During my commute home today, I was listening to NPR's All Things Considered as a mystery was revealed. For nearly 150 years, a story was told about a young watchmaker, Jonathan Dillion, who engraved a secret message on Abraham Lincoln's watch at the start of the Civil War. Although unconfirmed, it was shared for years among family and friends until it eventually reached a New York Times reporter in 1906.
The watchmaker's great-great-grandson, Doug Stiles, uncovered the Times article (via Google) and contacted curators at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, who were unaware of the engraving or of Dillion's story. Today, the Smithsonian agreed to open the watch, with Stiles standing nearby. You can read the transcript at NPR, but the audio is what made such an impression. I found myself on the edge of my seat, listening as the watch was gently and carefully opened. The inscription was there! The audience gasped and I got goosebumps as Stiles' was invited to read the words of his great-great grandfather. You could feel his excitement as he said afterwards, "My gosh, that's was Lincoln's watch and my ancestor put grafitti on it."
Of course, I hope to share this story tomorrow with my second graders. It's not often that such intriguing mysteries from history come true while we witness it! As Brent D. Glass, the director of the museum said, “It’s a personal side of history about an ordinary watchman being inspired to record something for posterity.” Ordinary people can do wonderful things. Thanks to the Smithsonian for letting us share in this moment.
Sources: Associated Press and All Things Considered, NPR.
Photos: Courtesy of the Smithonian's National Museum of Amercian History.