Guess who isn’t buried in Lincoln’s Tomb

It turns out that my son is something of a conspiracy theorist. So far, he hasn’t been big on producing evidence for his theories, but when you are four, you just know things. If evidence were such an important thing, somebody probably would have explained to you what evidence is by now. But they haven’t, have they? Case and point.

We were driving past a cemetery the other day when the boy asked, “Daddy, is this the graveyard?”

“Yes. It’s a cemetery.”

“Is this where they buried all the zombies?” He’s big on zombies just now.

“There aren’t any zombies. They’re just people who died.”

“Why can’t we see the people who are buried there?”

“Because they are buried, underground.”

“I know they’re buried, but why do they have those big, square rocks on top of the graves?”

“Those are headstones. They tell you who’s buried there.”

“I think I know who’s buried in there.”

Holding tomb

Lincoln’s first tomb. It was sort of like a waiting area until his fancy tomb was ready.

“Oh, you do? Who?”

“Mr. Lincoln.” The boy has an unusual reverence for Abraham Lincoln. He might have gotten some of this from me, but we can’t be sure at this point.

“He is? Is Mr. Washington buried there too?”

“No. Mr. Washington is buried in a different graveyard, in a different town.”

“I should think he is.”

“You know who else is buried in there?”

“Who?”

Moving Lincoln's coffin

The last of many documented rearrangements of Lincoln’s coffin within his tomb. No pictures were taken when he was secretly moved to one of the cemeteries in our town.

“Mr. Lincoln’s mother.” Sorry, conspiracy buffs, he didn’t specify Nancy or Sarah.

“Really?”

“Yup. She is. You know who else isn’t buried in there?”

“Who?”

“John Booth.”

“I would hope not.”

“Nope. John Booth is buried in a graveyard in China.”

“China?”

Booth cemetery

Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery in 1848. John Wilkes Booth wasn’t buried there then and, according to my son, he’s not buried there now. (Image: Augustus Köllner/Laurent Deroy)

“Yeah, because that’s where he lives now.”

So, apparently, John Wilkes Booth did escape to Asia after all. I had always heard that he fled to India, but the updated story indicates it was China. What makes this new information even more startling is that, by all indications, he is still alive, although buried in a graveyard. That can’t be too comfortable for him, especially at his age.

Sounds like somebody has been watching the History Channel without Daddy again.

Our friend, Mr. Lincoln

About a year ago, someone gave us a book about Abraham Lincoln. The book is for a much older child, but I read some of it to my son anyway. Since then, every time we see Lincoln’s image somewhere, the boy shouts, “Look! It’s Mr. Lincoln!”

My son never refers to the man as Abe Lincoln or President Lincoln. It’s always Mr. Lincoln, which has that perfect blend of the familiar and the respectful that I find so endearing. I now also refer to the 16th president as Mr. Lincoln.

Lincoln life mask in Smithsonian

The Lincoln life mask at the Smithsonian. Even though we both thought it was a little creepy, the boy stopped racing through the museum long enough for us to take a good look.

My son doesn’t really know who Mr. Lincoln was. He doesn’t fully understand the role of the presidents yet. As far as he knows, Mommy is the only Chief Executive in the world and Daddy is her office intern. Mr. Lincoln is famous mostly because his image keeps popping up in various places from time to time, much like Mickey Mouse.

In spite of his ignorance of Mr. Lincoln’s place in the world, my son has developed an affinity for the man. This became evident on our recent trip to Washington, D.C. when we spent an afternoon visiting Ford’s Theater.

We were early for our tour at Ford’s, so we went to the nearby wax museum. Every president was represented in wax. “Creepy,” my son pronounced them, and not just because they were politicians. We began taking pictures of ourselves with the figures, but the boy would have none of it. He wouldn’t be in the same frame with any of them. Washington, Madison, Jackson, Pierce, they were all just scary zombies. I don’t blame him about Pierce; I wouldn’t have my picture taken with Franklin Pierce either.

The only wax figure the boy would consent to take a picture with was the statue of Mr. Lincoln. He wasn’t especially comfortable with the idea, but he agreed to it. He knew Mr. Lincoln was a good guy, the kind of guy that would never hurt a little kid.

Presidential Box at Ford's Theater

The Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater. Because of all the references to this room, my son calls Ford’s the “Box Museum.” Although it’s not the kind of place you might expect to appeal to children, my son has already asked if we could go to the Box Museum again.

