On anniversary of Lincoln’s death, Grand Haven links to historic tragedy

Apr 15, 2011


Resident William H. Fallon, who worked for the weather bureau in Grand Haven, was in Ford’s Theater on the night the president was assassinated. Age 9 at the time, Fallon’s father worked as the business manager for the Daily Morning Chronicle in D.C. at the time. They went to see the play “Our American Cousin” that evening.

“Not until some minutes after Lincoln was shot did the audience learn of the terrible affair,” Fallon recalled in a May 31, 1907, interview with the Grand Haven Tribune. “When they did, consternation developed, which almost turned into panic.”

Ironically, the Fallons were also neighbors of Mary Surratt, who was named a co-conspirator in the plot to assassinate the president. The Fallons lived in the house immediately adjoining Surratt’s boarding house, which is the location where the plot to assassinate Lincoln originated.

“Mrs. Surratt suffered execution for her part in the plot,” Fallon told the Tribune.

Dr. Arend Vander Veen of Grand Haven was a witness to that execution. His vacant white house at 508 Washington Ave., across from Grand Haven City Hall, still stands today.

Vander Veen, a surgeon for the Union Army at the time, witnessed the execution of Lincoln’s assassination conspirators on July 7, 1865. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt were all hanged in the Capitol prison yard. According to Vander  Veen’s diary, the opportunity to see the event resulted from the fact that he was sent to Washington to perform guard duty that day.

The official wreath placed on President Lincoln’s coffin was owned by Grand Haven’s Thomas White Ferry, who served as a congressional escort at the funeral. The wreath still exists today and tours the nation with a replica of the president’s coffin and other Lincoln artifacts.

In the summer of 1910, aging actress Katherine M. Evans stayed with the Lyman Twins musical vaudeville comedy act at their summer home in Spring Lake. While in her late teens, Evans was one of the 17 actors in the “Our American Cousin” cast during the performance on the night of Lincoln’s assassination.

Evans told the Tribune she “usually didn’t play summer engagements,” but that she had been persuaded by the twins to “come over to Grand Haven.” Howard and Herbert Lyman, brothers born in Grand Haven, enjoyed national success on stage from 1897 to 1911. Evans, who starred as a character actress in their plays, appeared with them at the outdoor Air Dome theater in Grand Haven that July.

“Laura Keene, a favorite of Lincoln, and the star of the piece, was on stage alone when Booth, stepping behind the president, fired the cowardly shot,” Evans told the Tribune in an interview recalling that fatal evening. “And then, leaping, (Booth) caught his spurs in the drapery, which landed him sprawling behind her on the stage.”

History records that Lincoln did not win Ottawa County in his re-election bid of 1864. But it would be the last time a Democrat running for the office of president did not carry the county. Lincoln won Michigan, as well as regaining the White House — but George McClellan, a former Civil War general, won Ottawa County with 1,536 votes to Lincoln’s 1,345.

Some Lincoln artifacts are on display at the Lakeshore Bed and Breakfast in Grand Haven Township. There is a commemorative Ford’s Theater playbill for “Our American Cousin” printed in 1865 and locks of Lincoln’s hair, which are said to be taken from his head on the night he was assassinated.

— By Kevin Collier


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