Bill O'Reilly decided to write a history book. Specifically, a book about Lincoln's assassination called “Killing Lincoln,” which O’Reilly co-authored with Martin Dugard. It's #2 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list, right behind the monstor biography of Steve Jobs.
How bad is this book? Historians are panning it. Why? Because it has the one thing that history books should never have: bad facts.
For example, Edward Steers, author of five books about the Lincoln assassination, calls O'Reilly's book “somewhere between an authoritative account and strange fiction.” Steer's review (which is not online) appears in the November issue of North & South, the official magazine of the Civil War Society, and lists about 10 errors of fact.
So inaccurate is the book that the National Park Service flunked it:
Rae Emerson, deputy superintendent at Ford’s Theatre, which is a national historic site under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, has penned a scathing appraisal of O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.” In Emerson’s official review, which I’ve pasted below, she spends four pages correcting passages from O’Reilly’s book before recommending that it not be offered for sale at Ford’s Theatre because it is not up to quality standards.
The National Park Services' full review is below the fold. (It only examined the parts relating to Ford's Theater)
And perhaps Bill should stick to uninformed commentary about contemporary events.
Here is the full National Park Service review:
Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
Review of Killing Lincoln, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
Reviewer for Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, Rae Emerson, Deputy Superintendent
Eastern National – Cooperating Association
Eastern National, formerly known as Eastern National Park and Monument Association, is a 501(C) (3) not-for-profit “cooperating association,” that supports the National Park Service. Cooperating associations are recognized by Congress as a means to assist the educational and interpretive mission of the National Park Service. Cooperating associations provide various services, primarily by procuring, distributing and selling educational material in retail outlets located in national parks . . . .
The products sold at Eastern National bookstores are a combination of Eastern National-produced items and merchandise purchased through outside vendors, including books, reproductions, apparel, and collectibles. All products sold in Eastern National retail outlets are evaluated by National Park Service interpreters for historical accuracy, quality, and relevance to park themes. Strict standards are maintained to ensure we offer the finest quality products that will enhance visitors’ experiences. As a cooperating association, Eastern National sells only products that the National Park Service has approved.
Reference: Eastern National
Product Selection Criteria – Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
- Relevance to park’s themes
- Historically accurate
- Publication has relevant citations
- Reflects scholarship; the use of primary resources with documentation
Factual errors in publication
The following errors are noted in chapters the reviewer was well versed in the subject matter. Other chapters may also have similar findings noted by subject matter experts or other reviewers. These observations are not included.
Errors are identified by chapter, followed by passage where error is noted, then followed by a fact comment, which is followed by the reference for the fact comment.
“He furls his brow . . . .” furl – nautical term to compact, roll up; furrows – narrow grove, depression on any surface, i.e., furrows of a wrinkled face
“The two warriors will never meet again.”
On April 10, 1865 Generals Lee and Grant met a second time at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. At that second meeting General Lee requested that his men be given evidence that they were paroled prisoners – to protect them from arrest or harassment. 28,231 parole passes were issued to Confederates.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
“After it (Ford’s Theatre) was burned to the ground in 1863 . . . . . . . “
December 30, 1862, fire broke out and gutted the interior leaving only the blackened walls standing.
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; p. 11)
Chapter 21, 27, etc.
“Grant meets with Lincoln in the Oval Office.”
“Lincoln sitting in his Oval Office . . .”
Oval Office built in 1909 during Taft’s administration.
“On the nights when the Lincolns are in attendance . . . . . . . . . and a portrait of George Washington faces out at the audience, designating that the president of the United States is in the house.”
Messenger arrived at the theatre from the White House about 10:30 a.m. (April 14, 1865) to reserve the presidential box for the performance that evening.
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; p. 53)
“Ford added an additional touch to these normal decorations of the presidential box when he placed a gilt-framed engraving of Washington its central pillar for the first time.”
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; p. 54)
“So Ford’s Opera House, as the theater is formally known, is his (Booth) permanent address.”
During the period from December 1861 – February 1862, Ford rented the theatre to George Christy, who advertised the building as “The George Christy Opera House”.
After renovating the theatre in February 1862, the theatre reopened in March 1862 under Ford’s name: Ford’s Atheneum.
In February 1863 work started to rebuild the theatre after the December 30, 1862 fire. The theatre known as “Ford’s New Theatre” reopened on Thursday, August 27, 1863 and later referred to as Ford’s Theatre.
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; pages 7– 13)
“The state box, where the Lincolns and Grants will site this evening, is almost on the stage itself . . . . . . . . . . distance traveled would be a mere nine feet.”
The presidential party occupied two boxes, # 7 and #8 which, when combined, are referred to as the presidential box; the state boxes are build on the stage proper; the distance from the state box to the stage is 11 and ½ feet to 12 feet depending on what end the box is measured. This difference is based on the rake or slant of the stage towards the audience.
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; pp. 46, 51, 55)
“Booth has performed here often and is more familiar with its hidden backstage tunnels . . . . .”
Booth played twelve performances from November 3 – 14, 1863. He will not perform again at Ford’s Theatre until March 18, 1865.
“In the southeast corner (of the stage) was a two-foot wide stairway along the south wall which led to the basement. This stairway also provided access to the orchestra pit and unhindered passageway from stage-right to stage-left through the basement and by the stairs along the north wall, to the small exit door at the rear alley. The passageway on stage-right varied in width according to the manner in which the scenery was piled along the north wall to the rear door. Generally this passageway was kept clear to provide for an orderly movement of stage scenery and for the unencumbered entrance and exit of actors awaiting their cues in the adjoining greenroom in the north wing. “
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; pp. 36, 47)
“The show (Our American Cousin) has been presented eight pervious time at Ford’s . . . . . . .
Our American Cousin was performed seven times prior to April 14, 1865: Jan 11 and 12, 1864; Mar 11 and 12 1864; Aug 4, 1864; Aug 6, 1864; Feb 25, 1865
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; pp. 111 -121)
“Booth’s second act of preparation that afternoon was using a pen knife to carve a very small peephole in the back wall of the state box. Now he looks through the hole to get a better view of the president.”
“Despite all attempts to prove, without success, that the hole in the door to box 7 was bored by Booth that same afternoon, a recent letter from Frank Ford of New York City (to Olszewski, April 13, 1962) may clarify the fact. In part, his letter states:
As I told you on your visit here in New York, I say again and unequivocally that John Wilkes Booth did not bore the hole in the door leading to the box President Lincoln occupied the night of the assassination, April 14, 1865 . . .
The hole was bored by my father, Harry Clay Ford, or rather on his orders, and was bored for the very simple reason it would allow the guard, on Parker, easy opportunity whenever he so desired to look into the box rather than to open the inner door to check on the presidential party . . ..
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre (Historic Structures Report, George J. Olszewski, Ph.D, Historian, National Capital Region, National Park Service; 1963; pp.55 -56)
Publication (Killing Lincoln) not recommended as a sales item in the Eastern National Bookstore located in the Museum at Ford’s Theatre National Historic because of the lack of documentation and the factual errors within the publication.