Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Baltimore Plot

Cypriano Ferrandini

Phone rings, it's: "Please press one to update your free business listing..." I'm all, leave me alone, I'm reading about how Abraham Lincoln almost didn't make it to the White House:

In the coming weeks, the task of planning Lincoln’s railway journey to his inauguration in the nation’s capital on March 4 would present daunting logistical and security challenges. The task would prove all the more formidable because Lincoln insisted that he utterly disliked “ostentatious display and empty pageantry,” and would make his way to Washington without a military escort.

Far from Springfield, in Philadelphia, at least one railway executive—Samuel Morse Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad—believed that the president-elect had failed to grasp the seriousness of his position. Rumors had reached Felton—a stolid, bespectacled blueblood whose brother was president of Harvard at the time—that secessionists might be mounting a “deep-laid conspiracy to capture Washington, destroy all the avenues leading to it from the North, East, and West, and thus prevent the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln in the Capitol of the country.” For Felton, whose track formed a crucial link between Washington and the North, the threat against Lincoln and his government also constituted a danger to the railroad that had been his life’s great labor.

“I then determined,” Felton recalled later, “to investigate the matter in my own way.” What was needed, he realized, was an independent operative who had already proven his mettle in the service of the railroads. Snatching up his pen, Felton dashed off an urgent plea to “a celebrated detective, who resided in the west.”

By the end of January, with barely two weeks remaining before Lincoln was to depart Springfield, Allan Pinkerton was on the case.

A Scottish immigrant, Pinkerton had started out as a cooper making barrels in a village on the Illinois prairies. He had made a name for himself when he helped his neighbors snare a ring of counterfeiters, proving himself fearless and quick-witted. He had gone on to serve as the first official detective for the city of Chicago, admired as an incorruptible lawman. By the time Felton sought him out, the ambitious 41-year-old Pinkerton presided over the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Among his clients was the Illinois Central Railroad....

But the railroad wasn't the target:

Captain Ferrandini, he said, “had a plan fixed to prevent Lincoln from passing through Baltimore.” He would see to it that Lincoln would never reach Washington, and never become president. “Every Southern Rights man has confidence in Ferrandini,” Luckett declared. “Before Lincoln should pass through Baltimore, Ferrandini would kill him.” Smiling broadly, Luckett gave a crisp salute and left the room, leaving a stunned Pinkerton staring after him.

Pinkerton had come to Baltimore to protect Samuel Felton’s railroad. With Lincoln’s train already underway, he found himself forced to consider the possibility that Lincoln himself was the target.

Now it was clear to Pinkerton that a warning must be sent to Lincoln...