Lincoln: The Image

Death of a President

The assassination of President Lincoln was perhaps the most momentous news event of the 19th century. The murderous conspiracy hatched by John Wilkes Booth sent the victorious North spiraling in from the giddy optimism of newly restored peace, to the full despair of mass mourning. Disoriented by events they could only imagine, the public clamored for images of the horrific times unfolding in the nation's capital.

Lincoln died in a boarding house across the street from Ford's Theatre nine hours after the shooting. Though the tiny bedroom could only accommodate a few visitors, artists exaggerated its proportions in order to portray as many famous witnesses as possible. Americans desperately wanted depictions, however inaccurate, that assured them that Lincoln had died in a manner the martyr deserved.

In fact, nothing Abraham Lincoln ever did during his lifetime inspired - or profited - America's printmakers as did his death. In April 1865, graphic depictions of the president's violent murder and dying moments were rushed to the public within days of the traumatic event. "The Martyr President" was thus transformed into a national icon with the same visual impact as the blanket saturation of today's all-news cable TV broadcasting.

These images provide a sample of how Americans were exposed to the death of President Lincoln.