I realized as returned home tonight that it is not only the first day of Passover, not only a full lunar eclipse, but also the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The connection to Montgomery County lies not with Lincoln himself (how I wish we could have had a story about his ghost in ISOMG), but one of the conspirators. So as John Wilkes Booth and others tried escaping to the south, one of the conspirators went north and it’s his story, George Atzerodt’s story, that I am at liberty to tell.
George Atzerodt. Image from the Library of Congress
Richter-King House and George Atzerodt
There is a somewhat new house in Germantown where mysterious things have happened.The owner, a policeman, feels the house shake every time he puts on his dress blues. Heavy footsteps are frequently heard going up the stairs. What could have happened to haunt this house?
The answer lies not in the house, but in where the house stands. It is on the foundation of an older house; a house with a history and fear. It was the Richter-King House in Germantown and it was host to George Atzerodt, one of the Lincoln conspirators.
The story actually begins on Friday, April 14th in Washington, DC. George Atzerodt met with John Wilkes Booth , Lewis Paine and Davy Herold to plan President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Booth’s plan was not just to murder Lincoln, but also Secretary of State William Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson. Each member of the group was given a task to do. The task of killing Vice President Johnson fell to Atzerodt.
Until that moment, Atzerodt thought he had agreed to be part of a plot to kidnap the President. He knew couldn’t go through with an assassination. He decided the best thing to do was to get out of town! His cousin, Ernest Hartman Richter had a farm in upper Montgomery County and Atzerodt thought Richter might take him in while he figured out what he should do next.
The next day was Easter Sunday. As Atzerodt traveled north he stopped for lunch. The subject of Lincoln’s assassination came up among the diners and he was drawn into the conversation. His contribution to the conversation seemed unusually knowledgeable to his fellow diners. So much so that it aroused the suspicions of everyone at the table. Without realizing he may have said too much, he continued on to his cousin’s where he hung out and helped with the farm chores.
Richter-King House. Image from the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission
On the morning of Wednesday, April 19 at 5:00 AM, Atzerodt was roughly awakened by a blue-clad soldier sticking a pistol in his face. His conversations about the assassination three days earlier at the farmhouse had come back to haunt him. Through a network of spies, the information had worked its way to the 1st Cavalry stationed at Monocacy Junction. Once under arrest, the military moved him to the Old Capitol Prison where he was eventually hung.
So those heavy footsteps are, no doubt, the soldiers coming to arrest Atzerodt. And it is Atzerodt’s spirit that shakes with fear knowing that the soldiers in blue are coming to get him.