Huntersville Traditions Day events kicked off Friday evening with a pie auction, style show and guest speaker Robert O’Connor, a History Alive! actor who portrays Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon.
The historic Huntersville Methodist Church was filled to the brim on the blustery evening where pies were receiving bids as high as $240 and styles spanning the decades – from pre-Civil War to the 70s – were modeled.
In between events, Historic Huntersville Traditions secretary Alice Irvine took the time to honor several members of the community who are near and dear to the hearts of everyone in the town.
The evening was dedicated to Lucille Aileen Barlow Burns and the late Faye Helen Alderman Sheets.
“Lucille would be here tonight if she was able to come,” Irvine said. “If she could, she would certainly share with us many, many memories of growing up in Huntersville – running the fields, making sure she made it to church. I bet she played around that old jail probably when her parents didn’t necessarily want her to be in that thing.”
Burns is the daughter of the late Isaac Barlow and Mabel Wagner Barlow and was married to Fred Burns, Sr. who established Burns Motor Freight in 1949.
“Mrs. Burns was the bookkeeper and the dispatcher,” Irvine said. “She worked out of her home to be able to do this job. She had a small office there and helped Mr. Burns get the company started. In addition, she made beautiful wedding cakes and donuts to supplement the family income.”
The Burns’ have four children – Fred Jr., Tom, Larry and Linda – 16 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. She has been a member of Eastern Star for 65 years and is a member of the Marlinton Presbyterian Church.
“This is a wonderful life begun here in historic Huntersville, and we are also very proud to call her one of our own,” Irvine said.
Irvine also honored Faye Helen Alderman Sheets, who passed away in May. Sheets was born on Beaver Creek and claimed she was the oldest person living in Huntersville until she moved into a care center.
“She was one of ten children born to Clive and Elsie Dean Alderman,” Irvine said. “At the age of fourteen, she moved from her home into Huntersville to live with and work for Cate Moore in the little house right beside the F&F Service center. This was not uncommon for children in that day because by doing that, she earned enough money to attend Marlinton High School.”
Sheets married Nolan Sheets and had three sons – Samuel, David and Michael. She was active in the community, her church and Eastern Star.
Sheets was very fond of the town of Huntersville and gave what she could to keep the historical sites alive.
“During the summer of 2009, she wholeheartedly gave her permission for the Confederate cemetery on her property to be restored and headstones were placed there,” Irvine said. “We remember tonight Mrs. Sheets – a beautiful lady, a beautiful life. She was one of Huntersville’s finest.”
Irvine also recognized a third member of the community who passed away unexpectedly in August. Marvin Wilkerson, who married Angel Anderson, of Beaver Creek, may have been a transplant to Huntersville, but he loved the community and the people in it.
“We knew him as our Easter Bunny, and if you attended the Easter egg hunt at the Ambassadors for Christ campground, that’s where you would always see Marv, as the Easter Bunny, taking pictures with the children,” Irvine said. “He was always very happy to help us out. He was a very, very pleasant person. He truly loved West Virginia and especially helped us out here in Huntersville.”
O’Connor as Lincoln’s bodyguard
It’s hard to miss Robert O’Connor when he is in his role as Ward Hill Lamon. Although he does not have the same girth as Lamon, he does have the imposing stature of President Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard.
Lamon, pronounced Lemon, first met Lincoln when he became a lawyer assigned to the 8th Circuit Court of Illinois. The circuit served 14 counties. The lawyers and judges took six months to travel the circuit once.
While the two men were colleagues and fast friends, they were very different, O’Connor explained.
“Where he was very sad, I was always very happy,” he said. “He did not drink alcohol. I drank alcohol from a pitcher that sat on my desk and that I could fill for ten cents many times each day. Mr. Lincoln did not smoke. I smoked fifteen cigars each day. Where Mr. Lincoln was very quiet, I was very loud. He was known as Honest Abe. I was never known as Honest Hill, if you know what I mean.”
From 1852 to 1856, the two were law partners. Lamon did the research and Lincoln defended the clients. In 1956, Lincoln convinced Lamon to run for chief prosecuting attorney, a seat he won in the election. The two were on opposite sides, one a prosecuting attorney, the other, the best defense lawyer in Illinois, but that did not sour their friendship.
In 1860, Lamon was chosen to be on the committee to attend the Republican National Convention at the Wigwam Building in Chicago, Illinois. The committee was in charge of convincing the delegates present to switch their votes for Lincoln as the Republican candidate for president.
Seeing as how he was not the “honest” one of the two, Lamon made sure the votes were tilted in Lincoln’s favor.
“While the delegates that evening went to the play ‘Our American Cousins,’ at the McVicker’s Theater in downtown Chicago, I had more important things to do,” he said. “I did something rather unsavory, but very helpful to our candidate. I gave a large bundle of cash to the man who printed the tickets to the Wigwam in exchange for him printing extra tickets. The following morning when supporters of other candidates came to the Wigwam with official tickets in hand, they couldn’t get in because the building was already filled to capacity by supporters of our candidate who entered with bogus tickets.”
Lincoln won the nomination and ran against three other opponents. Although he received less than 40 percent of the votes, Lincoln won the election and became the 15th President of the United States.
“Mr. Lincoln did not think it proper to vote for himself so he did not vote for anyone for president and although he handily won the state of Illinois, he lost Sagamon County where he lived,” O’Connor said. “He came in second losing by forty-two votes. He said after the vote was counted that the people who knew him best did not vote for him. I did not remind him that the person who knew him best of all, Mr. Lincoln himself, also did not vote for him. He also did not receive not one vote in ten southern states.”
