In Response to David Vancil
EDWARD STEERS, JR., RESPONDS
In responding to Dr. Vancil's remarks let me begin by stating that Dr. Vancil and his staff were extremely helpful during our visit to the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Cunningham Memorial Library. Joan Chaconas and I are aware that Dr. Vancil went to considerable effort to locate and copy most of the documents and photographs requested by us. This required some effort on Dr. Vancil's part since much of the collection had not been indexed at the time of our visit. We are also grateful to Dr. Neff who spent several hours with us discussing his research and answering our questions. Leonard Guttridge was equally generous spending several hours by telephone discussing various aspects of the collection and Dark Union . Mr. Guttridge also provided us with documents not in the collection but still in his possession. We are grateful for the help they gave us in our research.
In responding to Dr. Vancil's statement characterizing our research as “misadventures” and “a rush to judgement,” let me point out that the story told in Dark Union is an old story and one in which Ms. Chaconas and I are familiar with. It first appeared in 1961 in an article in Civil War Times entitled “Was Stanton Behind Lincoln's Murder” based entirely on Dr. Neff's research now housed at Indiana State University . Dr. Neff's research also was used as the basis for a book entitled The Lincoln Conspiracy, and a motion picture with the same title that appeared in 1977. In the intervening years several articles appeared refuting the claims based on Dr. Neff's research. In 1977 and 1981, William C. Davis, then editor of Civil War Times Illustrated, published three articles based on his own research and the research of assassination historian James O. Hall that refuted many of the claims based on Dr. Neff's findings.
As to our “rush to judgement,” Ms. Chaconas and I have been actively researching the Lincoln assassination for thirty years. This research has resulted in dozens of publications including three books (His Name Is Still Mudd, Thomas Publications, 1997; Blood On The Moon. The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, University Press of Kentucky, 2001; and The Trial , University Press of Kentucky, 2003). At the time of our visit to the Neff-Guttridge Collection we were well-versed in Lincoln 's assassination and familiar with its historiography including the work based on Dr. Neff's discoveries.
While we had in our own files copies of many documents now in the Neff-Guttridge Collection we sought to supplement them with material not previously available, and, where possible, to examine the originals of the copies in our possession. We came to Indiana State University simply to gather information from a collection that had been privately held and only recently was made public. To facilitate this we had contacted Dr. Vancil several weeks before our visit identifying several documents in advance so that Dr. Vancil could locate them and have them ready for us thus saving time. This he did and we gratefully acknowledge his help.
In addition to obtaining materials from the Neff-Guttridge Collection, we obtained the research files of James O. Hall and William C. Davis, two historians who conducted extensive research on Dr. Neff's earlier claims. These files contained hundreds of pages of documents relating to the materials in the Neff-Guttridge Collection developed during the period 1961-1981.
Dr. Vancil does not accept our conclusion that Andrew Potter, the alleged head of the Secret Service Division of the National Detective Police, did not exist. In his remarks he cites the existence of “a Potter homestead,” and “photographs of the Potter store” as proof that Andrew Potter did exist. We acknowledge these documents, but believe neither shows any connection to a man named Andrew Potter who allegedly served in the U.S. Secret Service. Dr. Vancil goes on to write “There are even letters, albeit transcriptions,...” This is also true and highlights one of the problems with the collection. All of the documents pertaining to Andrew Potter are “transcriptions” of alleged original documents that are lost or were deliberately destroyed. In all of the archives searched by us and others outside of the Neff-Guttridge Collection, not one document could be found referencing Andrew Potter. As we attempt to demonstrate in our article, those documents in the Neff-Guttridge Collection that allegedly emanate from Andrew Potter contain numerous errors of fact and internal inconsistencies that led us to question their authenticity.
In commenting on our research, Dr. Vancil does not refute any of the evidence we present in our article. In fact, he states he has not read our article. Instead he focuses on our time spent at his institution and questions our motives. Judgements as to the reliability of one's research should not hinge on irrelevant criteria such as number of hours or days or years engaged in research or even one's motivations. Judgement should be based on the data published and its interpretation and the citations used to support the conclusions. In our article, Ms. Chaconas and I direct our criticism at the data relied on by Messrs. Guttridge and Neff and not on them personally. Readers should not have to be concerned with polemics involving personalities. Ms. Chaconas and I have published an article setting out our evidence and our conclusions based on that evidence. We invite those interested in this subject to read both Dark Union and our article and draw his or her own conclusions.
JOAN L. CHACONAS RESPONDS
On reading Dr. Vancil's account of our "misadventures," as he put it, I had no idea that our critique of the Neff-Guttridge Collection would cause such a personal response. Dr. Steers and I visited Indiana State University to study the Neff-Guttridge Collection after reading Dark Union, which is advertised as the "real truth behind the assassination of our 16th president." We did not come to unmask a "rascal" as Dr. Vancil wrote, but to examine the collection since we have made a study of the Lincoln assassination for many years.
Because we disagree with the authors' conclusions and find several of the documents questionable does not demean their hard work in writing their book nor should it demean our effort to uncover the facts. I find Dr. Vancil's statement "how easily individuals could become part of a mob mentality while possessing an outward appearance of culture" insulting. It gives the impression that we came to see this collection misrepresenting ourselves. We did not. We are researchers and that is just what we were doing.
Dr. Vancil writes that he finds no credible evidence that the authors fabricated anything, and we never wrote nor implied that Mr. Guttridge and Mr. Neff fabricated anything. We did, however, imply, and in some cases prove, their research to be faulty.
Dr. Vancil wrote that he thinks James McPherson has been "led down the garden path." Come on, Dr. McPherson has been in this field so long it would take more than our article to lead him down any path he did not want to tread upon. Dr. Vancil was right when he wrote that the Neff-Guttridge Collection was " not a collection to wow individuals with its rarity or intrinsic beauty."
I enjoyed my time at the Cunningham Memorial Library and I appreciate all the help Dr. Vancil and his associates gave us. I agree with Dr. Vancil that both Mr. Neff and Mr. Guttridge are gentlemen and scholars but perhaps it is they who have been led down the garden path.
comments powered by Disqus
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing