Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The night Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater in Washington, actress Laura Keene made a strange request: She asked to cradle the president's head in her lap.
She didn't volunteer for this macabre Pieta to offer succor. She wanted a souvenir. As Keene held Lincoln's blasted skull, ``tiny bits of gray matter oozed onto the cream silk fabric'' of her dress, writes James L. Swanson in his riveting ``Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer'' (Morrow, 448 pages, $26.95).
Keene wasn't alone in her blood lust. The next morning, an embalmer drained Lincoln's blood and poured it into glass jars, where it was ``sacredly preserved,'' the author notes in this hour-by-hour chronicle of the assassination and subsequent search for the killer, John Wilkes Booth.
Swanson's previous book, ``Lincoln's Assassins: Their Trial and Execution,'' presented a groundbreaking collection of more than 300 photos and documents from the case. ``Manhunt'' weaves that raw material into a narrative dramatic enough to be optioned for a film with Harrison Ford as Col. Everton Conger, the Civil War cavalryman who led the search for Booth.
Black Silk Lining
Thousands of books and articles have been written about the assassination of Lincoln and the hunt for Booth, including Michael Kauffman's exhaustive ``American Brutus.'' Yet none quite matches Swanson's wealth of detail, right down to the Brooks Brothers frock coat Lincoln wore the night he was shot. Embossed in the black silk lining was an American eagle, a shield of stars and strips and the motto ``One Country, One Destiny.''
Five days before the assassination, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered. Washington was in rapture. Booth was outraged. A renowned actor and Confederate sympathizer, Booth scorned what he saw as Lincoln's ideas of ``nigger suffrage.'' He called together three men who had earlier conspired with him on a foiled plot to kidnap Lincoln. They were Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt.
On the morning of April 14, 1865, Booth dropped by Ford's Theater, where he learned that Lincoln would be attending a performance that night of ``Our American Cousin.'' With only eight hours to go before the performance, the conspirators set in motion a plan for simultaneous assassinations of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.
Only Booth succeeded. Atzerodt couldn't get up the nerve to kill Johnson. When Powell attacked Seward at his home, he met strong resistance, his pistol misfired and he fled. Herold, who was holding Powell's getaway horse, also bolted.
Later that night, Herold met Booth outside Washington. They stuck together for the next dozen days, on the run through the woods of Maryland and Virginia, aided by Confederate sympathizers.
The most infamous of these was Samuel Mudd, the doctor who bound Booth's tibia, broken when the actor leapt from Lincoln's theater box to the stage during his escape. Others brought supplies, including newspapers so Booth could read reviews of his ``performance assassination,'' as Swanson calls it.
Powell and Atzerodt were rooted out within a week. Booth and Herold evaded capture until April 26, 1865, when a tip led Conger and a Union Calvary regiment to a tobacco shed on a farm near Port Royal, Virginia. Herold surrendered. Booth challenged all 26 soldiers to duel and was inadvertently shot to death by an excitable young soldier named Boston Corbett.
Determined to keep Booth from becoming a folk hero, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had the corpse photographed and hidden. Stanton also made a spectacle of the hangings of Booth's co-conspirators. Even so, sightings of Booth were reported across the country, as they are today with Elvis Presley.