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The rarely poster.Houghton Library, Harvard University

In the days complying with President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the country remained in shock together the battle Department search the suspects associated in the heinous crime committed in front of a crowd at Ford’s Theatre.

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With no arrests made, public official looked to the public for help. Utilizing available an innovation they make a run of “WANTED” posters through spaces because that photographs the the guys involved, and also offered reward money for the record of the murderer, man Wilkes Booth, and his cohorts, David Herold and John Surratt.


At the time, it was a novel approach that Secretary of war Edwin Stanton hope would result in their apprehension. The posters loom large in historical significance, paving the way for the photographic want posters the later became ubiquitous, scholars say. But couple of were printed, and even fewer survived.


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Now, an original is on display at Harvard University’s house turn Library for the very first time, as part of an exhibit curated through faculty in ~ the Cambridge college to celebrate the library’s 75th anniversary.

“It’s exceptionally rare,” claimed John Stauffer, a professor the English and African American researches at Harvard, who selected the poster for the exhibit. “There were only a minimal number published throughout the hunt because that the assassins.”

Lincoln was shot and also killed by Booth, a well-known actor and also Confederate sympathizer, ~ above April 14, 1865, if attending a power at Ford’s Theatre called “Our American Cousin,” follow to the theater’s website.

The president’s killing quickly collection off a manhunt for Booth and his two co-conspirators.

In an effort to warn the public and also offer a cash reward for info that could lead to their capture, the war Department created the posters.

The lengthy pieces of document featured three blank frames in ~ the top, where small portraits were to be put after the posters were made -- a step made crucial by the technical limits of the time, Stauffer said.


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“The half-tone procedure that permitted photographs come circulate in broadsides, posters, and also the press, was decades away,” that said.

Below the slots for the photographs were the native “$100,000 Reward,” through an emoji-like hand pointing towards the offer. That was complied with by the indigenous “THE MURDERER,” printed in large, black color letters, and, in a less foreboding typeface, “IS STILL in ~ LARGE.”

There were three rewards that comprised the total — $50,000 for Booth; and $25,000 each for Surratt and also Herold, whose critical names were misspelled top top the poster.

Blocks of little text were printed beneath the monetary offerings, and also read, in part, “Let the stain of innocent blood be eliminated from the floor by the arrest and also punishment the the murderers.”

Six job after the broadsides to be printed, Booth was killed and Herold was captured, said Stauffer. Surratt, the last continuing to be suspect, fled come Canada and later England, he said, and also managed to evade arrest for two years.

The poster own by the houghton Library was bequeathed to Harvard in 1918 by alumnus and prominent collector Evert Jansen Wendell.

The photographs of the suspects on harvard’s copy to be “tipped-in” after their captures, said Stauffer, maybe by Wendell or a ahead owner.

“Someone, whether the donor or who else, gained his hands on this broadside and said, ‘This is unfinished, I have photographs, or I’ll gain photographs of this suspects and also I’ll pointer them in myself,” that explained.


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The poster was rediscovered amongst Houghton’s collection in 2012, by Peter X. Accardo, a employee member in ~ the library.

Accardo claimed he pulled the rare artifact from a less-frequented part of the library’s stack, which residences oversized portfolios of printed ephemera.

The rediscovery — the poster to be “something the was never lost, but not quickly found,” Accardo said — was motivated by his search for materials for an exhibition ~ above Emancipation the was maintain by college student in one of Stauffer’s classes.

“It to be amazing,” stated Stauffer that the find. “I was just blown away.”

Stauffer said just three various other repositories own comparable broadsides with portraits the Booth and also his accomplices tipped-in. The pictures of the doubt are various in every copy, providing them a distinct flair.

Harvard’s broadside will certainly be on display screen through April 22, alongside range of item hand-picked through a variety of faculty members because that the “HIST 75H: A Masterclass on houghton Library” exhibit.

For Stauffer and Accardo, seeing the broadside up close is precious the visit.

“It’s truly one of the rarest documents,” Stauffer said.

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