A longtime Abraham Lincoln researcher, honored in 1998 for discovering the last document Lincoln ever signed, was banned from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) after confessing to doctoring the date on that paper.
In examining Lincoln’s April 14, 1865, pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Union Civil War soldier who’d been court-martialed for desertion, NARA archivist Trevor Plante noted that an inked numeral 5 looked too dark and appeared to conceal another number. The date also conflicted with information in the 1953 reference The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.
Investigative archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the NARA Office of Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team confirmed Plante’s suspicions: Someone had changed the year from 1864 to 1865 — making it appear that Lincoln signed the pardon the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated him at Ford’s Theater.
The office got in touch with Thomas Lowry, a recognized Lincoln expert and author of the 1999 book Don’t Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, for help with the investigation. In a Jan. 12 interview, Lowry admitted to tampering with the document while researching at NARA headquarters in Washington, DC.
Lowry, who now denies changing the date and says he confessed under pressure, won’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations for the crime has expired. Conservators are examining the pardon to determine whether they can remove the 5 — written using fadeproof, pigment-based ink — to restore the original 1864 date.
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