The Man Behind ‘Manhunt,’ the New Apple TV+ Show About the Lincoln Assassination

Meet James Swanson, the lifelong Abraham Lincoln obsessive who wrote the nonfiction thriller that inspired the acclaimed miniseries

Lili Taylor as Mary Lincoln and Hamish Linklater as Abraham Lincoln in the AppleTV+ miniseries "Manhunt" Apple / Illustration by Emily Lankiewicz

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, just five days after the end of the Civil War, remains one of the most shocking tragedies in U.S. history. No president had ever been killed before Lincoln, and the crime was all the more stunning for having been committed by a celebrity, the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth. While most of us learn the broad strokes of this history in elementary school, few of us have the kind of the personal connection to this dark chapter that historian James L. Swanson felt from an early age. He turned his youthful obsession into an adult profession.

Before it was even published in 2006, Swanson’s book Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer attracted the notice of Hollywood. After several prior attempts to adapt the nonfiction thriller for the screen over the last 18 years, the first two episodes of the seven-part Apple TV+ miniseries “Manhunt” finally premiered on March 15, with the subsequent five arriving weekly. I spoke with Swanson about what moved him to write the book, what his role in its long-gestating adaptation was and how he came to be so obsessed with our most-admired president in the first place.

A transcript is below. To subscribe to “There’s More to That,” and to listen to past episodes on the history of book banning, a photography project focused on African American descendants of Civil War veterans, and J. Robert Oppenheimer on film before the Best Picture-winning movie Oppenheimer, find us on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Chris Klimek, host: You’ve been obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, his life and his death for most of your life. How did that begin?

James L. Swanson, historian: Well, it began the day I was born, which was February 12. My mom tells me that the nurses wanted to name me Little Abe because I was born on the birthday.

Klimek (narration): Swanson’s parents did not name him Abe, but they did bestow upon their child a deep love of the 16th president.

Swanson: From the time I was a little boy, my parents gave me Lincoln gifts, Lincoln comic books, children’s books. And then when I was 15 years old, my father bought me an Abraham Lincoln autograph. The first one I owned.

Klimek (narration): Collecting Lincoln memorabilia became James’ lifelong passion, and he’s got quite the collection.

Swanson: I have a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton cut that lock of hair from Lincoln’s head the morning that he died, and it’s just one of the best Lincoln relics I have.

Klimek: I was about to ask what you regard as the crown jewel of your collection, but I think you may have just answered it already.

Swanson: There are three crown jewels. One is the lock of hair. Another is pieces of the actress Laura Keene’s dress. She got up to the box where Lincoln laid dying, and she thought this is her chance to cement her name in history. So she cradled Lincoln’s head in her lap, and Lincoln’s blood and brain matter stained her costume. And there are six surviving swatches of that dress stained with Lincoln’s blood. And I have one of those six swatches.

Klimek: Wow.

Swanson: One of my other favorites is a reward poster offering a $100,000 reward for John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators with three photographs of them pasted to the top of the poster. It’s the first illustrated reward poster in American history.

Klimek: James’ family also passed on an interest in John Wilkes Booth, one of the most hated men in American history.

Swanson: When I was about 10 years old, my grandmother gave me an unusual gift. She gave me a framed engraving of John Wilkes Booth’s Deringer pistol.

Klimek: Oh, wow.

Swanson: An unusual gift for a boy, maybe one might think a baseball or a bat or bicycle, but no, it was an engraving of the murder weapon used to kill Abraham Lincoln. The engraving was framed with a clipping from the Chicago Tribune from the morning of April 15, 1865, the day Lincoln died, the day after he was shot. And the clipping said, “Booth, the assassin, enters the president’s box, shoots Lincoln, leaps to the stage.” And at that point, the clipping had been cut off. And I thought, I want to read the rest of this story.

Klimek: This question—what was the rest of the story?—would become a professional pursuit for James. In 2006, he published a nonfiction thriller called Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. The best-selling book tells the story of the desperate search for John Wilkes Booth in the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination. It’s now been adapted into a miniseries for Apple TV+.

