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In The News With Randal Berry

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Guest column

The enduring legacy of Lincoln 1
By: RANDAL BERRY, Special to the Democrat-Gazette
This article was published today at 1:51 a.m.

Seconds before dramatically declaring Sic Semper Tyrannis, actor John Wilkes Booth murdered Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, while Lincoln was taking in a play at Ford's Theatre in downtown Washington, D.C., as the Civil War was ending. Sic Semper Tyrannis (Latin for thus always to tyrants) was also the motto of the state of Virginia. Booth, a talented and popular actor north of the Mason-Dixon Line, considered Lincoln a tyrant. The Civil War, or the War Between the States, had wound down only five days earlier that fateful evening of April 14, 1865. During his tenure, Abraham Lincoln faced the most monstrous national crisis of any U.S. president to date, and probably since. He hated war that assured death and destruction. However, he accepted war as the only means of saving the Union. Admonishing the South in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, he asserted: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you ... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it." An hour after the assassination, Washington City, as it was known then, was in a state of flummox. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton summoned every resource he had in his power to apprehend the assailant of Lincoln. Approximately the same time as Lincoln's murder, a mere few blocks away, carnage was wreaked at Secretary of State William H. Seward's residence. Seward, bedridden from a carriage accident only nine days earlier, was brutally assaulted with a dagger by a co-conspirator of Booth. Seward miraculously survived the attack. Citizens were in a state of panic that night as news quickly spread about the assassination of Lincoln and the attempt on Seward's life. What was going on? Were all of Lincoln's cabinet members' lives at stake? Was this some massive conspiracy to gut the government by Confederate vigilantes? Protection of the cabinet was quickly ordered by Stanton. Guards were assigned to Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was awakened and told of the earlier events at the hotel he was staying at in downtown Washington. There was no Secret Service protection of the president at that time. The Secret Service officially began July 5, 1865, two days before punishment was meted out for those involved in the plot to kill Lincoln. Its duties at that period were to suppress counterfeit money. It wasn't until 36 years later that Congress requested the Secret Service take on full protection of the president in the wake of President William McKinley's assassination earlier that year. John Wilkes Booth fled on horseback to southern Virginia and was on the lam for 12 days before being confronted in a tobacco barn near Port Royal, Virginia. After being given a chance to surrender and return to Washington City for trial, Booth was shot to death. He knew he faced certain death on the gallows, and it was beneath his dignity to die that way. He was an actor by trade; he wanted to leave the world dramatically. After taunting the troops that surrounded the barn, Booth got his wish. Many suspects in Lincoln's murder were rounded up. Almost any known local secessionist was held and questioned by the government. At the conclusion of his investigation a few weeks later, War Secretary Stanton determined that there were eight conspirators involved in the President's death. A trial for "The Murder of The President and the Attempt to Overthrow the Government by the Assassination of its Principal Officers" began on May 1, 1865. Four core conspirators were found guilty by a military tribunal and hanged on July 7, 1865. Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the federal government, was named among the conspirators. Lincoln today is best remembered for his Emancipation Proclamation address in 1863, his reputation for being honest and forthright, and his desire to heal the war-torn nation. His image adorns coinage, paper currency, stamps, statues, and memorials, and an astounding 15,000 books have been published about him. This week marks the 150th anniversary of his death, which we still mourn. But next week and forever, we will continue to keep his legacy alive. Randal Berry of Little Rock is webmaster of

Editorial on 04/12/2015

Guest column

Beware the people weeping



Good Friday was the day Of the prodigy and crime, When they killed him in his pity, When they killed
him in his prime Of clemency and calm When with yearning he was filled To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.
There is sobbing of the strong
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping …


... From The Martyr by Herman Melville, written a year after the death of Abraham Lincoln. On this
day 148 years ago, our 16th president was murdered by the cold-steady hand of actor John Wilkes Booth while attending a play.

This act, which took place in 1865 in a downtown theater in Washington City (now Washington, D.C.) stunned the world, the nation, even the war torn Southern states. It was a reminder that mankind is vulnerable. Upon Lincoln’s death, he became iconic.

It wasn’t always that way.

