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Jeannie Gourlay – Bibliography

Posted By on December 22, 2012


Jeannie Gourlay, a Scottish-born actress, was a player in the stock company of John T. Ford at his Washington theatre on the night President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, 14 April 1865.  In a prior post on this blog, Jeannie Gourlay – Cast Member at Ford’s When Lincoln Was Assassinated, a time line was presented which gave several key dates in the life of Jeannie Gourlay.  After the assassination, Jeannie married Ford’s orchestra leader William Withers Jr. and within a two year period divorced him – then marrying a Scottish-born actor Robert Struthers, eventually settling near Milford, Pike County, Pennsylvania, raising a family, and remaining publicly silent on anything related to the assassination until after Robert Struthers died in 1907.  In 1910, is was widely reported in the newspapers that she returned to Washington to visit Ford’s Theatre.  Articles that appeared in the press in 1916, 1923, and 1928 (the year of her death) were presented to show an unusual story that emerged which placed her father, Thomas C. Gourlay, also a member of the Ford’s stock company, at the scene of the assassination by stating that it was he who led Laura Keene to the State Box and that it was he who helped carry Lincoln from the theatre and across the street to the Petersen House.

But, also revealed here on this blog, was that the story of Thomas C. Gourlay leading Laura Keene to the State Box was first told by Norman Harsell in 1914 in an article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times.  The Harsell story, [see Jeannie Gourlay and Norman Harsell – The Film That Never Was], was most likely invented by Harsell as the basis of a silent film that would tell the story of Jeannie Gourlay.  The film was never made but the Gourlay and Struthers families were left with Harsell’s “script” which they faithfully followed and repeatedly told until Jeannie Gourlay‘s death in 1928.

In the post yesterday, The Lincoln Flag Hoax, it was revealed that the flag presented to the Pike County Historical Society in 1954 by Jeannie Gourlay‘s son Vivian Paul Struthers was not used to cover Lincoln as he was carried to the Petersen House.  According to the owner of Sadsbury House Antiques in Sadsburyville, Chester County, Pennsylvania, the 36-star flag was sold by his great aunt, Meda Randall, to Jeannie [Gourlay] Struthers in the early 1920s.  Meda Randall was a nationally-known, well-respected antique dealer who counted among her customers the famous collectors Henry duPont and Henry Ford.  The reaction of the Pike County Historical Society to the challenge made in 2000 to the 1996 “authentication” report that had been conducted by Joseph Garrera and supported by the “Lincoln Fraternity” was also reported, including the alleged responses of Lincoln “scholars” including Edward Steers Jr., Harold Holzer, Frank J. Williams, Michael Maione, Richard Sloan, and Wayne Temple.

Today’s post will provide a selective, annotated bibliography of resources on the life of Jeannie Gourlay and the story of the Lincoln Flag.


Edward Steers Jr.‘s books include The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010) with entries on Jeannie Gourlay, Thomas C. Gourlay, the Lincoln Flag, and Laura Keene, each of which give as a “best source,” Steers’ other book, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001).  Steers also cites the 1996 report by Joseph Garrera as a “best source” for the Gourlay’s and the Lincoln Flag (see below).  Steers’ article on the Lincoln Flag, “The Flag That Cradled the Dying President’s Head, was published in the May-June 1983 issue of the The Lincolnian (Lincoln Group of Washington, D.C., Vol. I, No. 5).  Two handwritten letters by Steers to George Perry of the Pike County Historical Society exist in which Steers reports the results of the test he conducted on the Lincoln Flag.   Another letter from Steers, quoted in other publications, supports the 1996 Garrera report.


Norman Harsell‘s article, “President Lincoln’s Assassination Recalled,” (Los Angeles Times, 11 April 1914, pages 10 and 22)  is now believed to be the source of the story that Thomas C. Gourlay led Laura Keene to the State Box at Ford’s Theatre, and many of the other invented stories about the assassination that were repeated by the Gourlay-Struthers family members.  A type-script of a second article by Harsell (probably never published) introduces other characters who were never previously reported at the scene of the assassination.  Harsell was a film producer and was trying to get a silent movie made on the life of Jeannie Gourlay.  See:  Jeannie Gourlay and Norman Harsell – The Film That Never Was.


