Attorney 'Abe Lincoln' Part of Surprise in Courtroom

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
This Fourth of July was a lot like any other at Hennepin — other than the Abraham Lincoln visit.

Thousands of people showed up for the fireworks Friday night, and crowds were drawn separately throughout the day to picnics, a car cruise, a “bags” tournament, beer garden, food booths, fire hose “water fights” for children and inflated bounce houses.

The All-American party this time doubled as a celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Putnam County Courthouse, and as part of that observance, a group of local amateur actors re-enacted the Melissa Goings trial. In that trial, an 1857 case actually heard in the Woodford County courthouse in Metamora, Lincoln defended Goings, who faced execution by hanging if convicted in the beating death of her husband.

History buffs, law fans and curious onlookers packed the Putnam County courthouse twice Saturday for re-enactments of the extremely brief trial.

Many of the people in the gallery knew beforehand that Goings was a frequently-abused wife of a “mean drunk.”

However, most did not know about the final result of the case.

“I didn’t realize what the outcome was going to be. It was a real surprise ending,” said Elaine Newell, Bureau County Genealogy Society member, to Barbara Kessler after the re-enactment. Kessler played the role of the accused, Melissa Goings.

In the case, the coroner, portrayed by current county death investigator Robert Cofoid, stated that Mr. Goings was exhumed and he then examined the body and determined that being struck in the head by a bloody log found at the Goings house likely did him in. A neighbor, played by Greg Carr, testified under cross-examination that he and many of the people in the community raised bail money for Mrs. Goings and felt that she should not “hang” for the killing of a “mean drunk” who abused her.

Lincoln put his defendant on the stand, and she stated that her husband kept coming at her, that she told him she would hit him if he tried to harm her and that she struck him in the head with the log when he continued to approach aggressively.

Lincoln called for a recess to talk to his client, and then returned to the courtroom alone. When asked by Judge Herriott, played by current Putnam County resident judge Scott Shore, where his client was, Lincoln replied that he wasn’t sure. He said Goings asked where she could get a “good drink of water” and that he told her he believed that would be “Tennessee.”

“And that is how this case ended,” Shore told the audience, stating that Goings was not pursued vigorously and histories indicate she was last seen in California.

“Had she not left, she would have been hanged, because a wife was not allowed to defend herself in 1857,” Kessler said as visitors to the courtroom were talking with actors and looking around the 175-year-old courtroom and jury room.

And as far as the real Abraham Lincoln visiting Putnam County, local historians have a letter he wrote after visiting the Durley family in 1845, and some believe he was in the courthouse at some point.

Source: News Tribune