Manhunt - Official Trailer | Apple TV+


Tobias Menzies (as Edwin Stanton): How does a well-known actor commit murder in front of an audience of 1,500 people and escape?

Lili Taylor (as Mary Todd Lincoln): Find the man that killed my husband.

Swanson: When I was researching Manhunt, I actually bought a collection of Chicago Tribune newspapers from the night of the assassination and the day Lincoln died. And I found that very full clipping that I’ve been staring at since I was a kid. So it’s really been a lifelong obsession. I’m not so much interested in blood and death and murder. I’m interested in moments in American history where there’s a dramatic overnight change in the story. And I think there’s been nothing more dramatic in American history since the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Klimek: From Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions, this is “There’s More to That,” the show where we get an inside scoop on the real stories behind hit movies and TV shows. In this episode: how they solved the most dramatic murder case in American history and how Swanson helped adapt it on the small screen. I’m Chris Klimek.

Klimek: Many books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. None of them have dug into the assassination plot like Manhunt. That’s why James had to write his book.

Swanson: It’s really the book I would’ve wanted to read when I was growing up. There are about 20,000 books on Abraham Lincoln, all aspects of his life, and probably hundreds of them connect to somehow the story of his assassination, his death, his funeral train that took him across the country, back home to Springfield. And I wanted to write it as a novel, but everything is true.

Klimek: You’ve probably heard the story many times—John Wilkes Booth with the gun in Ford’s Theatre. But how much do you really know about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? The full story may surprise you.

Swanson: The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was, I think, one of the most shocking events in American history. It’s hard to imagine what it felt like to people at the time, because that had never happened before. No president had ever been assassinated.

Klimek: So to go back in time and absorb the significance of this world-shaking event, is there anything that we can glean just what it was like to experience or hear of that calamity?

Swanson: Yes. One of the most interesting things is the news couldn’t be transmitted instantaneously the way it can be today. So what happened was when Lincoln arrived at Ford’s Theatre to attend the play, Our American Cousin, he arrived late, and then he walked into the theater, and then the orchestra leader saw him ascend the stairs and come out on the second floor and toward this theatrical box. And he stopped the play, and the band played “Hail to the Chief.” And it was a dramatic, wonderful night, because it was the happiest week of Lincoln’s life. The war was essentially over. There were Confederate armies still in the field, but they would surrender soon enough. And so when Lincoln walked into the theater, the audience of 1,500 people screamed and cheered him. He had promised to save the Union, to win the Civil War, to end slavery. And that was the week he knew he had done all those three things. So it was a wonderful dramatic and happy moment.

And so then Booth came in, shot Lincoln in the theater box, and the theater went wild. And the news spread when people ran into the streets. The quickest way the news could spread is by foot or by horseback. And so it took a while for all of Washington to learn what had happened. And then eventually telegraphs were sent to New York, Philadelphia, etc. The president had been shot. So imagine a fire is set at a central point, and that fire spreads outward in a circle to the neighborhoods, then out of Washington and into the major cities in the North. The news spread in that way.

Klimek: So to paraphrase a question that we hear asked in the series, how does a famous actor shoot the president in front of 1,500 people and escape with a broken leg? How does he get away?

Swanson: Well, here’s how he escapes. Booth brilliantly conceived of how to do this. He knew Ford’s Theatre like the back of his hand. He knew there was a back entrance. He knew that when he entered that back entrance, there’s a trapdoor that would lead beneath the stage, and he could cross below the other side of the theater, and then he could follow a secret passageway to the street in front. So anyone who saw Booth in front of the theater would not know he parked a horse in the back. He was creeping below the floorboards and coming out the other side. So there was that surprise element. He told the stagehand, “Hold the horse for me, I’ll be back.” Then he snuck into Ford’s Theatre. It was a natural place that he would be. No one would think it’s odd. He entered the theater, and he entered the steps of the second floor and walked along the back wall toward the entrance to Lincoln’s booth.

Klimek: Booth encountered a White House employee outside the theater box.

