Johnson slammed down his glass in a rage.
"So say you, Mr. Thomas, but I profess my faith in President Jackson and the power of the gold coin," he said in disgust. "The bank is illegal."
Thomas shook his head, swirling his whisky in his glass. Johnson was a stubborn man on a good day, and he should have known better than to engage in a political conversation over drinks.
"And how many here have benefited from the credit extended by the National Bank?" Thomas asked in a conciliatory tone.
Johnson ignored the question, tapping his glass lightly on the bar to get the attention of the bartender.
"Another whisky," he said to the bartender. "And one for the fool next to me. Perhaps a few more spirits will help him see reason."
The tall, slim bartender said nothing in response, stoically pouring another glass for his patrons.
"The folk around here believe in the good Lord and gold, my friend," Johnson retorted as he flipped a coin onto the bar to pay for the drinks. "Always have."
The bartender slid the coin off the bar and into his apron, nodding in acknowledgement of the payment, but otherwise not signaling agreement or dissent with Johnson's statement.
"Be it any other man, perhaps your argument might hold some merit," Thomas conceded, trying to tone down the discussion. "But alas, Mr. Jackson is country buffoon who acts more like a king than a president."
"And I submit that Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster have never put in an honest day's labor between the two of them," Johnson replied. "Their soft hands are surely in the pockets of their rich patrons."
Johnson glanced at the bartender, looking for some reaction to what he thought was a truly funny retort, but found none. If the bartender was amused at all by the conversation, he wasn't showing it.
"Mr. Webster wouldn't know a field of corn from a field of wheat," he continued. "He wouldn't last a week here in Illinois."
Thomas smirked at the remark, it was hard to imagine the senator from Massachusetts getting his hands dirty.
"Perhaps not, Mr. Johnson, but I suspect, given the need for good attorneys around these parts, Mr. Webster might do just fine," Thomas said. "And I fail to see how Mr. Webster's lack of knowledge when it comes to farming lends any credibility to your argument."
"You would say that," Johnson said, growling as he finished off his glass of whisky with a mighty slug. "But the point is that our president understands the common man, and that flat money generally hurts the farmers and planters and lines the pockets of the rich at their expense."
Johnson stretched his hand across the bar with his empty glass. The bartender anticipated the move and had it filled before Johnson had a chance to ask for another.
"Thank you, my good man," Johnson said. "This young fellow no doubt sees the common man on a daily basis and understands their plight as well as the next. What say you, sir?"
The bartender stood stone-faced, deep in thought. Thomas turned to look at him, as eager as Johnson for the bartender to validate one argument or the other.
"I find it best to avoid discussions of political nature," the bartender said. "And I have no real opinion to offer on the matter, as I have not yet studied it in any detail. I just pour the drinks."
Both men tried to claim victory over the other, if only in the sense that neither had swayed the bartender toward their point of view.
Johnson pressed after a brief argument with his friend, determined to win the day with the young bartender.
"Surely you must see the merit in a gold coin," he said to the bartender.
"One payment is as good as another," the young man replied. "Be it a gold coin or a dozen eggs in barter."
"This fellow ought to be a politician," Thomas laughed. "For who could disagree with that?"
"Well, he's got an honest face, that much is true," Johnson chuckled. "Have you given it any thought, Mister...?"
"Lincoln," the bartender replied. "Abraham Lincoln."
The Real History:
Abraham Lincoln was, in fact, the only U.S. President to be a licensed bartender. He operated a small tavern in New Salem, Illinois, in 1833. He did show political aspirations by that point in his life, more closely aligning with what would become the Whig Party than Andrew Jackson's Democrats. Nonetheless, Jackson appointed him as the town's postmaster.
The old man peering out the window seemed harmless. They told me he was a murderer.
I watched him from a distance. I always did with new patients. I wanted to watch them interact with others. I wanted to see how they spent their days.
He sat muttering out names and shaking his head. He would occasionally lower his head in resignation.
“What do you think, doctor?” Helga knew the old man well, having been his nurse for a number of years.
“I think he blames himself for what happened,” I answered. “And I think he’s in denial about what he did.”
