- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

The following is a 1950s newspaper column by Robert S. Allen, found in the Seward House in Auburn, N.Y.


WASHINGTON — The volume of Lincoln papers recently made public at the Library of Congress greatly enriched the documentary history of the martyred emancipator. But there is one intriguing document in the capital that still remains to be unveiled.

It is in the archives of the stately British embassy on upper Massachusetts Avenue.

The document records an unusual incident during Lincoln's presidency. The unique paper was discovered by the late British ambassador, Sir Ronald Lindsay, who, on one mellow occasion, told the late President Roosevelt the story. This is it.

During Lincoln's incumbency, Lafayette Park was enclosed by a tall, iron fence flanked by a dense hedge of shrubbery. The park was a popular rendezvous for couples. But there was one drawback: the gates were locked at 10 o'clock every night.

One summer night, after working late with Lincoln in the White House, Secretary of State Seward passed by the park en route to his home near by. He was suddenly startled by a whispered cry from behind the thick hedge, "Mr. Secretary, Mr. Secretary!"

Approaching, Seward was even more startled to discover the caller was the British ambassador.

"Lord, I am glad you came along," the Englishman exclaimed. "I'm in a deuce of a fix."

"What's wrong?"

"Well, it's this way," said the ambassador, and then amid much hemming and hawing explained that he was in the park with another ambassador's wife. The lady in question was the wife of the Spanish ambassador.

The predicament of the British ambassador was doubly embarrassing. In addition to the personal aspect of the situation, relations between Britain and Spain were quite strained at the time. Disclosure of the incident could lead to serious international repercussions.

Seward promised to help. He hastened back to the White House, where he found Lincoln still hard at work on the desperate problems arising out of the war. Seward explained what had happened.

"We've got to do something quick," Lincoln said, "but the keys to the park aren't here. The White House gardener has them and he's gone home. It would take hours to get them, as he lives way out in Georgetown.

"I tell you what you do. You get the White House janitor, who has a room in the basement. Have him carry a ladder over to the park and they can get out that way."

That's what Seward did. The ladder was slipped through the hedge to the British ambassador, who placed it against the fence on the inside. His companion clambered to the top, and then she jumped into the arms of Seward. The ambassador did the same, the ladder was retrieved, and all went their way.

Thus ended that midsummer night's dream.


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