The Seville Mantilla & Mary Surratt

Caitlin Legault — Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

It is my belief that what makes us human and not dogs, cats or whales is our ability to associate apparently disparate things with each other.Rorschach tests would fail with dog, cats or whales. When human fail such a test it involves a failure of the psyche not of their humanity.

I would like to be clear that even though I have an uncommon interest in anything relating to the American Civil War I have yet to see Robert Redford’s 2010 film The Conspirator. The film is about the trial and guilty verdict of the housekeeper Mary Surratt who was then hanged, the first woman to be hanged by a federal court in the United States. There are some pictures of the hanging where Surratt and thee other co-conspirators are seen in far away.

My new and exciting photographic subject is the marvelous Caitlin Legault. She is a professional life drawing and figure model. She is used to keeping a pose for a long time. Of late she has been posing for video makers who expect her to make rapid movement.

In my many years as a photographer I have only met one person who can match Legault’s talent. This was Carole Taylor.

I remember taking her picture (this I did many times) in one of the basement corridors of the CBC when she was working there on TV. I had my big camera and lights. She looked wonderful in my viewfinder. I would think, “If she nods a bit to the left this will look even better.” Like magic Taylor would then do just that without instruction.

Legault poses for me and like Taylor I don’t have to tell her much. The poses happen. They seem to be instinctive. The image here is one of only one where she did the blindfold (using my Grandmother’s Seville mantilla which she wore to Mass). I took the picture and I then told her:

“ This reminds me of the blindfolding of Mary Surratt before she was hanged. She was a woman at the end of the American Civil war that…”

I found this which will keep me busy for a few more days. I have the film The Conspirator so I will watch that too.

President Andrew Johnson’s Last Words on Mary Surratt

The following is an excerpt from The Greeneville-Democrat-Sun, Wednesday, May 30, 1923 (p.1). The article contains information regarding Johnson’s thoughts on Mary Surratt just three days before he died at his daughter’s home near present day Elizabethton, then Carter’s Station, TN. A Mr. McElwee of the American Steel Association accompanied Johnson on the train ride to Johnson City, and then on to Carter’s Station in a carriage, during which time Johnson talked openly and freely of his time in office. Mr. McElwee later submitted a manuscript of the conversation to the state archives.

Note: The misspellings are part of the original article and have been left as printed. They will be identified by [sic].

“While Mr. McElwee, explained that he was not attempting to quote the exact words of Mr. Johnson, he gives the substance of the political conversation.

‘The execution of Mrs. Surrat [sic] was a crime of passion without justice or reason. She knew no more about the intentions of Booth and his associates than any other preson [sic] who chanced to know Booth or Asterot. They had simply boarded as others had done, at her boarding house. She was entitled to trial in open court and the record of that trial preserved, but her executioners knew the records would condemn them if they kept till passion had subsided and they were estroyed’ [sic].

‘Is there no record of the condemnation and execution of Mrs. Surratt?’

‘No Sir, the records were immediately destroyed. They were not even kept until John was arrested and tried.’

‘If she was not guilty, why did you not interpose executive clemency?’

‘If I had interfered with the execution it would have meant my death and a riot that would have probably ended in war.’

‘Was there any appeal made to you for mitigating the sentence as reported after the execution.’

‘No appeal reached me. Her daughter forwarded one, but it was suppressed by Secretary Stanton. I heard of it afterward but never saw it. It was murder founded on perjury and executed to gratif pyassion [sic]. The chief witness afterwards confessed to his perjury.’”

Link to: The Seville Mantilla & Mary Surratt

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