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Books: Assassination’s Aftermath

2 minute read

TWENTY DAYS by Dorofhy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt Jr. 312 pages. Harper & Row. $ 11.95.

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one chapter in history that most Americans feel they know by heart. Yet, though it hardly seems possible, this superb big book has found new sources and new perspectives which take on special import in the wake of the assassination in Dallas.

Twenty Days covers the period from the moment Lincoln fell mortally wounded to the time his body was laid to rest at Springfield. Authors Dorothy and Philip Kunhardt are mother and son. Mrs. Kunhardt’s father, the late Frederick Hill Meserve, devoted a lifetime to collecting photographs of Lincoln and his times. This famed collection was left to Mrs. Kunhardt, and she and Son Philip, who is an assistant managing editor of LIFE, spent years writing the text and winnowing out photographs. The result is a book of lively prose and telling pictures that historians will respect and journalists envy.

As Historian Bruce Catton points out in a glowing foreword, the authors have also given a good example of what the raw material of history looks like, for they offer both the pertinent and the bogus. They give the conflicting eyewitness accounts of the President’s murder and the wild rumors that swept Washington, as well as a factual narrative of the events before and after his death. There are not only pictures of Booth’s derringer, the chair Lincoln sat in, the clothes he wore; there are also spurious photographs of Lincoln in death and of mawkish funeral souvenirs.

One picture shows the bedroom where Lincoln died, before it had been put in order. There is a shot of the Lincoln family dog, a yellow mongrel named Fido. The most startling picture of all (see below) proves that John Wilkes Booth and five of his fellow conspirators were present at Lincoln’s second inauguration. Booth, standing on a balcony behind the speaker’s stand, could easily have shot Lincoln as he spoke.

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