“Henry sometimes has better days than this one,” Helga said. “Some days he admits to killing Clara. Most days, though, he doesn’t.”
I walked over to him and pulled a chair next to his, gazing out the same window he was.
“Nice day today, isn’t it?” I liked to engage in conversation to help put the patients at ease.
“The sun is shining,” Henry replied. “That’s the only thing nice about it.”
“They say your name is Henry. Mine is Klaus.”
“You’re not the same as the other doctors here, Klaus.” Henry didn’t bother to even look at me as he responded.
“What makes you think I’m a doctor?” I asked him.
“Because you’re not slobbering on yourself or ranting incoherently like the rest of us.”
I studied him closer, noticing the long scar on his left arm, running from his elbow to his shoulder. He caught me staring.
“It’s my fault, doctor. I couldn’t stop him.”
“I’m not sure I understand, Henry.” I was hoping to draw the story out from him, even though I already knew many of the details from reading his chart.
“I was right there, and I didn’t do anything. Grabbed the scoundrel’s coat, but nothing else.” He paused for a moment, clasping his trembling hands together.
“He, he was so angry, so full of rage. I was scared. I was scared, doctor. A major in the Army and I was terrified of that face!” The emotion of reliving the moment caused tears to begin streaming down his face.
“It’s not your fault, Henry,” I said.
“It is my fault, I tried to tackle him. I needed to stop him. I was too scared!” He put his hands over his face and began to weep.
“Let’s talk about something else, Henry.” I tried to think of something else to discuss, perhaps a current event or some other memory that wasn’t as traumatic.
“No one wants to talk about anything else!” he shouted. “The reporters, the doctors, they all want to know about it. It’s been 40 years, and they still won’t leave me alone!”
“I’m sorry, Henry,” I said. “I won’t ask again about it.”
We sat there silently for a few minutes, just staring out the window.
“You said you were in the Army, I thought I read you were in some major battles,” I said, trying to change the subject.
“A few. Fredericksburg and Antietam. Not much to tell from my end.” He stared at a branch outside the window, watching the bird which had just landed there.
“What kind of bird is that?” I asked.
“I couldn’t say, doctor. I don’t really have much interest in bird watching,” he said. “I’d like to go home to Clara and the kids now.”
Now it was my turn to watch the bird, trying to think of the best way to dodge the request.
“But Henry, you’re still not well,” I finally said. “I wouldn’t be a very good doctor if I let to you leave before you were better.”
He turned his head quickly toward me, his face suddenly full of anger.
“I’ve told you before!” he yelled. “Someone broke into our home! I didn’t kill Clara! He stabbed me, I couldn’t…stop…” His voice trailed off.
“I need a drink,” he said. “Please. A nice glass of sherry. Perhaps some scotch. Yes, scotch. Scotch? No. Some bourbon, please.”
He became so agitated he shot to his feet far more quickly than a man of nearly 70 years should. I reached out to steady him.
“Where are you going, Henry?”
“To fetch myself a nice beer,” he answered. “The beer garden will be closing soon.”
I motioned discreetly for the orderlies to come assist me, I knew he was getting too agitated.
“Why don’t we go to your room, Henry? I’ll have a beer brought to you.”
“I tried to stop him! I’m sorry, Mrs. Lincoln! I couldn’t stop him!” He turned and glared at me.
“Booth! You scoundrel! You’ll not leave this theatre alive!”
He lunged toward me, but I was able to easily avoid his grasp.
As was the case all too often, the orderlies had to roughly escort Mr. Rathbone back to his room.
“No! No, you fools! You’re letting him get away!”
The Real History:
Maj. Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, were guests of the Lincolns at Ford’s Theater that fateful night. Rathbone was viciously stabbed by Booth as he tried to apprehend him.
The guilt followed him the rest of his life. He drank excessively and eventually killed Clara in a fit of rage. He spent the last 28 years of his life in a mental institution.
As soon as Ugolino burst through the door, his brother could tell he was up to something.
"What is it this time?" Vandino asked. Ugolino only smiled in response, not yet ready to lay out his idea.
"Open the cask," he said, "this is best discussed over some wine."
Vandino rolled his eyes. His brother was constantly coming up with schemes that promised fabulous wealth.