Lincoln was somewhat unpopular during the years he served as president. He was elected in a time when citizens had lost respect for the presidency because of past presidents’ performances. The
press, particularly the larger influential newspapers in the Northern states that were pro-Democrat,
were brutal in their portrayals of Lincoln while he was alive.

When time passed and the nation had mourned his death, the media began to treat Lincoln more
kindly. How could they not like Honest Abe, author of the Emancipation Proclamation speech
proclaiming it was time to“bind up the nation’s wounds” in his Second Inauguration in 1865? As the
Civil War ground down, Lincoln appeared futuristic.

As viewed today, Lincoln is immortalized in statutes, memorials, postage stamps, film, biographies,
and coin and paper currency.

His popularity continues to rise partly due to film director Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning movie and National Geographic’s recently televised Killing Lincoln. Websites dedicated to Lincoln pop
up weekly.

John Wilkes Booth was the son of the great tragedian Junius Booth and brother of Shakespearean
actor Edwin Booth. After the assassination he was immediately branded as a Southern sympathizer
by the media for his one mad act. Many years later, authors researching his life and Booth’s overall character revealed other possible motives for murdering the president.

A year earlier, a plot to kidnap the president by Booth was hatched, intending to use the captured
Lincoln as a bargaining chip for the release of Confederate soldiers who languished in Union prisons.
As the War Between the States began to wind down, attempts by a ragtag gang of Booth’s cronies
failed miserably. The war would soon be over, but Booth’s hatred for Lincoln was still percolating.
What was Booth’s reason? To be regarded as a martyr for the South? Or sheer lunacy?

Growing up in southern Maryland, Booth’s allegiance to slavery stayed with him into his early
adulthood. For instance, with Booth in attendance, Lincoln gave an impromptu speech on the
White House balcony four days before his death to a small crowd gathered on the lawn. Booth
became enraged when he heard Lincoln say that blacks should be allowed to vote and be afforded
full citizenship. He whispered into the ear of a co-conspirator, “That means nigger citizenship.” He
then said in a normal tone, “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he’ll ever make.”

On April 14, 1865, at approximately 10:17 p.m., Booth entered the private box at Ford’s Theater where Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their guests were seated and ended Lincoln’s life. Booth miraculously
escaped the theater and was gunned down 12 days later when trapped in a burning tobacco barn in Virginia.

In 2015, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death, print and electronic media will no doubt again remind us of “beware the people weeping” along with the current day’s woes.

Randal Berry works at the Little Rock Zoo and is webmaster of and author of Shall We Gather at the River, annotations of The Unwritten History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Smoot.


Check this out ... Randal's in elite company!
He and Dr. Murphy were the only one's invited back to the Venomous Animal Safety and Husbandry Training Seminar in Maryland


Extreme Forensics With Randal Berry

(This video is about 30 minutes long)


Snake Handling Safety Video


Taken at the Texas Reptile Expo in Arlington, Texas sometime during 1999.


Photos taken January 29, 2011 of Randal playing
with the Aldabras!

Randal touching the Aldabras!
Randal playing with the Aldabras!

A Sordid Anniversary

Randal Berry, Guest Writer for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette April 28, 2011, "A sordid



Breakfast With The Reptiles!


Check out Randal's new website!

Randal has had a fascination with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the
conspiracy theories since he was a about 11 years old.
And you thought Randal's only interest was reptiles!


Randal Berry Voted Best Snake Handler

BEST SNAKE HANDLER: The Little Rock Zoo's Randal Berry, the guy who had to take care of those poisonous snakes mysteriously shipped into Little Rock last year, has this year made a couple of informational videos about Cammie, the zoo's 20-foot python. The first video showed the snake —
given to the zoo by pole vaulter Jeff Hartwick of Jonesboro, a breeder — being unloaded from a car by four men. “Come on, girl,” Berry told the snake. He then filmed the snake eating a thawed rabbit. He
was recently filmed by a television crew about the poisonous-snakes-in-a-box mystery for a future episode on “The Most Extreme” on Animal Planet. He does naked mole rats, too; just enter his name
on to see his shows.
See the

Arkansas Times


20 Foot Reticulated Python Arrives at the Little Rock Zoo

Naked Mole Rats Return!



Randal Catches Vampire Bats

   (Music by Randal Berry)



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