Shelby  County  Indiana
Newspaper  Articles

Vanarsdale / VanArsdall


The  Shelbyville  News
Friday, April 14, 1995
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CIVIL  WAR  SOLDIER  MISSES
SHOT  AT  HISTORY
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          If a Shelbyville man had had an itchy trigger finger, he perhaps could have rewritten history and gunned down  John Wilkes Booth  in the alley behind Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., 130 years ago tonight.
          Elijah Vanarsdall  was a soldier and a guard at the Ford when President Abraham Lincoln  was shot by Booth.  Vanarsdall told an interviewer in 1915 that during the commotion he ran out the back door in time to see a man mount a horse and "ride away at break -neck speed."
          Vanarsdall, a veteran of 13 battles that included  Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's  march to the sea, was within 25 to 30 feet of the fleeing man.  He said he was convinced later that it was Booth during getaway.
          But the local man gave up his shot at history.  His firearm would not leave its holster.
          As a messenger on the staff of provost marshal  Gen. Timothy Ingraham,  Vanarsdall said he carried with him a pass signed by Secretary of War  Edwin M. Stanton.  With it, Vanarsdall had virtually unlimited mobility in post-Civil War Washington, D.C., including a bird's-eye view of the real Booth casket as it floated down the Potomac River.
          Vanarsdall told his stry in The Shelbyville Republican  morning newspaper in 1915.  The article was reprinted in a recent edition of the Shelby County Historical Society publication  Echoes of Old Shelby.
          Vanarsdall was the grandfather of Shelbyville businessman  Bernard Coers  on his mother's side.  Coers, Progress Road, said his grandfather farmed in the Shelbyville area before retiring and moving to town.
          Vanarsdall was aked by the newspaper to write a description of the happenings on April 14, 1865.  Living at 436 W. Mechanic St. at the time, Vanarsdall had a vivid recollection of the "horrifying scene," despite his advanced years and the fact that the assassination had happened 50 years earlier, The Republican said.
          In Vanarsdall's own words:  "I saw John Wilkes Booth come up the aisle and go to the booth where the President and his wife sat.  He remained but a short time, when a pistol shot rang out, and he jumped from the booth window to the stage door.  He said 'Sic semper tyrannis,' stuck a dagger in the stage door and went out the back way.
          "About that time Mrs. Lincoln cried out that the President was shot.  Of course, there was great excitement.  There were several soldiers in the theater at the time.
          "We went right up over the foot lamps into the back part of the building, and I got out in time to see a man mount a horse that was hitched in the back alley and ride away at breakneck speed.  But I did not fire at him.
          "If I had known who he was, I certainly would have shot to kill and I could have killed him before he got out of that alley, for I was within 25 to 30 feet of him when he passed me.  But he got away that night," Vanarsdall wrote.
          Continuing, "...He (Booth) was found in a barn but would not surrender, so they (the cavalry) set the barn on fire.  He stayed in until it got too hot and started to get away on crutches.  (Booth had been injured during his escape.)
          "He was halted by a sergeant, but would not stop.  The sergeant shot him dead.  They brought him back to Washington, D.C., put his body in a casket, put him in a small boat in the middle of the Potomac.  There is where I last saw John Wilkes Booth and I don't suppose I would have got to see him dead if I hadn't been a messenger or mounted orderly for Gen. Ingraham.
          " ... I saw Booth both dead and alive, and dead and and dead forever, and his sould in the bottom-most pit of perdition, I trust, for God is just, and He will see that Booth gets his reward.
          Vanarsdall also noted what only the most seriousl Civil War buffs would have known -- that papers in Booth's trunk revealed that the murder had been planned before March 3.
          But an accomplice backed out, saying he wanted to wait "until Richmond (the Confederate capital) could be heard from."
          Elijah Vanarsdall missed his chance at writing history, but he was able to help corroborate an important chapter:  Verifying Booth's final resting place in the Potomac River.
A Story To Tell, by Jim McKinney, Executive editor.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming


The  Shelbyville  News
Shelbyville, Ind., April 11, 1967
by LENA HOBAN
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         Pvt. E.2 David L. VanArsdall ....
[Please contact the library for a microfilm copy.  pmf]