Swanson: Booth, we know, showed some piece of paper to this man. It might’ve been his calling card, it might’ve been a note, we don’t know. But there’s no reason why Booth should not be admitted to Lincoln’s box. It would be as though someone like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or Taylor Swift went to the Kennedy Center and said, “Oh, can I say hello to the president?” Of course the answer is going to be yes. And so it was not odd that Booth was admitted to the presidential box, and then he closed the door behind him, and he wedged it shut. He had prepared the door earlier, and he put a wooden bar to prevent anyone from coming into the box behind him. So now Booth knows: When I go in and attack Lincoln, no one can come into the box behind me. I’ve sealed the door. And Booth was a tremendous athlete, so he knew that he could drop to the stage below him. It was 11 feet, 6 inches, and he was athletic enough to do it well.

His spur caught on the flag or on the picture wire of a George Washington frame print. So Booth landed unevenly and broke his leg. Then no one could chase him into the box. The only way to catch him, then, would be when he gets out the back door, gets on his horse and gallops away. He had to ride down an alley. To capture Booth, theatergoers would’ve had to run out the front door, turn right, run around the corner and block the escape from the alley. Only one person got up and chased him out of the theater. The tallest man in Washington, a fellow named Major [Joseph] Stewart, and he caught up with Booth in the alley, tried to grab the reins, and Booth was an excellent horseman. He kicked the horse into a tight circle and escaped and galloped away. And so Booth got out of the theater and out the alley before one person could catch up to him. That’s how he did it.

Klimek: The assassination was planned to a T, and yet, says James, at several points, it all could have gone wrong.

Swanson: Nothing was preordained. For example, Booth might’ve missed. He was carrying a single-shot pistol. There was no time to reload it. If he had missed, Lincoln would’ve survived. Also, this: If Lincoln had seen him coming—Lincoln looked like an old man; he had this carved-apple-doll-type-looking head—but Lincoln was still very physically powerful. The doctors at his autopsy marveled that below his head, his body was superbly muscled. Lincoln had been a flatboatman. He’d been a champion wrestler back in Illinois, and he still had the skills and strength of a rail splitter. Lincoln spent his youth until he’s 21 as a manual laborer doing brutal physical labor, and it made him very strong. If only Lincoln had seen Booth coming, he could have hurled Booth over the edge of the balustrade and dropped him to the stage.

Booth was a shorter man. He was an athlete. He was a gymnastic-style actor, a sword fighter, but he was no match for the strength of Abraham Lincoln. If Lincoln had seen Booth coming, Booth would arouse the natural instincts of the rail splitter. The success of the assassination was by no means a foregone conclusion. Booth’s escape was not a foregone conclusion. He didn’t plan to break a bone in his leg when he dropped to the stage. And that dropping to the stage and the bone break essentially put Booth two, two and a half days behind schedule, which ultimately led to his being surrounded and killed by the soldiers.

Klimek: So we know, and we see dramatized in “Manhunt,” that after he shoots the president, Booth shouts, “Freedom for the South!” and “Sic semper tyrannis [thus always to tyrants]!” Why would he take that risk? Isn’t he exposing himself to potential capture by stopping and calling attention to himself that way?

Swanson: Yes. Well, you’re right, but Booth also knew that this was to be his last performance on the American stage. So Booth didn’t just commit the assassination of Lincoln. He performed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He didn’t disguise himself, he didn’t wear a mask. He hadn’t shaved his mustache. He showed himself to the audience. He thrust his chest out, he paused and he boasted to the audience, and he shouted “Sic semper tyrannis,” the state motto of Virginia, “thus always to tyrants.” And then he said something else, and it’s one of the most interesting things Booth said. As he was exiting the stage, heading to the backstage door to exit the theater and to the alley, Booth was heard to exclaim to himself in triumph, “I have done it.”

Klimek: How does Booth get to Maryland when he escapes Ford’s Theatre?