At Ford’s Theater, I explained to the boy that this was the place where Mr. Lincoln was shot. The shooting was, I believe, news to him. It took a while for it to sink in. We saw a sculpture of John Wilkes Booth in a room with photographs of all the conspirators. My son pointed to the picture of George Atzerodt and asked, “Is that the man who shot Mr. Lincoln?”

I guided him to the correct photograph. “This is the man who shot Mr. Lincoln. His name was John Wilkes Booth.” The boy studied the picture in silence.

The derringer Booth used was in a sealed case. Behind it was an illustration of the moment of assassination.  As my boy looked at the picture he became agitated. “I wish I had that gun,” he said, “I’d shoot that guy.” He pointed at Booth in the illustration.

My first impulse was to tell him he was a few days too late, but I held my tongue. This was serious. Somebody had shot Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln, that nebulous man who somehow only existed in pictures and in wax, was familiar. He was a friend. The boy wanted to save him, even though, deep down, he realized that he couldn’t. He knew he was too late and it made him sad.

Currier & Ives lithograph of Lincoln assassination

A sad moment in history, and in the afternoon of one little boy.

Three-year-old children can’t always explain how their emotions are affected. We went upstairs to the theater to hear a 30-minute talk about the assassination. My son sat through the entire presentation without making a peep or kicking the back of the seat in front of him. He didn’t stand up and he didn’t ask me how long we had sit here. His behavior was as unusual as it was exemplary.

My son sat quietly; I dare say he sat respectfully. I don’t think he did this for me, nor for his mother. I don’t even think he did this for the speaker. I think he did this for his friend, Mr. Lincoln.

Quit making me laugh; I’m trying to be mad at you!

My son has reached the age when he wears his emotions on his sleeve. It’s not that he can’t control his emotions, or hide them if he wanted to, he just wants to make sure Mommy and Daddy notice the terrible effects that their horribly unfair actions are wreaking upon his tender psyche.

He turns his back and stomps off like an old pro. He has a flare for the dramatic that would make the Booth boys proud. His motivation to play the scene goes something like this: “When Daddy sees how his decision to not let me draw on the walls has turned me into a miserable wretch, he will be crippled by guilt. Then he will relent and let me deface whatever I want, and maybe even offer me some candy for good measure.”

John, Edwin, and Junius Booth. The first family of 19th century American drama.

My little pouter. The first boy of 21st century American drama.

So, he lowers that cross stare over his face, fold his arms tightly, and sits down hard upon some object that is not a chair. He roosts on a spot that is far enough away so that I can feel the emotional gulf that my unreasonable edicts have opened between us, but close enough so that there is no danger of me not seeing him. Thus begins my punishment. Sic semper tyrannis.

I have never been much for histrionics, and I don’t enjoy sitting in the radiation of waves of guilt powerful enough to cripple. I have to defend myself; I have found no better way to do this than by making the pouting little thespian laugh. This completely ruins his performance and saves me from becoming a man broken by guilt.

It is rare that I can make the boy laugh so hard as to forget all about his grudge, but I can often make him laugh just enough to make his grudge a burden to support. It is difficult to exude crushing guilt vibes when you are giggling.

Even though he can’t always keep himself from giggling, my son does not like it one bit when his grudge is thrown out of focus by laughter. As soon as he can stifle the giggle, he makes his face look meaner than ever and grunts his displeasure at me. I understand that, in the short term, I am doing little to soothe his anger. In the long term, maybe I am teaching him that the power of the pout, although seemingly immense, will almost never get him what he wants.

If little Johnny Booth had ever outgrown his pouting stage, he might have avoided breaking his leg during this ill-advised leap from the theater balcony. This is not the sort of dramatic personality I want my son to become.

Before anyone gets the idea that this method of attacking the scowl with laughter has given me the upper hand over the child, I should make it clear that he uses the same strategy on me. I’m sure other parents have experienced this: The kid does something naughty. You’re ready to give him a stern talking to and lay down the law. The problem is that the thing that was naughty is also hilarious, and you can’t even look at the child, let alone speak to him, without bursting.

This is an especially volatile situation if Mommy doesn’t think it’s funny, because then Daddy is implicated in the naughtiness. Mommies know how to punish daddies as well as children, and Daddy can’t make Mommy laugh away her cross face, no matter how funny his jokes are.

But, there are plenty of times when Mommy is laughing right alongside Daddy, and neither one of them can manage to turn a stern face toward the boy. My son uses humor to try to turn a dicey situation to his advantage quite regularly. It is a peculiar disposition of his. I don’t know where he gets it.