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Lincoln sites spurn Bill O’Reilly’s book because of errors

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Updated: December 18, 2011 5:18PM

SPRINGFIELD — The book Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly wrote about Lincoln’s assassination may sit near the top of some best seller lists, but it’s being spurned by major Lincoln destinations in the state where the 16th president matters most.

The only exception is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, which has the book on display in its gift shop and reports that sales have been impressive during the past several weeks.

O’Reilly’s book, Killing Lincoln, has faced increasing criticism from historians across the country for a spate of errors that O’Reilly attributes to the handiwork of “nitpickers.”

One of the bigger mistakes in his 325-page book is a reference to Lincoln doing business in the Oval Office when in fact no such room existed in the White House until almost a half century after he was shot.

Because of errors like that, the National Park Service’s Lincoln Home historic site in Springfield isn’t stocking the book in its museum gift shop nor is a well-known Chicago retailer of Lincoln memorabilia, the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, at 357 W. Chicago.

“I didn’t think my people should be reading it and getting ill advised,” said owner Daniel Weinberg, who described the book as “almost more novelized than it is true history.”

Museum gift shops at Ford’s Theatre and the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. also are refusing to carry the book.

The only major Lincoln attraction in Illinois at odds with those places is the Lincoln presidential museum, which has demonstrated an open-arms approach to O’Reilly and his book and a seeming shrug to the dust-up surrounding its mistakes.

“It’s selling briskly in the gift shop,” Lincoln museum spokesman Dave Blanchette said. “I’m certain our historians have not weighed in on it.

“We’re talking with his publisher to have him do a book-signing here,” he said of O’Reilly, “but we haven’t been able to link up.”

Blanchette said any decision to yank the book from the museum gift shop would depend “on what the inaccuracies were.”

The deputy superintendent for the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, Rae Emerson, identified a dozen errors in the book, including in its prologue, that were the basis for keeping it out of that historic location’s museum shop. (It is, however, being sold on non-government property at the nearby Ford’s Theatre Society bookstore, a National Park Service spokesman confirmed.)

The “lack of documentation and the factual errors” Emerson identified include mistaken references to Lincoln in the Oval Office, when the Oval Office didn’t exist until 1909; Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth carving a “peephole in the back of the state box” when the theater’s acting manager, Harry Clay Ford, did so; and misstating that Union General Ulysses Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee would not meet a second time, when in fact they did on April 10, 1865.

Other errors that have been cited include misstating how assassination conspirator Mary Surratt was imprisoned, the spelling of the last name of the Ford’s Theatre carpenter and the number of times that “Our American Cousin” was staged at Ford’s Theatre before Lincoln was shot.

Not having seen a copy of Emerson’s report until Wednesday, Blanchette, with the Lincoln museum in Springfield, said his facility’s director would be informed about the report.

O’Reilly, who co-authored his book with Martin Dugard, defended his work during his Monday night Fox program, insisting his mistakes were miniscule and that “our enemies are full of rage” at the book’s success. It currently is situated at No. 2 on the New York Times list of non-fiction best sellers.

“Three-hundred-twenty-five pages. There are four minor misstatements, all of which have been corrected. There also were two typeset errors, one involving a date. Now that’s a pretty good record, even for nitpickers who want to hurt the book,” O’Reilly said.

On his broadcast, O’Reilly noted that even though the Ford’s Theatre museum shop had dropped the book, the Lincoln museum in Springfield carried it. O’Reilly boasted about the potential of a book-signing event in the capital, saying he is “trying to work that out.

Killing Lincoln is an honest book you’ll enjoy and learn from and that every American student should read, and all the gutter sniping in the world isn’t going to change that,” O’Reilly said on his program.

O’Reilly’s publisher, Henry Holt and Company, said Wednesday it had made corrections to the book, but it did not explain why the errors occurred originally or how many books went to market with those inaccuracies.

“Corrections have been made to Killing Lincoln, including the references to the Oval Office, Grant and Lee’s meeting at Appomattox and the spelling of the Ford’s Theatre carpenter’s last name,” Holt spokeswoman Patricia Eisemann said in a prepared statement.

The superintendent of the National Park Service’s Lincoln Home historic site in Springfield, where the book is not available, disputed O’Reilly’s assertion that Killing Lincoln is “under fire from the forces of darkness.”

“I would not agree with that statement,” Lincoln Home Superintendent Dale Phillips told the Sun-Times. “There are factual errors in the book. A lot of his supposed resources are not footnoted. It’s just not up to our standards.”

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