Swanson: Well, he races out of Ford’s Theatre, and he goes up Pennsylvania Avenue. He rides across the Capitol grounds galloping. Not unusual. What’s unusual about a man galloping on a horse on the Capitol? He’s riding ahead of the news. No one has reason to suspect this figure on the horse riding away. And then he gets to 11th Street, makes a turn and crosses the 11th Street Bridge into Maryland. Talks his way past a sergeant and his patrol guarding the bridge—“We’re not supposed to let people out of Washington at night.” And Booth talks his way past them at the bridge. And then he rendezvouses at a certain point with David Herold, one of his fellow conspirators, and he spent the next 12 days of the manhunt with Booth as they were hiding.

Klimek: So the fact that Maryland, although it remained part of the Union, was still a state that harbored a lot of sympathy for the Confederate cause, did that help Booth’s escape in any way?

Swanson: Yeah, Maryland was as Confederate as Confederate could be, but while still staying a state in the Union. It was a hotbed of secessionism and anti-Lincoln sentiment. Certainly it helped Booth all along the way. Booth knew Confederate operatives in Maryland. He knew Confederate operatives in Virginia, because he had had an earlier plot to kidnap Abraham Lincoln and hold him hostage. So Booth had rounded up a few boyhood friends from Baltimore to participate in his earlier plot to kidnap Abraham Lincoln. Booth had met Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Maryland doctor and farmer who was a slave owner, cruel to his slaves, anti-Union, anti-Lincoln. And Dr. Mudd had agreed to participate in Booth’s earlier plot. Mudd was not the innocent country doctor who had a stranger come to his door.

Klimek: After arriving in Maryland, Booth made his way to Dr. Mudd’s home seeking treatment for his broken leg.

Swanson: Booth and Mudd had met on prior occasions in D.C. and at Mudd’s farm. They’d gone to church together in Maryland. Booth had spent a night at Dr. Mudd’s house. Mudd had helped Booth shop for horses that he was going to use in the conspiracy. Now, yes, it’s true. Booth had no plans to visit Dr. Mudd on assassination night. He headed in a different direction than he’d planned, because he needed to get that bone set and have a splint done. So Mudd was part of this plot, and a guy named Samuel Arnold, a boyhood friend from Baltimore was involved; a guy named Michael O’Laughlen, who Booth knew for years, was also involved. Interestingly, these fellow conspirators didn’t really join these plots because they hated Abraham Lincoln. They joined these plots because they loved and adored John Wilkes Booth. They were essentially fanboys of John Wilkes Booth who were recruited to help them.

Klimek: Were they fans of him as an actor, or as a political activist?

Swanson: Really, as a personality. Booth was a charming man. He was not a snob. He befriended people at all stations of society. He would take his fellow conspirators and treat them to oysters and whiskey at restaurants and bars. He would regale them with fun stories. He made them feel like he was part of a great stage star’s orbit. So he stopped at a number of safe houses, Confederate operatives along the way, the people he knew would help him.

My favorite character was a guy named Thomas Jones. Thomas Jones was essentially a river ghost for the Confederacy. He specialized in transporting documents and mail and rowing across the Potomac River. One of the operatives came to him and said, “I need you to help a man.” And Jones later wrote, “I knew who it was.” And then they met in a forest and they communicated by special whistle to know that the coast was clear. And Jones said, “Scarcely have I seen a more handsome man.” And then he volunteered to help Booth and said, “I will save you. I will help you. The Union cavalry is chasing you. They’re going to come through this area. We must hide in a remote pine thicket and let the Union patrols come through this area and go on to look for you elsewhere. And the day that happens, the moment that happens, I will send you across to Potomac River, to Virginia.”

Jones brought Booth food. He brought food for the horses, and, most important to John Wilkes Booth, Jones brought him the newspapers. Booth wanted to read about his crime and how it was received. He wanted to read his reviews. Jones was careful to hide him in the pine thicket for a few days, and they had to kill the horses because they were going to make noise and alert Union troops who were nearby. And so these horses who have served him so well, and David Herold so well, were put to death by John Wilkes Booth and David Herold. Their bones have never been found. They’re still buried there somewhere in a marsh—maybe one day historians will find them—but their bones have been lost to history.