Richard Sloan, reportedly the authority on Jeannie Gourlay as well as on Lincoln in film, made a presentation in 1996 on Jeannie Gourlay and William Withers Jr. which was professionally recorded as part of the proceedings of the 1996 Annual Meeting of the Pike County Historical Society.  The presentation contained color slides of pictures of Jeannie Gourlay, her sister Maggie, some Gourlay artifacts, and several documents including her divorce from William Withers Jr. and statements from Withers’ Civil War pension file.  The recorded proceedings also include presentations by Frank J. Williams, Michael Maione, and Joseph Garrera.  See:  William Withers Jr. – Lincoln Assassination Witness – Resources for Study.


George PerryPike County Historical Society Museum Curator, produced several articles which were published in newspapers in and around Pike County in the 1970s through the 1990s in addition to a paper entitled, “To the Volunteer” (November 1978), in which he told the story of Jeannie Gourlay and the Lincoln Flag in a manner that could be easily understood by museum docents, and easily told by them to visitors.  George Perry was also responsible for changing the story that was told by Vivian Paul Struthers, that the flag had been used to cover Lincoln, to the story that the flag had been used as a cushion or pillow placed under Lincoln’s head.


Robert L. Smith, the grandson of Vivian Paul Struthers wrote a paper for a college composition course on 25 April 1986, in which he repeated the Harsell story and referenced other materials such as one of Jeannie Gourlay‘s obituary.  The story of the Lincoln Flag is included and appears to be from the story that his grandfather told – that the flag was used as a cover over Lincoln as he was carried across the street.  It is one the best example of what later family members came to believe and report about Jeannie Gourlay and Thomas C. Gourlay.



Joseph Garrera, a New Jersey insurance agent and Lincoln memorabilia collector was responsible for the 1996 report entitled, The Lincoln Flag of the Pike County Historical Society: An Independent Analysis, Examination, and Presentation of the Evidence and History.  The report relied heavily on Steers’ 1983 article in The Lincolnian (above) as well as interviews with the descendants of Vivian Paul Struthers, where they admitted that their knowledge of the flag was also based on Steers’ article.  As a result of this 1996 report, which was supposedly examined and confirmed by at least 15 Lincoln “scholars,” the Society began representing the Lincoln Flag as “authentic” and the stains on the flag as Lincoln’s blood.  Steers reported in The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia that the report was privately published, but it has never been generally available to the public – although in 2000, Society Director Charles Clausen obtained a copy and wrote a critical review of it, concluding that Garrera had proved nothing  (see below).


Peter Osborne, Director of the Minisink Valley Historical Society, Port Jervis, New York, did extensive research on the Lincoln Flag in 1994 and 1995 in preparation for an 1995 exhibit he constructed for the Pike County Historical Society.  He produced a paper entitled, “Now He Belongs to the Ages,” which included background information on the assassination, the story of the Gourlay family involvement, and some background information on the Lincoln Flag.  Osborne also included that Jean [Struthers] Newell was asked to portray her mother in a silent film about the assassination, but “she declined.”  “Now He Belongs to the Ages,” was published by the Pike County Historical Society and sold for $1.00.



The Lincoln Flag of the Pike County Historical Society was supposedly a condensed version of the 1996 Garrera report.  It was published by the Pike County Historical Society in 1996 and sold for $5.00.  This publication of 12 pages has nearly a dozen pictures including several pictures of Jeannie Gourlay‘s dresses and leather boots and the Hamilton Busby interview photo that appeared in the Los Angeles Times as part of the Harsell article in 1914. Also included were testimonials from Wayne C. Temple, Chief Deputy Director of the Illinois State Archives; Judge Frank J. Williams; Dr. Edward Steers Jr.; and George F. Cahill, Founder of the National Flag Foundation.  Most of the information in this publication repeats other materials, previously published.  Although this 12-page publication was meant to replace a 4-page newsprint tabloid entitled, “Lincoln Flag Authenticated,” which contained many errors, the Society went ahead and produced another 4-page tabloid entitled, “The Lincoln Flag,” which it distributed free to visitors to its museum.


