Missing 1865 Idaho Statesman issue found

This is the only known surviving copy of the paper that reported the ‘most frightful’ news of President Lincoln’s assassination

sberg@idahostatesman.comFebruary 22, 2014 

  • HOW YOU CAN SEE THE REDISCOVERED STATESMAN

    The Idaho State Historical Society plans to do preservation work on the April 25, 1865, edition of the Idaho Statesman. When that’s done, either the original page or a replica will be on display in the Abraham Lincoln exhibit at the state archives building, 2205 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise.

    The exhibit is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, except holidays.

    Keep an eye on the Idaho Statesman and we’ll let you know when the paper is ready for a public debut.

It took 11 days and a several-hundred-mile stagecoach trip to deliver the news to Boise that Abraham Lincoln was dead.

That was warp speed in those days. There was no telegraph in Boise. News from the East usually arrived almost three weeks after it happened, said David Leroy, a former Idaho attorney general and Lincoln history expert.

Tuesday, April 25, 1865, was a special circumstance.

The Idaho Statesman that came out that evening was an “Extra” — the second paper of the day. The morning edition’s front page made no mention of Lincoln. Instead, it was dedicated to ads and advertising rates.

Click here for a high-resolution version of the April 25, 1865, Lincoln front page.

Click here to read the morning edition of the April 25, 1865, Idaho Statesman, before news of Lincoln's death reached Idaho.

The evening edition was different. It had three columns instead of the Statesman’s traditional four-column layout. There were no ads. It was mostly a compilation of dispatches received from a newspaper in Salt Lake City, which had a telegraph. Preceding those dispatches was a mournful Statesman introduction that voiced the shock people around the world must have felt.

“The Overland Mail arrived at about three o’clock this afternoon bringing a large number of extras from the office of the Daily Salt Lake Telegraph of April 15 bearing dispatches that President Lincoln and Secretary (William H.) Seward were both assassinated,” the newspaper said. “Appalling as the news is there is no room to doubt its truth.”

The Telegraph used stronger language: “Intelligence of the most frightful kind has flashed along the telegraphic wires to us this morning — news that is so fraught with horror that we can scarcely persuade ourselves but that we are the victims of some hideous dream.”

The Salt Lake City paper went on to say that the death of Lincoln made the assassinations of Julius Caesar and King Henry IV of France “sink into insignificance when compared with the terrible daring and fearful coolness which characterizes the perpetration of these deeds.”

Just as can happen today, the earliest news was incorrect: Seward was attacked at his home the same night Lincoln was shot, but he survived. He died in 1872.

THE MISSING STATESMAN

No one knows how many copies of that evening’s Idaho Statesman were printed, but they all disappeared. Historical preservationists have been looking for decades, maybe a century. It was one of the few missing issues from Statesman archives.

Leroy said the culture of Idaho in the 1860s might have contributed to the destruction of many newspaper copies. Idahoans in that era moved around more than Easterners, and didn’t have many trunks or other places to safely store keepsakes.

Steve Barrett, an archivist for the Idaho State Historical Society, wondered if readers hung on to the April 25, 1865, paper because it was a keepsake, and it’s just never surfaced.

Leroy calls the April 25, 1865, evening edition the “Holy Grail.”

“I’ve been looking for it all my life,” he said.

FROM CALLAWAY TO LIONGATE

About two weeks ago, Sandra Wurdemann found an online ad for a copy of the issue. A former Statesman editor and reporter, Wurdemann knew the story of the missing issue. She’d published a request to readers five years ago, with the paper’s coverage of its 145th birthday, asking to hear from anyone who knew where a copy might be. No one answered.

On a whim one night, she did a Google search.

She told Barrett, who told Idaho State Historical Society Executive Director Janet Gallimore, who told Leroy. Leroy checked it out the night of Feb. 4, then spent most of Feb. 5 calling the seller, LionGate Arms and Armour of Scottsdale, Ariz.

By 9 p.m., he hadn’t heard back from the seller, so he bought the paper with his personal credit card for $425. It arrived in Boise Feb. 7. Since then, he’s talked to the seller, who said he recently found it at a gun show but didn’t know anything else.

Leroy says he’s pretty sure the paper is authentic. Besides the clue of its aging paper, the bottom of the page bears a signature in pencil of A. E. Callaway.

Abner Early Callaway, raised in Missouri, came to Idaho in search of gold. He arrived here in 1862 and, by 1865, was a member of Idaho’s territorial Legislature. He settled in Caldwell, where he’s buried.

Leroy said Callaway’s signature helps authenticate the April 25, 1865, Statesman. “You can (infer) from that where its journey began, and we know where it ended up, but in between we’re a little shaky,” Leroy said.

COMING SOON?

The Historical Society plans to hire a professional to repackage the rediscovered Statesman. That means pulling it out of its frame and mat, and removing whatever backing is on the piece of paper.

A new acid-free mat and framing glass that screens UV rays should be applied in order to preserve the paper and its print, Leroy said. Then comes the decision of whether to hang the original for public display.

Gallimore said that decision will be based on how stable the paper is. Right now, she said, the society is treating it like it’s the only one left, so if there’s a chance that exposing the paper to the public puts it at risk, the society will instead hang a replica.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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