Gardner Photograph of the Execution of the Lincoln Conspirators
(LINCOLN, ABRAHAM.) Gardner, Alexander. (English) Photograph of the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators
Washington, 7 July 1865
Albumen print (8 3/4 x 6 3/4 in.), mounted. Some chipping to mount. Manuscript caption on mount “preparing for the Execution of President Lincoln’s Conspirat[ors], Jail yard Washington, D.C. July 7th, 1865.” Some fading, but generally in good condition.
“Adjusting the Ropes. The conspirators are bound, hooded, and fitted with nooses. On the right, Atzerodt, the last to be bound, recoils at what he sees.”
— Swanson and Weinberg
The hanging of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Within two weeks of Lincoln’s death, eight accused conspirators were in custody. President Andrew Johnson ordered a trial by military commission. After a seven-week trial in May and June, the commission retired to deliberate. On July 5 Johnson approved the verdicts and sentences including four death sentences. On July 6 the verdicts were revealed, and the very next day the four executions were carried out simultaneously. The convicted conspirators were stunned to learn that they were to be executed immediately.
Alexander Gardner, the leading photographer in Washington, secured permission to document the carefully orchestrated event for which tickets were hotly contested. He made a series of ten images documenting the execution. This dramatic photograph shows the preparation for the hanging of the conspirators (from left to right):
Mary Surratt (at whose boarding house the conspirators met)
Lewis Powell (who attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward)
David Herold (who assisted John Wilkes Booth in his flight from Washington)
George Atzerodt (who conspired to assassinate Vice-President Andrew Johnson)
This photograph was the sole Alexander Gardner view used as a double-page spread in the standard work on the subject, which observed: “Adjusting the Ropes. The conspirators are bound, hooded, and fitted with nooses. On the right, Atzerodt, the last to be bound, recoils at what he sees” (Swanson and Weinberg, Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution, plate 190). Officials hold umbrellas to block the sun while preparations are made for the hanging. Men below the platform await the order to knock away the posts holding the trapdoors in place.
This momentous image is one of the first news photographs.