So one night Jones came to Booth and said, “Tonight’s the night, the coast is clear.” And Jones led them on horseback to where he kept a rowboat. Now it was dangerous to cross. The Potomac River was wide there, was inky black, and Booth was not a river pilot. Jones decided to send Booth and David Herold across, because they had a compass. They lit a candle, and Booth looked at that compass by the candle, and Jones pointed the way. And then he and Jones parted, and he said to Booth, “Dear friend, I wish you well.” And Jones sent him on his way. Booth and Herold rode in the wrong direction, and they rode around and ended up back in Maryland again.

Klimek: Oh, no.

Swanson: In daylight.

Klimek: Booth and Herold spent the day in Maryland resting at a farm leased by a friend of Herold’s named John J. Hughes. That night they made their second attempt to cross the Potomac into Virginia. And this time they succeeded. Meanwhile, back in Washington, chaos had ensued from the minute the gun went off.

Swanson: Washington is in bedlam. Secretary of War Stanton dispatches messengers to go to the telegraph office near the White House and alert the nation that John Wilkes Booth has assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

Klimek: Edwin Stanton is the main character of the “Manhunt” miniseries. He and Abraham Lincoln had worked together closely throughout the Civil War. Once adversaries, in the end, they developed not only a strong working relationship, but a close friendship as well. For that reason, Lincoln’s death was a great blow to Stanton. Now the responsibility of tracking down his friend’s murderer fell to him.

Swanson: Edwin Stanton interviewed actors, eyewitnesses, [and got] descriptions of Booth. People recognized him right away.

Klimek: Who was put in charge of tracking down the assassin?

Swanson: Private detectives, bounty hunters, U.S. Army patrols. Probably several thousand people were involved or involved themselves in the manhunt for Booth. The people who caught up with him were patrol of the 16th New York Cavalry that was sent out by a steamboat to catch up Booth. Booth traveled less than 100 miles in 12 days during his journey. And the soldiers made up a lot of time by traveling on a steamboat and pursuing him into Virginia. It was this patrol of 26 men plus a few officers that caught up with Booth at the Garrett farm, the tobacco barn where Booth was hiding out. And they’re the ones who ultimately got Booth.

Klimek: What were Booth’s final hours like?

Swanson: Somewhat relaxed. During much of the journey, Booth posed as someone else. He and David Herold posed as Confederate veterans returning home from the war.

Klimek: Booth and his co-conspirator were still pretending to be veterans when they arrived at the site of Booth’s final stand, Garrett farm in Virginia.

Swanson: When they arrived at the Garrett family farm, the Garrett family was there. In fact, they had dinner with the family at the dining room table, and one of the daughters speculated about Booth and his motive and where he was and what he was doing. When Booth said, “Why do you think he did it?” Talking about himself, “Why do you think he did it?” And the girl said, “I think he did it for money.” And Booth said, “Oh, do you, miss? I think he did it for fame.” And I love the scene of Booth sitting with this family, concealing his identity, posing his to Confederate soldier, returning home and discussing with the family the motives of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, without letting them know it was him. And then the family got suspicious the next day when a Union cavalry patrol got near the farm, and Booth and David Herold ran off to hide, and they were suspicious of him, and they were afraid.

So the next night, Booth had to sleep in the tobacco barn, and they could really hear the cavalry arrive, the music of the sound of cavalry arriving, the sabers clacking against the saddles, the metal sounds, and then the cavalry patrol went to the Garrett farm and roused the family, and they threatened to hang the old man. “Garrett, tell us where he is, tell us where he is.” Because a tipster had told them, “Booth is at the Garret farm. I took him there.”

So they surrounded the tobacco barn in the middle of the night, and the Garrett children had locked Booth and David Herold into the barn because they were afraid they were going to steal their horses that night. And so the troops surrounded the barn and said, “Come out, we know you’re in there.” And that’s when Booth began his Shakespearean performance. Booth engaged them in the middle of the night in Shakespearean dialogue. He knew that those soldiers would write home in letters, in their diaries what he had said. And they did. We have a really good record of how Booth spoke to them that night. It went on for an hour or two. And so not only did he perform the assassination, he performed his capture and death. He knew this was his last performance. He knew he was going to make the best of it.

