Lincoln pocket watch revived for movie then stops at ominous time


by Joe Arnold

Posted on November 13, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 14 at 6:52 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- The sound of a pocket watch once owned by President Abraham Lincoln plays a prominent role in the soundtrack of a new Lincoln movie after the Kentucky Historical Society agreed to wind the watch for the film's sound technician.

When the watch eventually stopped, it indicated the same time as a Lincoln assassination eyewitness recalled seeing assassin John Wilkes Booth enter Lincoln's private box at Ford's Theater.

"It's something that Lincoln held and something that Lincoln listened to and something that Lincoln wound," said Trevor Jones, the Director of Museum Collections and Exhibitions at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.  "When we got to wind it, Lincoln wound this watch, and that's a pretty cool connection with history."

"Whenever you hear the ticking, that's the same ticking that Lincoln heard 150 years ago," said Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg in an interview with CBS News.

The movie opens nationwide this Friday.
Jones said the museum was contacted in May by Ben Burtt, an Academy Award-winning sound designer best known for inventing the sound of the light saber in Star Wars.
Uncomfortable with lending the watch to the filmmakers, Jones agreed to allow a recording at the museum only after a watch expert concluded Lincoln's watch was in perfect working order.  Museum staff added a "drop of oil" to the mechanism, Jones said.

Originally inherited by Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, the watch was donated to the Kentucky Historical Society by the descendants of a prominent Lincoln historian in 2002.  It remains on display near oil portraits of Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  A recent addition to the exhibit is a handheld speaker that allows museum visitors to listen to the new and only known recording of Lincoln's watch.

The story handed down with the watch is that Lincoln carried it the night he was assassinated in 1865.  Historians cannot prove or disprove that.  Yet, WHAS11 noticed a link to the assassination in the time now displayed on the watch after its recent revival.  The watch stopped at 10:25, the same time that assassin John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford's Theater, according to an account by an eyewitness, Dr. George Brainard Todd:

"About 10.25 P.M. a man came in and walked slowly along the side on which the 'Pres' box was and I heard a man say, 'There's Booth' and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in. No sooner had the door closed than I heard the report of a pistol."

Jones said museum staff did not manually stop the watch but it came to rest at 10:25 after it was wound and run for the film crew.

To the students of 2012, Lincoln is a legendary, almost mythic figure of American history. 

Yet in his native Kentucky, the 16th president is not frozen in time, thanks - in part - to a pocket watch he once carried near his heart, now part of the Kentucky History Society's collection.

"It's a very personal artifact," Jones said.  "But, it's also - he would have been checking the time for meetings or waiting for a telegraph to come through or any of those important things that he did as well."

"If there is a defining event for the state of Kentucky and Kentucky's history, it is that (Civil War) period," Jones said.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History
100 West Broadway
Frankfort, KY 40601

Wednesday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Adults: $4
Youth (6-18): $2
Children (5 and under): FREE
KHS members: FREE
Veterans: $3
AAA members: $3
Martin F. Schmidt Research Library: FREE

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