10 Jan 2022

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: Copyright Day 2022

Another copyright day has come and gone. On January 1s of this year, all books published in 1926 had their copyright protection removed, allowing sites such as HathiTrust to put the entire text into the internet. I searched, as always, for those books relevant to my interest. My find this year, while only tenuously linked to Capitol Hill, otherwise very much intrigues me in how it looks at how false stories propagate.

The book (or, really pamphlet; it runs only 12 pages) has the fairly unwieldy title The Other White House: An Illustration of the Unreliability of History Concerning Abraham Lincoln and it was written by Louis Carman. Carman was a medical examiner in the Bureau of Prisons, and avid Lincoln collector. His collection was bequeathed to the New York Public Library on his death in 1936.

In this case, Carman became intrigued by an article about an Indiana woman, who in 1923 was interviewed by the Washington Evening Star about the unique aspects of her wedding, as she claimed to have been married by none other than President Abraham Lincoln in the White House.

Her name was Elizabeth Chandler (pictured above, circa 1880), n´ee Sheets (or Sheits), and she had met James Henry Chandler in their home, Mount Sidney, Virginia (whose only other claim to fame as being the birthplace of President Dwight Eisenhower’s mother) For unspecified reasons, their courtship had to be kept secret from her parents, so eventually the couple decided to elope.

After their attempts to get married in Harper’s Ferry fell through, they went to Washington where, as Chandler says “we were just a couple of green Virginians from down in the hills, and didn’t know any better than to go to the White House to get married.”

Elizabeth Chandler in 1923 (LOC)

They were taken to the President, who asked only that her husband enlist in the United States Army before performing the ceremony. Otherwise, she remembers various people being involved in the wedding, including a cabinet minister. And that she had kissed Lincoln, in spite of his whiskers.

Unfortunately, none of this is true, according to Carman, and he has the receipts to prove it.

First of all, there is the extreme unlikeliness that a young couple – with a man of prime military age – would be crossing from the Confederacy to the Union in the middle of the war. But, more damning is that he finds their wedding certificate, which was filled out on October 31, 1859 in Washington D.C. – almost 1-1/2 years before Lincoln assumed the Presidency.

Furthermore, Chandler thereafter joined the CSA, serving from June 1862 until October 1863, when he was captured in Bristoe Station Virginia. He was taken, according to Carman, to the Old Capitol prison – a fact that, finally, brings us to Capitol Hill.

Chandler later swore allegiance to the United States and joined the United States Army, serving (as James Grimes) until after the end of the war. The Chandlers’ first child was born in Pennsylvania few years later, after which the young family relocated to Indiana.

Sadly, Carman’s attempts to set the record straight were entirely in vain. When Elizabeth Chandler died in 1934 at the grand old age of 92, the Associated Press article marking her passing put her marriage by Lincoln front and center.

Carman does allow that the Chandlers were married in a White House, just not the White House – he finds evidence that they were married in a Georgetown Hotel owned by Charles Anthony Rodier, which was known as the White House Hotel.


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