Lamon traveled with Lincoln by train from Illinois to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration. It was during this trip he officially became Lincoln’s bodyguard.
“The Illinois delegation sought me out in a hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana, just before they returned back to Illinois,” he said. “The delegation surrounded me. Their chairperson, Jesse DeBois shook his finger in my face and said, ‘we entrust the sacred life of Mr. Lincoln to your safekeeping. If you fail to protect him, never return to Illinois or we will murder you.’ Well, I thought that was pretty funny, and I looked around, and nobody was laughing. It was at that moment that I had just been appointed to be the bodyguard of Abraham Lincoln.
“I’m the perfect man for the job,” he continued. “I’m six feet four inches tall. I weigh two hundred sixty pounds. On my body at all times, I have two Colt 44 pistols, two Bowie knives, a set of brass knuckles, a blackjack and an eight inch sword in the handle of my walking stick.”
Despite an assassination plot in Baltimore, Maryland, the train arrived safely in Washington, D.C., with an alive and well Lincoln. Lamon provided security for the inauguration and then settled into his job as U.S. Federal Marshall of the District of Columbia.
“My job there was to provide food for all the prisoners, to transport them back and forth to their court appearances and to maintain all the districts jails,” he said. “Two of my more infamous prisoners, you may have heard of – Rose Greenhow and Belle Boyd.”
While his job was to work with the prisoners, Lamon still had the duty of keeping the president safe to uphold. The job was not an easy task. Lincoln allowed hundreds of visitors into the White House every day and he would leave without notice or guards.
“He left the White House often without telling me, causing me many hours of anxiety,” O’Connor said. “In the summer he would go unescorted to the Lincoln Cottage at the Old Soldiers Home until one morning he returned to the White House and he had a bullet clean through his hat – in one side and out the other. From that day forth, with my insistence, I sent New York Calvary to ride alongside of him.
“I slept almost every night outside the Lincoln bedroom,” he continued. Mrs. Lincoln knew I was there, Mr. Lincoln did not. I took my position after he went to sleep at night and left in the morning before he woke up.”
In November 1863, Lamon was the Marshal in charge of the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lamon provided security, invited representatives from the north and acted as the master of ceremonies.
“I introduced Mr. Lincoln for his short remarks which were soon known after that as his Gettysburg Address,” O’Connor said. “Mr. Lincoln was not impressed with that address and he said to me, ‘Hill, that speech won’t scour. It is a failure. The people are disappointed.’ I also introduced the main speaker of the day, Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours. He got a rousing cheer at the end of his speech, probably because he was finished.”
Lamon again was asked to provide security at the second inauguration of Lincoln in 1865. The day Lincoln gave his inaugural address, police apprehended a man who attempted to join Lincoln on the stage.
“The police questioned the man, detained him for a short time and allowed him to watch from a distance,” O’Connor said. “That man’s name was John Wilkes Booth.”
On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, the Civil War ended and two days later, Lincoln ordered Lamon to go to Richmond, Virginia, to meet with officials to bring the country back together. Lamon did not want to go.
“I told Mr. Lincoln I should not go because Washington was still a dangerous place,” he said. “As usual, he laughed that I might think that he might be in any danger. When I realized he was adamant about me leaving for Richmond, I highly recommended that he not leave the White House while I was gone, and I specifically told him not to go to the theater.”
Unfortunately, Lincoln did not heed the warning of his bodyguard and friend.
On Good Friday, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater where he was attending a performance of “Our American Cousins.”
“Metropolitan Police officer John Parker was assigned to guard him,” O’Connor said. “When they got safely in the presidential box, Officer Parker moved his chair so he could watch the play. John Wilkes Booth walked unobstructed up the back steps and into the presidential box, and shot Mr. Lincoln.”
If Lamon had been there, it would have been a different story.
“If I’d have been there, I guarantee you, Mr. Booth would have died,” he said. “He only had a four inch gun and one bullet, and a small knife. He wasn’t going to shoot me with that bullet because then he wouldn’t have had one for the president. So what do you think I would have done? I’d have shot him with all twelve shots of my two Colt 44 pistols. I would have stabbed him with both my Bowie knives. I would have hit him with my blackjack. I would have hit him with my brass knuckles. I would have stabbed him with my sword and the I would have kicked him just to make sure he was dead.
“That’s just the kind of guy I am,” he continued. “But, I wasn’t there and I’ve regretted that my whole life.”
Lincoln died the following morning. Lamon learned of the assassination through a telegram and returned to Washington immediately to conduct the funeral of his fallen friend.
Lamon accompanied Lincoln’s body by train back to Illinois on the same route they took back in 1861.
During the train ride, Lamon reflected on a dream Lincoln said he had. The president dreamt he walked into the East Room of the White House to find a coffin guarded by soldiers with mourners surrounding it. When he asked a soldier who died, the soldier replied, “the president. He was killed by an assassin.” Lincoln was convinced the dream was not a premonition, but Lamon knew otherwise.
After he returned to Washington, Lamon was offered a cabinet position by President Andrew Johnson. He declined the offer and returned to Martinsburg, West Virginia, where he practiced law and lived with his second wife, Sally, and his daughter, Dolly, from his previous marriage.
Lamon published a book in 1872 titled “The Life of Abraham Lincoln from His Birth to His Inauguration as President.” O’Connor bought the rights to the book and had it reprinted.
As with all History Alive! presentations, O’Connor answered questions from the audience Friday as a means of keeping history alive.