GARDNER, ALEXANDER. The Hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators. 5 albumen prints, each 7 x 9 in., on original mounts, 4 of the 5 captioned with small letterpress labels under prints giving Gardner's copyright, and titled on the mounts in a contemporary hand "Sic Semper Sicariis." 3 of the 5 are additionally titled in ink in the lower left corner of the mount as follows: "Arrival at the Scaffold," "Reading the Death Warrant" and "Adjusting the Ropes," the untitled and uncaptioned print depicts the scaffold with the ropes hanging empty prior to the conspirators' arrival, the albumen of the hanging contains the translation "Thus be it ever with assassins" below "Sic Semper Sicariis."
EXTREMELY RARE AND NEARLY COMPLETE SET, in unusually fine condition of Gardner's grim images from this controversial execution. Even single prints from this series are scarce, and complete sets are almost unknown. What is lacking from the Laico set can almost be considered adjunct images (the photograph of the executioners and the photograph of the initial grave sites), but present and complete is the essential sequence from the conspirator's arrival to their hanging. The photograph of the empty scaffold, ropes slack, is seldom found.
Though it is often Mathew Brady who is credited with recording the scene inside the Washington Penitentiary on July 7, 1865, it was actually Alexander Gardner, assisted by Timothy O'Sullivan and operating two cameras (one for views and one for stereographs) that documented the hanging. Gardner was the only photographer allowed access to the Lincoln conspirators after their arrests, being involved as early as two days after the assasination by making copy prints of Booth and Surratt for the wanted posters. The condemned were George Atzerodt, charged with the attempted assassination of the vice-president, David Herold, and who assisted Booth in his escape attempt, Lewis Payne, convicted for an assassination attempt against Secretary of State Seward, and Mrs. Mary Surratt, who kept a boardinghouse where the conspirators met. Until the soldiers began knocking the props away from the scaffold and the trap dropped, the public expected a pardon for Surratt, to the extent that the officers allowed an inordinate amount of time in preparing the ropes, in expectation of a stay of execution for the boardinghouse owner. None came. She became the first woman executed under the authority of the United States government. Surratt was later found innocent and the grim work enacted on the scaffold became an embarrassment to the hastily convened military tribunal. (5)