author Scott Martelle will describe why Corbett was a madman at a discussion and signing of his book “A Look at Boston Corbett, the Man Who Killed Booth,” Friday, April 3, 7 p.m. at Schuler Books in Okemos.

Then on Thursday, April 9, 7 p.m. at the East Lansing Public Library Thomas Mudd, a descendant of the enigmatic Dr. Samuel Mudd, will detail his ancestor’s relationship with John Wilkes Booth.  (Dr. Mudd tended Booth as he fled from Ford's Theatre, treating injuries sustained during the assassination.)  

On Saturday, April 11, 2 p.m. the Library of Michigan and the Historical Society of Greater Lansing will present a dramatic reading of the love letters sent by Union soldier Nathan Adams to his wife-to-be, Emily Parsons. Erik Nelson, owner of the English Inn and Kristin Nelson, his spouse, will bring these letters of battle and love to life more than 150 years after they were written. The Library of Michigan will showcase other rare Civil War items in its Rare Book Room and the Michigan Historical Museum’s Civil War exhibit will be open.

Lansing resident and Lincoln assassination expert Rick Brown will present a special program, “Michigan’s Connection to the Aftermath of the Lincoln Assassination” Thursday, April 16, 7 p.m. at the downtown branch of the Capital Area District Library.

Brown has been collecting material related to the Lincoln assassination since he was in junior high school in 1965 when he bought an April 28, 1865 newspaper detailing the capture of Booth.

“The reason I selected the newspaper was it was exactly 100 years old. Little did I know at the time that this one small incident would turn to a lifetime avocation,” Brown said.

Brown, who has become a national expert on the assassination, has collected thousands of items directly relating to the assassination including diaries, broadsides, engravings, wanted posters, original souvenirs, photographs and more than 200 original newspapers, both Union and Confederate, about the assassination and its aftermath.

In addition to his presentation Brown will showcase his Travelling Lincoln Assassination Museum at the East Lansing Library, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., April 7, 8 and 9. The exhibit, containing more than 30 rare items, will then move to the downtown branch of the Capital Area District Library for three days, April 14, 15 and 16. (Lincoln died from his wounds on April 15).

The weekend of April 24, 25 and 26 there will be five events recognizing one of the most important times in American history. On Friday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. the first-ever walking tour of the Michigan State Capitol grounds will be conducted focusing on Civil War era memorials. 

On Saturday, April 25 at 1 p.m. will be a tour and talk of Mount Hope Cemetery featuring the graves of Civil War veterans including Luther Byron Baker, Charles Foster, the first man from Lansing to volunteer for the Civil War, one African American member of the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Regiment (of the movie “Glory” fame) and a special recognition of Lansing’s only Civil War era Medal of Honor recipient Dr. George E. Ranney.

Marvin said “We are so honored to have Duane Dewey, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War, who will lay a wreath at the grave of Ranney. ”

Dewey, one of two living Michigan Medal of Honor recipients, will be escorted by the Seventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry Co. reenactors and the Sons of Union Veteran of the Civil War. On the evening of Saturday, April 26 at Dart Auditorium Steven Miller will present his signature lecture on the manhunt at 4 p.m.

The month’s activities will culminate with two programs on Sunday, April 26 at the State Historical Museum in downtown Lansing. At 1:15 pm, Dr. Helen Veit, noted food author and MSU Professor of History, will speak on the food of the Civil War. Veit has written two books on food in the Civil War era (North and South) and her books will be for sale at the event.

At 2:30 p.m. Matt VanAcker, Director of the Michigan Capitol Tour and Information Service and co-chair of the Capitol's Save the Flags project will take visitors for a behind the scenes look at Michigan Civil War flags.

Marvin said the flag program is a fitting final tribute to the end of the Society’s tribute to the 2, 000 Ingham County men who fought in the Civil War.

“Flags stirred emotion, patriotism, and loyalty in the men like no other symbols.  Countless men sacrificed their lives so that the colors might stand."

“By the end of the war, the flags were sacred relics to the men who served under them, physical proof of their heroism and bloodshed.  One of the reasons our current Capitol was built was to serve as a proper home to our Michigan Civil War battle flags."

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing is also publishing for the first time in print the actual lecture that Luther Byron Baker used on his speaking tours. Local historian Craig Whitford has written an introduction explaining the importance of the lecture and provided a variety of photographs and lithographs which illustrate the 48 page book.  The book will be for sale at the Civil War events, at Schulers and at Historical Society events throughout the year.

In addition, the Historical Society’s new exhibit Lansing Goes to War featuring more than 150 iconic objects from the Civil War to the First Gulf War will be open 8 am-5 pm during the week and at 5 pm- 6:30 pm the evening of Friday, April 24.

The Michigan Historical Museum’s exhibit “Conceived in Liberty” on the end of the Civil War featuring several items relating to Luther Byron Baker will be open during normal museum hours.

