Employees and Staff: William Henry Crook (1839-1915)

Washington policeman, William Henry Crook, was assigned as a White House guard starting in January 1865 and remained as a White House employee long after the assassination. He accompanied the First Family when it went to the Richmond front in March 1865. Crook was on duty on April 14, 1865 before President Lincoln was assassinated. When the evening guard did not show up, Crook stayed on for a second shift. He did not, however, accompany the President to Ford's Theater. Crook later reported that earlier that evening the President told him as they walked between the White House and the War Department, "Crook, do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it."

Crook asked "Why do you think so, Mr. President?" and the President replied: "Other men have been assassinated." Mr. Lincoln added: "I have perfect confidence in those who are around me—in every one of your men. I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it."1 Crook himself once needed a favor from the President:
One thing which gives me happiness to remember happened on the 2d of March [1865]. I was drafted, and the other guards with me. Frankly, I didn't want to go. I had served in the army already; I had a young wife and a young son at home to hold me. I couldn't afford to pay for a substitute. So I joined the ranks of the people with grievances whom for some time I had been watching and went to the President. I found him in his own room, in dressing-gown and slippers. I told him that I had been drafted, and asked him if he could do anything in my case and in that of Alexander Smith, who was my special friend on the force. He listened to my story as patiently as if he had not heard hundreds like it. I like to remember how kindly he looked at me. When I had finished, he said:
'Well, I can't spare you. Come into my office.'
I followed him as a child would follow his father. He seated himself at the desk and wrote on a small card a note to Provost-Marshal Frye and told me to take it to him and get the answer.2
When he learned that Mr. Lincoln had been shot. "My first thought was, If I had been on duty at the theatre, I would be dead."3 He later accompanied Mrs. Lincoln when she left the White House for Chicago. He helped amuse Tad and ease his transition from Washington. Crook continued his security work at the White House and his reminiscences were later collected in Through Five Administrations. One of the stories Crook told exemplified, he believed, the personal character of Mr. Lincoln:
I remember one afternoon, not long before the President was shot, we were on our way to the War Department, when we passed a ragged, dirty man in army clothes lounging just outside the White House enclosure. He had evidently been waiting to see the President, for he jumped up and went toward him with his story. He had been wounded, was just out of the hospital—he looked forlorn enough. There was something he wanted the President to do; he had papers with him. Mr. Lincoln was in a hurry, but he put out his hands for the papers. Then he sat down on the curbstone, the man beside him, and examined them. When he had satisfied himself about the matter, he smiled at the anxious fellow reassuringly and told him to come back the next day; then he would arrange the matter for him. A thing like that says more than any man could express. If I could only make people see him as I did—see how simple he was with every one; how he could talk with a child so that the child could understand and smile up at him; how you would never know, from his manner to the plainest or poorest or meanest, that there was the least difference between that man and himself; how, from that man to the greatest, and all degrees between, the President could meet every man square on the plane where he stood and speak to him, man to man, from that plane—if I could do that, I would feel that I had told something of what he was."4



Footnotes

    1. Margarita Spalding Gerry, editor, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, p. 66.
    2. Gerry, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, p. 25.
    3. Gerry, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, p. 68.
    4. Gerry, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, pp. 78-79.

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