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 Posted: Tue Mar 10th, 2009 07:04 pm
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HankC
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For more than 150 years, Abraham Lincoln's pocket-watch has been rumored to carry a secret message, supposedly written by an Irish immigrant and watchmaker named Jonathan Dillon.


Dillon, working in Maryland watch repair shop in 1861, told family members that he -- by incredible happenstance -- had been repairing Lincoln's watch when news came that Fort Sumter had been attacked in South Carolina. It was the opening salvo of what became the Civil War.

Dillon told his children (and, half a century later, a reporter for the New York Times) that he opened the watch's inner workings, and scrawled his name, the date and a message for the ages: "The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try."

He then closed it up and sent it back to the White House. Lincoln never knew of the message. Dillon died in 1907.

The watch, meanwhile, was handed down and eventually given to the Smithsonian Museum of National History in 1958. It didn't run anymore. No one had pried open the inner workings in ages. The old watchmaker's tale was just that.

And then Douglas Stiles, Dillon's great-great grandson, alerted Smithsonian officials to the family legend last month. He was a real-estate attorney in Waukegan, Ill., he explained. He'd heard the legend around the dinner table as a kid, but had just discovered a New York Times article from 1906, quoting Dillon as telling the story himself.

Truth? Lore?

This morning, in a small conference room on the first floor of the museum, officials decided to find out. Expert watchmaker George Thomas used a series of delicate instruments -- tweezers, tiny pliers -- to pull apart Lincoln's timepiece. He put on a visor with a magnifying lens and talked as he worked. Some of the pins were nearly stuck, he explained. The hands of the watch were original with a case made in America and the workings from Liverpool. The Illinois rail-splitter had splurged: The watch, Thomas said, would be the equivalent to a timepiece costing "$5,000 or more" today.

And then he pried off the watch's face, pulled off the hands, and turned it over to see the brass underside of the movement.

The audience, watching on a monitor, gasped.

Split into three different sections to get around the tiny gears, was this razor-thin etching: "Jonathon Dillon April 13, 1861. Fort Sumter was attacked by the rebels on the above date. Thank God we have a government."

The old man's memory had not been exact. He had not forecast the end of slavery, or Lincoln's critical role in its demise.

But it was there, a little bit of history that had been resting on Lincoln's hip, unseen during those tumultuous days of war and rebellion, the Emancipation Proclamation and the rest, and then resting, unseen, for more than a century and a half.

Stiles was delighted. "That's Lincoln's watch," he said, after putting it down, "and my ancestor wrote graffiti on it!"



http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/10/AR2009031001449.html?hpid=moreheadlines
 
This reminds me of Dixon's gold piece found in the Hunley: legend eventually proven...



 Posted: Tue Mar 10th, 2009 11:44 pm
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susansweet3
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Good story Hank.  It does remind one of Dixon's  gold piece .  Love to see the watch.  I have seen the gold piece at the Hunley exhibit.

Is the watch on display do you know?



 Posted: Wed Mar 11th, 2009 12:20 am
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PvtClewell
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This site shows the inside of the watch and the inscription:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/arts/design/11linc.html?_r=2&scp=6&sq=Lincolns%20watch&st=cse



 Posted: Fri Mar 13th, 2009 03:43 pm
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minuteman2
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What I find astonishing is that it took 150 years for somebody to finally open the watch to see what secrets it held inside. I would have been tempted from "day one" if it had come into my possession. I can bet there are lots of treasures and relics holding secrets within, but nobody bothered to check them out. Most likely, they'll remain hidden forever from public view in the dark, musty archives of some museum.



 Posted: Fri Mar 13th, 2009 07:22 pm
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David White
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So who wrote "Jeff Davis" on it? Dillon or one of the pro-Southern Watch makers when they worked on the watch in Sept 1864? If Dillon was he making a joke that, "Old Abe has Jeff Davis in his pocket." Or did one of the pro-Southern watchmakers add it in 1864 when he saw what Dillon wrote in April 1861? Hmmmm!



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