I’d been working in Washington D.C. for a few weeks in the late fall of 1947 when I decided to visit Georgetown. One of the guys had told me about a little book shop near Dumbarton Oaks Park which sold old books about the District.
The guy who run the store, Grankin Wilson, must have been about sixty back then, knew every book or story about DC. He was a happy little man who was always whistling; in fact, you could hear him from two blocks away.
I asked him if he had any books about the District back at the time of the Civil War.
“I got them stacked as high as the Washington Monument, back there,” said Grankin, pointing to a dark area at the back of the store. This guy didn’t joke, there must have been several hundred books back there; some had become homes to families of spiders and some to rats.
I loved this sort of stuff and sat there most of the weekend going through all sorts of books. Come Sunday night, I decided to grab a book I hadn’t read and pay the man (and thank him for his help).
Back at my hotel, I opened the package to find the book was called “Great Jewelers of Washington, D.C.”. The book had been printed in 1860 and was in good condition, well worth what the little man the man had asked as a price.
The book was dusty but I managed to clean it quickly and I was dusting the back cover, I found a slit in the paper. Inside I could see there was a letter or bill folded neatly. The only way to retrieve it was to cut open the cover.
My curiosity was too much heightened to ignore the paper. I carefully cut the back cover and took out what was indeed a letter.
It was dated May, 17th, 1865 and read as follows:
“My name is John Dillon, and I work for M.W. Galt and Co, jewelers in Washington, D.C., sometimes the President, Mister Lincoln would enter our store in order that we should inspect his gold watch – one he was particularly fond off. In the sweet month of April, President Lincoln had once again left his watch for care and cleaning.
I will always remember that he never cared too much about how he looked, I would describe his clothes as ill-fitting and his hair as mussy.
The watch on the other hand was one of the finest I have ever seen, one that our President purchased, I believe, from a jewelers in Illinois in the 1850s. I can’t say exactly when.
On the afternoon of April 13, 1861 I was just about to close the watch, when I was informed that the first shots had been fired at Fort Sumter and indeed out country was at war. Brother against brother.
I opened the watch again and in it I inscribed the words – “The first gun is fired. May this watch keep our President safe and well”.
I then closed the watch up and a few days later, the President himself came to collect it.
The President never knew that the inscription existed and I believe it was that which kept him safe, along with God’s help.
At the end of the war, President Lincoln returned to our store with the fore-mentioned watch. I remember it well, it was a Good Friday, April 14th, 1865. President Lincoln wanted to have the thing cleaned and serviced as he was attending the theater that evening.
I worked on the watch all that day. I am unsure why he did not return for the watch but that night he attended the Ford Theater and as they say, the rest is history.”
bobby stevenson 2016