The  Shelby  Democrat
Thursday, August 7, 1941
Page 2, Column 5
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Bessie Hommel Is Bride of Beverly Vanarsdale
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          Announcement has been made of the marriage of  Miss Bessie Edelle Hommel, daughter of  Mr. and Mrs. Ezekiel Hommel, of near Needham, and  Beverly Vanarsdale.
          The ceremony was read July 10 in the Jollity Methodist church, with the Rev. James Cox, pastor, officiating.  Miss Betty Jane Hommel, niece of the bride, was the only attendant.
          The bride was dressed in white slipper satin and wore a corsage of lilies and carnations.  Miss Hommel wore pink chiffon.
          The couple is at home on a farm near Needham.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming


The  Indianapolis  Star
July 11, 1915
Page 30   Column 7
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SHELBYVILLE.
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          Mr. and Mrs. William Snider  and  Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Shaw  have returned from Danville, Ind., where they visited  Mr. and Mrs. Paul Vanarsdall.
Contributed by Virginia Latta Curulla


The  Shelby  Republican
Thursday February 4, 1915
Page 4 column 3
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RECALLS  MURDER  OF  A. LINCOLN
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Elijah Vanarsdall, of No. 456 West Mechanic Street,
Was Present At Ford’s Theatre Night Lincoln Was Shot
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COULD  HAVE  SHOT  BOOTH
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As He Escaped From Alley in Rear of Theatre
Had He Known Who the Man Was
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HAS  INTERESTING  PAPER
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The Republican in indebted to Mrs. Louis Ludlow, of Washington City, for the letter printed below:
          There is living at 456 West Mechanic street, Shelbyville, Ind., revered and loved by a large circle of neighbors and acquaintances, one of the few remaining eyewitnesses of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s theatre in this city, on the night of April 14, 1865.
          His name is  Elijah Vanarsdall.  Mr. Vanarsdall, though far advanced in years, is in perfect possession of his mental faculties, and the recollections of that horrifying scene are as vividly impressed upon him as though the supreme tragedy occurred but yesterday.
          When asked to write for this correspondence what took place on that eventful night, Mr. Vanarsdall has sent the following straightforward description. 
"In answer to your request I will try to pencil you a few lines concerning the assassination of our beloved Abraham Lincoln, the best man that ever ruled this nation, I think, and the one that is most revered to this day. Long may his name be honored after we are laid beneath the sod and forgotten. Yes, I was at Ford’s theatre the night Lincoln was shot, the fourteenth night of April, 1865, and I had as well try to forget my dear old mother’s death as to try to forget that night.
          "I saw John Wilkes Booth come up the aisle and go in the booth where the president and his wife sat. He remained but a short time, when a pistol shot rang out, and he jumped from the booth window to the stage floor. He said, ‘Sic simper tyrannis,’ stuck a dagger in the stage floor and went out the back way. About that time Mrs. Lincoln cried out that the President was shot. Of course there was great excitement. There were several soldiers in the theatre at the time. We went right up over the foot lamps into the back part of the building, and I got out in time to see a man mount a horse that was hitched in the back alley and ride away at a break-neck speed but I did not fire at him.
          "If I had known who he was I certainly would have shot to kill and I could have killed him before he got out of that alley, for I was within twenty-five or thirty feet of him when he passed me, but he got away that night out of the city over the long bridge that spanned the Potomac river at that time, went through Alexandris and was captured a month or six weeks later by a company of cavalry that was scouring the country for him. He was found in a barn but would not surrender, so they set the barn on fire. He stayed in until it got too hot and started to get away on crutches. He was halted by a sergeant, but would not stop, and the sergeant shot him dead. They brought him back to Washington, D.C., put his body in a casket, put him in a small boat out in the middle of the Potomac river and there is where I last saw John Wilkes Booth, and I don’t suppose I would have got to see him dead if I hadn’t been a messenger or mounted orderly on General Inghram’s staff. I had a monthly pass I carried day and night, signed by the secretary of war. No guard could stop me any longer than to examine my pass. I went wherever I pleased when off duty, so you see I saw Booth both dead and alive—dead and dead forever, and his soul in the bottom-most pit of perdition. I trust, for God is just, and He will see that Booth gets his reward.
          Mr. Vanarsdall sent with his interesting description of the tragedy a copy of the New York Herald of April 15, printed after Lincoln was shot.
"I have had this paper," he writes, "in my possession from that day to this and I am going to send it to you for information with your promise that you will return it to me when you read it, for I would not take a five dollar note for it."
          The copy of the New York Herald in Mr. Vanarsdall’s possession is a four page sheet, yellow with the stains of time. On the front page is a two column cut of Lincoln—the beardless Lincoln as he appeared before assuming the Presidency. The six columns on the front page were separated by mourning stripes. It was inscribed "Extra: 8:10 a.m." the first column, containing the account of the tragedy, bears a headline which occupies more than half the column, the first line of which is the word "important" in big black type. The science of attracting attention with big headlines seems to have been well developed even in that day. The only information in the sheet that Lincoln had actually died was the following brief bulletin from the War department dated 7:30 a.m.:
"Major General Dix, New York---
Abraham Lincoln died this morning at twenty-two minutes past 7 o’clock.
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