For a more complete listing of events, please click on the When Johnny Comes Marching Home tab at the top of this page.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Letters From my Father, A World War I Mechanic

Letters From My Father, A World War I Mechanic
by Mary Jane McClintock Wilson
Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 7:00 pm 
Lansing City Hall - 124 W. Michigan Ave.

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing is hosting a program on the "Letters from My Father: A World War I Mechanic" at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 26 in the lobby of Lansing City Hall.  Mary Jane Wilson, the daughter of Freeman "Mac" McClintock, will discuss and read from the letters her father sent home during World War I.  McClintock was hand-picked for his skills as an auto mechanic; especially the repair and maintenance of WWI ambulances.

He was one of dozens of mechanics recruited mostly in the Detroit area where the burgeoning auto industry was running full tilt.  By the end of the war he was assigned the prestigious position as auto mechanic in Paris and given the responsibility of keeping the cars of President Wilson and General Pershing running while they were attending the Versailles Peace Treaty talks.

At the end of the war he returned to Michigan and at various times owned Packard and Cadillac dealerships in Lansing.  His McClintock Cadillac, now Capitol Cadillac, was located for many years at 2400 East Michigan Ave.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lansing Goes to War Exhibit

Lansing Goes to War Exhibit 
Lansing City Hall - 124 W. Michigan Ave.
Monday - Friday, Thru June 30
7:30 am - 6:00 pm, Daily

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing's newest popup exhibit "Lansing Goes to War", a collection of more than 150 artifacts and ephemera from the Civil War to the Spanish American War and from World War I to World War II and to the First Gulf War, is now open and available for viewing at Lansing City Hall.

 "The current exhibit showcases how war changes all aspects of our life, forever," she said.  "We wanted to express the concept that, once a generation, people in Lansing have sent family members off to war.  The exhibit looks at the time when women worked in factories or were sent overseas as nurses and families received sober telegrams starting with "We regret to inform you...."'

The exhibit includes uniforms, medals for bravery and other mementos from Lansing families, she said.  "We wanted to focus on the things they carried and the things they wore," Marvin said. 

The exhibit also contains items from the home front including the first tank shell manufactured by Oldsmobile.  Numerous items from the Civil War including the Grand Army of the Republic Medals also will be on display.   

Another highlight includes items and letters from Freeman 'Mac' McClintock who was an auto mechanic in World War I and would service ambulances across the French countryside.  At the end of the war he ended up in Paris servicing the cars of General Pershing and President Wilson.  He later returned to Lansing and owned several car dealerships including McClintock Cadillac.  His daughter, Mary Jane Wilson, will present a program at 7 pm, Thursday March 26 based on her father's letters from the front.  Following the presentation guests are encouraged to bring their own or relative's letters and read snippets of them which will be recorded.

The exhibit also explores the role women played in the war as nurses and medical professionals, but also gaining their independence by working in wartime factories making everything from bombs to airplane parts.  A banner from the Willow Run Bomber Plant, once owned by the Lansing aviatrix Babe Ruth, a WWII trainer for the Army Air Force, is on display for the first time.

You will also see how the war was integrally involved in every aspect of the home front including ration stamps, MIA bracelets, and the blue stars which families hung in windows to designate a soldier, airman, sailor, or Marine overseas.

One collection showcases how families and warriors kept in touch through Vmail and how they were able to vote from overseas.  There are also items that feature souvenirs set home to family members, especially mothers and wives.  An extensive scrapbook compiled by Joyce Hammond is an endearing record of her sweetheart fighting overseas.  Ron Springer who served in Vietnam loaned what he calls 'the rucksack letter' which he sent home to his parents detailing what he carried into the field on a mission.

Local attorney Eugene 'Gil' Wanger has provided several items from his magic act which he took on the road with an entertainment troupe of college students assembled by Fred Warner.  Amazingly, he kept the rabbit from the 'flat rabbit trick'.

A truly unusual piece of ephemera is one of the original manuscripts used by Luther Baker in speaking engagements describing his role in leading the group which captured John Wilkes Booth.  Following the end of the Civil War Baker moved to Lansing and used the award money to invest in local real estate.  Baker and his horse Buckskin were often seen in parades and at local speaking engagements.

The HSGL will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the capture and death of Booth in a month-long series of lectures and events in April called When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

All items in the exhibit are from local families or collectors of military items.  Special thanks goes to Scott Shattuck of Mason, Ron Springer of Lansing and Craig Whitford of Holt.  Jana Nichols, Carl Kenter, Eaton County Courthouse Square, Tom Plasman, the Baker Family, Jacob McCormick, and the Logan Family, also provided items for the exhibit.

The exhibit will be open through June during normal City Hall hours and it will also be opened on special days and weekends.