Norman Lehde, long-time officer of the Pike County Historical Society, who was present when Vivian Struthers donated the Lincoln Flag, wrote two, two-part articles on Jeannie Gourlay.  The first was published in the Union-Gazette (Port Jervis, New York),  on 9 April 1865 with the second part on 14 April 1865, “A Family Memory of the Lincoln Tragedy.”  The second was published in the Sunday Times (Middletown, New York), on 9 April 1967 and 16 April 1967, “The Flag That Covered Lincoln’s Body.”  Lehde also wrote the one-page piece on Jeannie Gourlay which appeared in the official Pike County History which was published in the 1990s.


Jean [Struthers] Newell gave an interview to officials at the Pike County Historical Society in the 1970s.  Local newspapers reported her visit to the Society.  A copy of the transcript of that interview is available at the Pike County Historical SocietyJean [Struthers] Newell also gave the Society a copy of a letter sent to her by her uncle, Thomas P. Gourlay, just before her mother died.  The writing style in that letter, known to have actually been written by him, can be compared with the one that Norman Harsell presented in the 1914 article in the Los Angeles Times (cited above).


Jeff Widmer‘s article in the Pocono Record (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania), “When History Happened, Someone From Pike Was There,” 23 Sepember 1977, was one of the first articles by that paper on the subject of the Lincoln Flag.  It contained many errors, including the statements that three Gourlay girls were in “Our American Cousin,” that Thomas C. Gourlay, as stage manager, was responsible for decorating the State Box, and in doing so, he took down the wool flags and replaced them with silk ones, and that after Lincoln was shot, he took one the wool flags that he had put away and used it to comfort Lincoln.


Andrew M. Seder of the Pocono Record, in 2000 covered the challenge to the flag “authentication.”  Tom Leek of the Times Herald-Record covered the challenge for the Middletown, New York paper.  Their articles appeared through the challenge, the firing of the director, and the final settlement which occurred in early 2001.  Leek had actually begun covering the flag in 1995 and the article that appeared on 2 April 2000, “Lincoln Flag Questions Tear at Milford’s Image,” was the opening salvo in the controversy.  Both newspapers wrote editorials supporting the director and criticizing the trustees.  The Times-Herald Record published its editorial on 25 April 2000.  It was entitled, “A Blood Feud in Pike County.”  The Pocono Record published 24 April 2000, “Museum Director Punished for Doing Job” and then again on 16 June 2000, “On History:  Firing Director Doesn’t Erase Questions About Lincoln Flag.”


Charles Clausen, the director who challenged the 1996 Garrera report, presented a multi-page document to the Society trustees and the public on 12 April 2000 in which nearly every aspect of Garrera’s report was criticized, calling it “an idiotic and incoherent manipulation of the facts.”  In the report, “Discrepancies Within Joseph Garrera’s Lincoln Flag of the Pike County Historical Society,” he strongly recommended that the flag be presented as a legend.  Copies of Clausen’s report and the full Garrera report of 1996 were distributed at the meeting.  For nearly all of the trustees, it was the first time that they had seen Garrera’s report.


Ken Baumel covered the controversy for the Pike County Dispatch (Milford, Pennsylvania) within the same year that he was a paid publicist for the Pike County Historical Society, and his writings on reporting the controversy reflect that bias.  Arthur Siegel, owner-publisher of the Pike County Courier (Milford, Pennsylvania), provided the information for unsigned articles that appeared in his newspaper – while at the same time he was the attorney for the trustees in the firing of the director.


Resources related to Meda [Williams] Randall, the antique dealer who sold the Lincoln Flag to Jeannie [Gourlay] Struthers, are noted in the blog post:  The Lincoln Flag Hoax.


Many other resources are included within the prior blog posts:

Jeannie Gourlay – Cast Member at Ford’s When Lincoln Was Assassinated

Jeannie Gourlay and Norman Harsell – The Film That Never Was

Jeannie Gourlay and the Lincoln Flag

The Lincoln Flag Hoax






One Response to “Jeannie Gourlay – Bibliography”

  1. Ernest says:

    do you know of any romantic link between Booth and Gourlay

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