Eyewitness to Lincoln's death begins a life in Carson

Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society Billie Lynch stands in front of the Arlington Hotel. The Arlington was right across the street from the U.S. Mint in Carson City.

Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society Billie Lynch stands in front of the Arlington Hotel. The Arlington was right across the street from the U.S. Mint in Carson City.

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There were many changes in our nation after the abolition of slavery. Some may think that it didn't affect Nevada, and Carson City, but it did. According to Doris Cerveri's book, "With Curry's Compliments," Abraham Curry's concern for minorities extended not only to Chinese and Indians, but to blacks.

On a trip to Washington, D.C., in 1868, Curry met Billie Lynch and asked him to come to Nevada. Despite President Andrew Johnson's advice, Lynch decided to come to Nevada. Curry offered him a job constructing the new mint, and later working there as a porter and messenger.

Myrtle Myles, a reporter for the Nevada State Journal, interviewed Billie on Feb. 28, 1927. He told about his time with President Lincoln and Vice President Johnson in the first part of his life, and the story read: A familiar figure on the capital walk at Carson City was William Lynch, an old colored gentleman, who, at one time, was closely associated with President Lincoln, as body servant and confidential messenger, and who was in Ford's theatre on the night of the assassination of the President.

Billie was born in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. For a time he was with General Burnside's staff ... and in '63, saw the Harper's Ferry engagement while serving with General Joseph Hooker ... Being an employee of the general ... he did not participate in the fighting, but remembers the terror of the Negroes, the confusion, and all the attendant horrors of battle. He was finally sent up to Washington with a wounded officer, Lieutenant Livingston, making the trip in a box car ... Although he remembers having seen the president on two former occasions, just before the war, when he was employed as an extra servant during leaves at the White House, he did not recognize Lincoln ... After the distinguished visitor had gone, the lieutenant said to Lynch: "Do you know who that gentleman is?" No," replied Lynch. "Why," said Livingston, "that is our president, Mr. Lincoln." When Lincoln came again, the officer called his servant and presented him to the president. To Lynch's great delight the president talked with him for some time, asking him many questions about his experience in the fighting zone, and about conditions behind the lines. Shortly after this, Lincoln took Lynch into his employ, making him a confidential messenger, carrying messages from the president to vice president, and acting as body servant ... He was thus employed at the time of the assassination.

What follows is what happened the evening of Lincoln's assassination as told by Billie: I had asked my girl to go to the theater that night, and when I was through work I went over to Georgetown after her. When I got there she had changed her mind and didn't want to go. Her mother made fun of her for getting me to come all that way for nothing and finally she said she would go. We took a street car and went to the theatre. It was a long way and we were late. We had been seated about ten minutes when we saw Booth on the stage. We were too far back to see him jump from the box, but I knew that he didn't come in from either side entrance ... I thought it queer, but before I had time to think much, he ran down front, threw up his arm and shouted something. It was all over and done before anyone knew what was happening. Everything was quiet and smooth inside the building, but outside boys were firing off fire crackers in the street and there was other noise so we hadn't heart the shot. Then Booth turned to run. He caught his foot in the flag at the side of the stage. Old Glory caught him! He stumbled and fell ... Someone told us the President was shot. Everyone was crying. Finally we got out and I was so excited that I didn't know where to go. I was scared, too. We saw a street car coming, it stopped and we got on and rode, and when I began to think straight again we were at the Capitol Hill, miles from Georgetown where we wanted to go. We had the right car, but we were going the wrong way. I think it was all meant to be, because of the way it worked out -- smooth. When I went to (Vice President) Mr. Johnson's house early that evening, he was planning to go to the theatre with the president's party. He said to me "William, take my boots and shine them and lay out my clothes. Come back when I ring." Well, I had just begun to brush his cloths when the bell rang, ... "Never mind, William, I don't believe I will go out this evening after all." The same thing happened with General Grant, he had planned to go to the theater, but was called to New York that night. If Johnson and Grant had been there, they might have been killed too. It was all so well planned, but Booth didn't do that part, some one else did the planning. Mr. Booth was a quiet man, not at all a sporting gentleman. It was the flag that caught him. If he had got across the Mason-Dixon line he would have been safe, but it wasn't meant to be. That fall broke his leg. It was the flag caught him!

Next week: Read about Billie Lynch's experiences in Carson CityNext week: Read about Billie Lynch's experiences in Carson City


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