April 14, 2010
April 29, 1865, half-page engraving in Harper’s Weekly of John Wilkes Booth’s escape after shooting President Lincoln. (Newseum collection)

April 29, 1865, half-page engraving in Harper’s Weekly of John Wilkes Booth’s escape after shooting President Lincoln. (Newseum collection)

145 Years Ago in News History: President Lincoln Was Shot!

On the night of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, his wife and two guests visited Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., to attend a performance of the play "Our American Cousin."

At approximately 10:15 p.m., actor John Wilkes Booth slipped into the presidential state box, pulled out a derringer pistol and shot the president in the back of the head at point-blank range. Booth and his co-conspirators believed the deaths of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward, would unsettle the Union and resurge the Confederacy.

Associated Press correspondent Lawrence Gobright was in his Washington office that Good Friday when he received the news that Lincoln had been shot. Gobright scooped the story, telegraphing the first report to AP's New York headquarters.

"To the Associated Press: The president was shot in a theatre tonight and perhaps mortally wounded."

Gobright then hurried to Ford's Theatre to do first-person reporting.

The story of Lincoln's shooting appeared in newspaper "Extras" by morning. The New York Herald issued numerous editions on April 15, informing the public of Lincoln's rapidly deteriorating condition. Six versions of these editions are part of the Newseum's permanent collection of historic newspapers, including a rare, four-page "Extra" that told of Lincoln's demise at 8:45 a.m. — more than an hour earlier than other editions.

Lincoln's assassination marked an unusual convergence of history, technology and journalistic innovation that resulted in unprecedented coverage of the breaking news event. The Civil War marked the first time that large numbers of independent reporters covered the same story. The telegraph allowed newspapers to update editions as bulletins arrived — the first time that extra editions were published in such rapid succession for such an extended period.

Photographer Alexander Gardner chronicled the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination, including the executions of four conspirators. But his work appeared only as engravings. The technology enabling newspapers to reproduce photographs would not be available for several more years.

The story of Lincoln's assassination and the rare edition of the Herald are on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery. The exhibit "Manhunt: Chasing Lincoln's Killer" is on display through May 2, 2010.

Related Links:
News of Lincoln's Death Reported in Rare Edition
John Wilkes Booth Slept Here: The History of the Newseum Site
'O Moody, Tearful Night!:' The Lincoln Assassination in Memory and Myth
Inside Media: Chasing Lincoln's Killer

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