In the same column is the following dispatch from Secretary of War Stanton to General Dix.
          "Secretary Seward remains without change; Frederick Seward’s skull is fractured in two places besides a severe cut upon the head. The attendant is still alive, but hopeless. Major Seward’s wounds are not dangerous. It is now ascertained that two assassins were engaged in the horrible crime. Wilkes Booth being the one that shot the President and the other an accomplice, whose name is not known, but whose destination is so clear that he can hardly escape.
          It appears from papers found in Booth’s trunk that the murder was planned before the fourth of March, but fell through then because the accomplice backed out until "Richmond could be heard from."
          "Booth and his accomplices were at the livery stable at six o’clock last evening and left here with their horses at 10 o’clock, or shortly before that hour. It would appear that they had, for several days, been seeking their chance, but for some unknown reason it was not carried into effect until last night. One of the assassins has evidently made his way to Baltimore; the other has not yet been traced.
Edwin M. Stanton Secretary of War.
          There has been a long standing controversy as to what became of the body of Booth, and Mr. Vanarsdall has contributed a chapter to history by corroborating the report that it found its last resting place in the Potomac. Mr. Vanarsdall was in thirteen battles and marched with Sherman to the sea.
Contributed by Barb Huff


The  Shelbyville  Democrat
Shelbyville, Ind., Friday, February 14, 1913.
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           Mrs. J. W. Vanarsdall  was shopping in Indianapolis today.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming


The  Shelbyville  Democrat
Monday, January 15, 1912.
Page One
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          Mr. and Mrs. Everett Vanarsdall  are caring for a fine baby boy at their home, corner of Franklin and Conrey streets.  Dr. C. E. Dunn  was in attendance.  The new arrival tips the scales at eleven and a half pounds.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming


The  Shelbyville  Republican
Tuesday, March 7, 1911
Page 1
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          J. W. Vanarsdall  and  John Tindall, auditors for the Farmers' Mutual Fires Insurance Company, went to Franklin this morning to begin the work of auditing the books of the association.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming


The  Shelbyville  Republican
Monday, March 6, 1911
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          Mrs. J. Wesley Vanarsdall, who has been spending a few weeks in Florida, will leave tonight for her home in this city.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming


The  Shelbyville  Republican
Tuesday, September 13, 1898
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          J. W. Vanarsdall says:  I used "Dayton" and it gave me so much satisfaction that I will use it in the future.  Messick, sole agent.
Contributed by Lorraine Llewellyn


The  Shelby  Democrat
June 13, 1895
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          On last Wednesday night, two of our young people were united in marriage, the parties being  Mr. Florence Coers  and  Miss Carrie Vanorsdall.  They were people highly esteemed by all who knew them, and will be missed in socity circles.  Every one wishes them a long, happy and prosperous life.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming


The  Shelbyville  Daily  Democrat
Thursday, January 21, 1886
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LOCAL  NEWS.
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          Elijah Vanarsdall,  who lives three miles west of town, on the Boggstown turnpike, cut his foot badly yesterday with an ax.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming

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