Klimek: Ultimately, the soldiers set fire to the tobacco barn where Booth was hiding.

Swanson: When the flames are burning, Booth, the crutch that Dr. Mudd gave him, he’s holding a Spencer carbine, a seven-shot carbine in his arm. The butt of the carbine is against his hip. And then at that point, Booth levels the carbine as though he might shoot it. And then a crazed Union sergeant, Boston Corbett, fired one shot through the open slats in the barn, because it was a tobacco drying barn, so it had vertical open slats to let air come through and the tobacco. So he could see the silhouette against the flames, and he fired one shot and hit Booth in the spine.

Booth was essentially paralyzed by that shot, and then they dragged him out of the burning barn and dragged him to the front porch of the Garrett house. And Booth, the pure actor that he was, performed his own death. He was laying there, and Booth said, “Kill me, kill me.” And the officer said, “We don’t want to kill you. We want you to get well. We want to take your captive.” And then as the sun rose, Booth raised his hands and he looked at his hands and he said, “Useless. Useless.” And then he died as the sun rose on the front porch. We don’t know what he meant. Was the assassination useless? Did he realize it was a futile act? Or did he realize that his own hands were now useless? We don’t know.

Klimek: It all sounds very cinematic. And as we mentioned, this story is now a show on Apple TV+. James served as an executive producer and script advisor on the project.

Swanson: It was great to see the story that I spent my life on come alive. Hamish Linklater does a superb job playing Abraham Lincoln. And I’ve known some Lincolns. I knew Gregory Peck, I know Sam Waterston, I met Hal Holbrook, all excellent Lincolns in their own way. And Hamish is right after with all these great stars. I really thought I was seeing Abraham Lincoln. In fact, we had dinner one night after a day of filming and I said, “Hamish, let me just come out and say it. To me, you are Abraham Lincoln.” And he said, “Oh, thank goodness, I can relax. I knew the world’s expert was coming here to watch me do this, and I thought I was going to be a failure.” I said, “No, you’re far from that. You’re a superb Abraham Lincoln.”

Klimek: Your review is the one he was worried about.

Swanson: Yes. It was so interesting for me to see how many different takes were done of the scene. And sometimes they asked for my thoughts on the scene. I remember one great moment when Lili Taylor, playing Mary Lincoln, was supposed to enter a room where Lincoln and Stanton were talking. Lili had said, “Well, what would Mary Lincoln do? How would she walk in here?” The director said, “Well, Lili, one of the great experts is standing two feet right behind you, James. What would Mary do?” And I said, “Mary Lincoln was imperious, forceful. She would not—she’d just walk in and state her views and interrupt Lincoln and the secretary of war and just demand she be heard.” So that’s how they played that scene. The portrayals felt very, very true to me.

Klimek: So we know from all his writing the way that [Lincoln] thought and wrote. How much do we know or can we know about what his voice sounded like?

Swanson: Well, he retained his frontier accent, which was a Kentucky and Indiana accent. It was kind of a high, keening voice. Many witnesses and many friends of Lincoln have described his voice. And also we know it could go great distances in the crowds and that would require a higher pitch, not a deep base that would be swallowed by a huge crowd of people. So I think Hamish really gets a good grip on Abraham Lincoln’s voice.

Klimek: You also said you’ve met so many different actors who have played Abraham Lincoln over time. Do you think that all of these different pop-cultural representations of Lincoln have affected the way we remember him, things that we think we know about him?

Swanson: Well, I think so. I think one of the greatest myths of Abraham Lincoln that he was the kindly Father Abraham, the grandfatherly type man. Lincoln did believe in compromise to a point. Once Lincoln got to a conclusion about something, he could be quite inflexible. For example, Abraham Lincoln was willing to send several hundred thousand men to their deaths to vindicate the principles of a free government, free election and Union. As Lincoln once said, “It began as war, let it be tried by war.” Lincoln was not willing to end the Civil War through a compromise.