"Is this anything like investing in the County of Tripoli?" Vandino sighed. "We lost a fortune there."
"Hey, that would have worked. It was Zaccaria's fault," Ugolino said. "He got greedy."
Vandino poured the wine, two cups worth, and set them on the table.
"No, no," Ugolino said. "We need four."
"Yeah, Doria and Guido are coming over," Ugolino answered.
"I'm surprised," Vandino said. "I thought you'd burned Doria one too many times. And Guido? What money does he have?"
"Not to worry, fratello," Ugolino laughed. "They don't know about it yet. And we'll need Guido for this one."
Vandino could not possibly imagine what they would need someone like Guido for. He was just a modest weaver, who occasionally dabbled in making sails.
The two men arrived just after Vandino had finished setting places for them.
"This had better be good, Vivaldi," Doria warned Ugolino as he took his seat. "And don't ask for money."
"Who said anything about money?" Ugolino said, his voice dripping with feigned innocence. "Just a few drinks among friends."
The group chatted through nearly the whole cask of wine, covering everything from the Pope to the wretched villains from Pisa. Ugolino bode his time, waiting for the right moment to break in with his proposition. Making sure his brother and guests were sufficiently drunk was part of the plan.
“It makes no difference," Doria boomed to Vandino. "There isn't a man in Pisa capable of sailing to Genoa, let alone leading an army against us."
"You're right, Doria," Ugolino agreed. "We've got the best sailors around. We could sail anywhere. Even across the Ocean Sea."
Vandido shook his head to take exception with his brother's outlandish claim. No one could sail across the Ocean Sea.
"You've had too much wine, my brother," he scolded. "The bravado of the spirits is speaking now."
"I bet we could do it," Ugolino insisted. "You and I."
"You two?" Doria cackled, coughing on his wine. "You two can't even get through a month with needing to borrow money."
Ugolino's face stiffened.
"I could change all that," he said. "I've got an idea." Everyone else at the table groaned.
"No, no, hear me out," Ugolino begged. "This could make all of us rich."
"That's what you told me the last time," Doria protested. "And the time before that. And the time..."
"I get it," Ugolino snapped. "Just listen. There have been some developments that make this a better bet than most."
Vandino turned flush, embarrassed that his brother was in the midst of yet another scheme, waving his hand to shut Ugolino up.
"Let him speak," Doria said. "I'm sure we'll all have a hearty laugh at the end."
Ugolino was unfazed, determined to pitch his idea.
"Look," he said. "I have it on good authority that we can get through the Straits into the Ocean Sea. No trouble, no pirates."
"And?" Vandino interjected, with a crisp edge of doubt that thoroughly annoyed Ugolino.
"And I'm saying we can sail across it and get to India," he leaned back in his chair, pausing for effect. "Imagine a boat full of spices, free of customs, no Venetians or Pisans after our loot."
Doria didn't say anything. He sat searching for his better judgement to talk him out of it. Alas, he washed down his good sense a few glasses of wine prior.
"Guido here, he can make us some sails, sails built for some grand galleys, and he can rustle up some sailors through his contacts at the port," Ugolino explained. "All we need is some money to outfit the trip."
Doria put his fingers to his lips with the intention of blocking any agreement from escaping. It didn't work.
"It's interesting," he said. "As long as Vandino goes too. I've got to have at least one brother on the trip with his head screwed on straight."
"You in, Guido?" Ugolino asked excitedly. "Think you can help us out?"
"The Ocean Sea, you're nuts," Guido said. "Even the most desperate sailors would laugh me off the dock for such an undertaking."
"Why's that?" Ugolino asked sharply. "Because no one has ever done it?"
"Who knows if the ocean even reaches the whole way to India?" Guido said. "No one will ever sail to India, especially not heading west."
"You're just a weaver, Guido Colombo!" Ugolino shouted in drunken anger. "No one in your family will ever sail across a pond, let alone the ocean!"
The Real History:
The Vivaldi brothers, Ugolino and Vandino, set sail from Genoa in the spring of 1291. They headed down the coast of Africa, never to been seen again. A little more than 200 years later, the son of a Genoese weaver, proposed heading west to India and discovered the New World.