SCENE: Press conference at Ford’s Theater
TIME: Shortly after 7 a.m. on the morning of April 15, 1865. President Lincoln lies dying in a house across the street. Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Grassley walk to the podium amid shouted questions from the assembled reporters.
GRASSLEY: [pounding gavel on the podium] Quiet! Silence!
[The reporters quiet down.]
My distinguished colleague Senator McConnell has a prepared statement. Mitch?
MCCONNELL: I thank my distinguished colleague.
We’ve just received the report that we authorized from the army officers and Washington police offers into the president’s ailment, and we’ll distribute it now to you.
[Aides pass out papers to the reporters.]
As the report makes clear—
VARIOUS REPORTERS: [shouting] Where’s the rest of it?! This is all? It’s just one page long!
MCCONNELL: … As it makes clear, this was the most thorough, exhaustive report of its kind we’ve ever directed. The authorities have been busy through the wee hours of the night, I think spending a full 90 minutes—
GRASSLEY: 93 minutes.
MCCONNELL: … 93 minutes questioning witnesses, and have arrived at a dispositive conclusion that the man some people accused of shooting the president—the distinguished actor Mr. Wilkes Booth—could not have been the culprit.
FIRST REPORTER: [looking up from report] But you only interviewed one witness!
SECOND REPORTER: And she says the man who rushed by her in the wings looked like Booth!
MCCONNELL: Read that more closely. She also said the man limped, and that Booth was an acrobatic young fellow who never limped. Couldn’t have been Booth.
GRASSLEY: And we checked Booth’s calendar. It says that last night, he was home alone rehearsing the role of Juliet, should he be asked to play that part.
MCCONNELL: Challenging part for a young man like Booth; requires lots of rehearsal time.
[More reporters rush into the theater, shouting.]
REPORTERS: The president is dead! President Lincoln has died!
GRASSLEY: The poor man.
MCCONNELL: Well, that wraps up our investigation. It’s clear that the spurious charges leveled at Mr. Booth are patently false.
REPORTERS: [shouting even louder] If Booth didn’t do it, who did? How can you end the investigation? What’s going on?
GRASSLEY: President’s death is a real loss. Should have taken better care of himself.
MCCONNELL: Very divisive figure. Polarizing. And quite a target—tall, with that high hat of his.
GRASSLEY: Probably died of gout.
MCCONNELL: Yes, gout’s very likely.
REPORTERS: [shouting as before] But gout is a fat man’s disease! Too much rich food! Lincoln was thin!
GRASSLEY: Thin man’s gout. Seen it in Iowa. Very dangerous.
MCCONNELL: Thank you, gentlemen; going now to convene the Senate. Our new president has nominated Mr. Booth to run the Freedman’s Bureau; we’ll vote this morning.
[Reporters shout incoherently.]
[Pounds gavel on podium, then on reporter.] Thin man’s gout.