The missing pages of John Wilkes Booth‘s diary that reveal who hired him to kill President Lincoln…hidden in a long-abandoned subway station beneath Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn? Is it fact or fiction? Bob Diamond, a railroad history buff, wants to know and has apparently enlisted the aid of National Geographic to finance, produce and staff an archeological dig set for January 2010 to find out. All of this because of a very absorbing if less than factual novel published 30 years ago.
THE COSGROVE REPORT, published in 1979 by historical novelist G.J.A. O’Toole, is a fictional account of a Pinkerton detective hired by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to find President Lincoln‘s assassin John Wilkes Booth; more importantly, to discover the true motive behind the assassination.
Of course, as with all historical fiction, the novel becomes a story within a story as detective Michael Croft delves through history’s account of Lincoln’s assassination interspersed and modified with own private account. Croft discovers and leaves a record of an incredible conspiracy behind the Lincoln assassination (too incredible for Croft to make public in his lifetime) to his grandson for further investigation.
Among other things, the detective’s grandson learns that several pages from Booth’s diary, naming the “actual organizers” of the Lincoln assassination, are hidden in a steel box beneath Atlantic Avenue next to a steam locomotive. Diamond believes that the locomotive is resting beyond the wall of a tunnel running between Columbia and Boerum Place that he had discovered in 1981. The tunnel was once part of the old New York City to Boston line of the Long Island Railroad; it’s also rather noteworthy for two real episodes:
In 1916, the Bureau of Investigation broke into the tunnel in search of bomb-making German soldiers (naturally, there were none). And in 1925, it inspired Red Hook resident sci-fi author H.P. Lovecraft to pen the “Horror At Red Hook” about vampires in the tunnel (which turned out to be, alas, a work of fiction).
I, along with many others, haven’t the slightest idea why the diary’s pages should be buried there, the reason for Diamond’s suspicion that the pages (or anything of historical importance) are buried there, nor (last but certainly not least) why National Geographic is sponsoring this dig. Then again, I often forget that we live in an age where pulp fiction lays the basis for historical research…take “The DaVinci Code,” for instance.
(originally published: 10/26/09)
UPDATE: It’s been nearly three years and I don’t know what, if anything, came of this dig; or, for that matter, if they ever went through with it. Personally, I don’t believe any such diary ever existed…in the tunnel nor anywhere else. The only co-conspirators who were actively involved with Booth were those we know about: Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt; however, Mary Surratt was quite possibly innocent. America wouldn’t see an another “incredible conspiracy” until 1963.