East Troy letter tells another story of Lincoln
EAST TROY The letter, written April 15, 1865--the day after President Abraham Lincoln died--seems to be a first-hand account of a Union soldier patrolling with his troop in Alexandria, Va., trying to maintain peace among rowdy crowds in the city.
While many shocked Americans wept and mourned the news of Lincoln's death, some Southerners who blamed Lincoln for the death and destruction of the Civil War were jubilantly celebrating the president's assassination--and those were the riots the Union soldier wrote about.
The letter was donated to the East Troy Area Historical Society late last fall by local resident Maxine McGuire, who found it some 70 years ago, tucked between the slats of a barn on Main Street in East Troy.
She'd kept it all that time, sensing its importance, even taking it to show-and-tell at her elementary school.
"It's certainly among our top acquisitions," said Dan Richardson, vice president of the East Troy Area Historical Society.
Richardson said the society contacted the PBS program "History Detectives," hoping to authenticate the letter writer as an actual Union soldier. They haven't gotten a response yet, he said.
The society is also trying to determine if the letter's recipient was an East Troy resident.
A former high school history teacher for 34 years in East Troy, Richardson said much like the recent film "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis, the letter reveals another dimension to Lincoln's presidency.
Richardson was surprised to learn that the much-revered president was so hated by some Southerners that they would rejoice over his death and think John Wilkes Booth more of a hero.
"It's one of those things where you can't know all the details surrounding Lincoln, but this gives you an idea," he said.
Judy Mitten, East Troy Area Historical Society's president, said the letter details the intense Southern reactions to Lincoln's death through the eyes of the Union soldier.
"He wrote, 'we're even arresting women,'" Mitten said. "That would have been so unusual for the times."
Mitten said she still gets chills talking about the letter.
She's grateful to McGuire for keeping it safe throughout the years--although the elementary school teacher at McGuire's show-and-tell put tape on the letter when she thought it was falling apart--a no-no for antiquities, according to many experts.
Visitors to the Kubicki Museum and Heritage Center, 2106 Church St., East Troy, can see the letter in the museum archives during regular museum hours from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, or by appointment. Call (262) 642-2642 for more information.
Richardson encourages people to see other letters from early pioneers to Walworth County in the museum collection, as well as the collection of letters written during the Civil War, housed at the Walworth County Historical Society.
"They're fascinating accounts," he said.