One of Lincoln’s law colleagues once said to him, about Lincoln back in Illinois, many people have made the mistake of turning their back on Lincoln thinking he was going to let them up easy in law practice. They found themselves with Lincoln’s knife pledged through their shoulders. And so Lincoln was tough, and you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Lincoln. You didn’t want to provoke Lincoln. Yes, he was an understanding person. He was a very empathetic person. Lincoln essentially was an amateur psychiatrist or amateur psychologist. He learned so much about human nature. During decades of practicing law, Lincoln defended murderers, slanderers, cheats, cattle thieves, horse thieves. Lincoln learned the heights and depths that men and women could go. He was a genius at getting to know people and understanding their motives and their personalities and dealing with them. I think he was the most psychologically advanced and mature president we’ve ever had.

Klimek: Were there any particular scenes or moments from the book that you were especially looking forward to seeing dramatized on screen?

Swanson: Well, I was looking forward to the death of Willie Lincoln.

Klimek (narration): Willie Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s third son. He died of typhoid at just 11 years old while his parents were elsewhere in the White House hosting a party.

Swanson: There was a reception on the first floor of the White House, and there was a great scene where Lincoln goes to visit Willie and what became his deathbed. That bed is still in the White House now, and there was a very touching scene when Hamish goes to visit Willie in his deathbed. So I was very touched and moved to see the president visiting his boy who was so sick, because Lincoln’s favorite son was Willie. Willie embodied the spirit and character of Abraham Lincoln more than any other of Lincoln’s children. He was really the true son of Abraham Lincoln. I’m glad that’s in the series.

And I also like the intensity of Booth. I love the way he screams out, “As God is my witness, I will never surrender.”

Klimek: You wrote for Smithsonian magazine about how you had this practice of visiting Ford’s Theatre on the anniversary of Lincoln’s death for many years. Why do you do that?

Swanson: I still do that, because it connects me to Lincoln, the drama and sadness of that night. Going to the places where history happened, holding in my hands the objects of history, the photographs, the relics, the artifacts, they resonate with the kind of magic. I feel like I’m there. I feel like it transports me and connects me to that moment in time in a way that reading about it alone doesn’t do enough for me. I really imagined what it was like to be there, what I might’ve seen at the time. I really feel the spirit of the times by going to the places where things happened. I feel places and objects are haunted by the drama that’s surrounded them, and I feel that resonance when I go to these places.

Klimek: James Swanson is the author of Manhunt, the basis for the new Apple TV+ series, and the brand-new book The Deerfield Massacre. Thank you, James Swanson, for a very illuminating conversation.

Swanson: My pleasure.

Klimek: We will have links to Smithsonian magazine’s new story offering more of the real history behind the events dramatized in “Manhunt,” and to James Swanson’s earlier story about his favorite Lincoln artifacts in our show notes.

Klimek: Before we say goodbye, let’s move from a very tall president to a small animal. This week’s dinner party fact is a story of survival.

Carlyn Kranking: Hi, my name is Carlyn Kranking, and I’m one of Smithsonian magazine’s online science editors. And today I’m sharing a fact about tardigrades, which are these eight-legged microscopic animals that have remarkable survival abilities.

They are sometimes called water bears or moss piglets. They are pretty famous as far as micro-animals go because they are really indestructible and they can live through very extreme conditions of heat and cold, intense pressure, the radiation of space and even crazy impact speeds of nearly 2,000 miles per hour. One way that they do this is by entering this extreme dormant state where their metabolism slows down a lot and they become very dehydrated. And one scientist described it as them basically dying, even though they don’t. They can survive in the state for up to decades, but scientists still don’t completely understand how they can virtually wake themselves up and re-emerge. They are pretty invincible.

Klimek: “There’s More to That” is a production of Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions. From the magazine, our team is me, Debra Rosenberg and Brian Wolly. From PRX, our team is Jessica Miller, Genevieve Sponsler, Adriana Rozas Rivera, Ry Dorsey and Edwin Ochoa. The executive producer of PRX Productions is Jocelyn Gonzales. Our episode artwork is by Emily Lankiewicz. Fact-checking by Stephanie Abramson. Our music is from APM Music. I’m Chris Klimek. Thanks for listening.

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