In this War Department episode, Civil War Trust Director of History and Education Garry Adelman travels the country to find artifacts and stories related to Abraham Lincoln’s last days.
History as many of us think of it is a culmination of stories and facts collected between the pages of a dusty book. But for living historians and historical reenactors the story never has a chance to grow old. With each reenactment, the stories are given new life and as a result, their impact spreads each time they’re introduced to modern audiences. In that juxtaposition of the old and new, the Wide Awake Filmmakers and a group of historical reenactors recently gathered at the historic Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm in Olathe, Kansas, to recreate scenes from the final days of Abraham Lincoln.
The day-long filming took place on a chilly morning at the end of March at the 1865 farmhouse and working farm, one of the last public stagecoach stops along the Westport Route. As the group exited their modern transportation, they carried with them the remnants of living history in the form of clothing, hats, shoes and accessories from 150 years ago, all while the outside traffic sped by unaware.
Reawakening the Past
As preparations for shooting began, Abe Lincoln sat quietly as his beard was dyed and trimmed and contour was applied to create deep hollows under his eyes and cheeks. In the next room, his wife, Mary, made final preparations to her costume by consulting a book with pictures of Mary Lincoln during the last days of her husband’s life.
For the reenactors, this was business as usual, but to the casual observer the scene felt a little like stepping into a time warp. In one corner lay a modern guitar next to a spinning wheel and in the next, a reenactor in a wide-brimmed hat passed the time between scenes by checking out his smartphone. Throughout the room, there were conversations regarding the historical accuracy of a costume or scene with debates about everything from the proper length of a Civil War-era ladies fan to the importance of having historically correct pomade-smoothed hair. Minus the high-tech camera recording the action, it really felt like a small peek into a portal of time.
Educating a New Generation
That day, the actors and crew captured Lincoln’s melancholy last moments including the carriage ride taken with his wife the day before the fateful visit to Ford’s Theatre and the final deathbed moments surrounded by his wife and several of the nation’s senators. The culmination of the daylong filming will become part of a joint webisode project between Wide Awake Films and Civil War Trust commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s April 15th death. The Civil War Trust is a charitable organization focused on preserving Civil War battlefields, promoting historical education for the next generation, and heritage tourism.
View The Civil War Trust’s Lincoln’s Last Days here.