Original Publish Date August 26, 2021.
Recently, I ran across an obscure booklet about a little-known episode in the post-assassination chronology of Abraham Lincoln. Surprisingly it was published and distributed by a man named Stewart Winning McClelland (1891-1977) a self-described “Sponsor” of Dale Carnegie courses from Indianapolis. More surprising is the fact that it was published exactly 70 years ago on August 28, 1951. The booklet is titled “A Monument to The Memory Of John Wilkes Booth.” Now THAT got your attention, didn’t it?
The booklet tells the story of a cranky old Rebel from Troy Alabama named Joseph Pinckney “Pink” Parker, born August 16, 1839, and died December 12, 1921. Parker, a former police officer and veteran of the Confederate Army, was often described in the local newspaper as “the bitterest Rebel in the South.” Almost immediately after graduating from Springhill Academy in Coffee County Alabama, the Civil War broke out and Pink enlisted in the Confederate Army. He left his family’s well-stocked plantation, a sister, and a bevy of slaves when he left for the front lines.
Parker served in Company A of the Second Georgia Battalion Infantry, Wright’s Brigade, Mohone’s Division of AP Hill’s Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. During Parker’s four years of service, he rose to the rank of Corporal and fought at the battles of Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Appomattox: many of the fiercest battles of the Civil War.
Four years later, when the war ended, Pink returned to find the “farm overgrown with weeds, his stock and slaves disappeared and his sister imbittered by her treatment received at the hands of the northern soldiers.” The family estate was soon “eaten up” by taxes and the former Rebel soldier was forced to take a position as a “walker” on the railroad tracks carrying with him “maul and spikes to keep the tracks repaired.” Parker grew to hate everything “Yankee”, blaming President Abraham Lincoln for the social and economic distress throughout the South and for Reconstruction, which he considered the continued destruction of the South.
Parker married and bought a farm near Inverness, Florida, but found farm life there hard and unforgiving. He moved his wife and three children to a house he bought on Madison Street in Troy. For years he earned a hardscrabble living on his meager salary as a grocery store clerk, policeman, and cotton compress worker. Eventually, he became a schoolteacher in Troy, where he built a comfortable home a short distance from the famed Natchez trace “which Andrew Jackson used in his battles against the Indians in Florida.”
The booklet describes Pink as a well-respected member of his community and a devout member of the Baptist Church with just one single vice: a deep-seated hatred for Abraham Lincoln. As Lincoln’s legend began to move towards secular sainthood, in both the North and the South, Pink Parker’s wrath grew year by year into a compulsion. Whenever Lincoln’s name was mentioned, Pink would burst forth with impassioned flights of profanity that astonished and shocked his friends and family. So bad were these outbursts that his pastor at the Baptist Church removed him from the church roles for his profanity. In a situation that Pink described, “It wasn’t quite fair. I know all the deacons in that church and any one of them can cuss better than I can.”
His expulsion from the church proved to be the capstone of Parker’s Lincoln hatred. Parker’s wife died in 1893 and his children moved away. From that point on, every April 15th, Pink would fashion for himself a paper badge and ribbon celebrating the “Anniversary of the Death of old Abe Lincoln.” Occasionally, Pink would memorialize these otherwise sad anniversaries by walking into the local photography studio to have his picture made wearing the offensive badge. As years passed, the idea came into his head that he would erect a monument to the memory of John Wilkes Booth. As unthinkable and repulsive as the idea sounds to our modern ears, Pink indeed put his plan into action.
The monument, standing approximately 4 feet high, resembled a typical graveyard headstone found in any Alabama burying ground around the state. Pink was always quick to note that he never took the oath of allegiance after the Civil War and he personally never surrendered. The stone bore the inscription: “Erected by Pink Parker in honor of John Wilks Booth, for killing old Abe Lincoln.” It is interesting to note that the old Rebel misspelled the cowardly assassin’s name on his memorial, fitting for such an unpopular, shortsighted memorial.
He first offered his ghastly memorial to the city of Troy to be placed in front of the Pike County Courthouse or in a public park. When the city quickly declined his invitation, he installed the monument in his front yard on Madison Street. It wasn’t long before local vandals turned their attention to the stone, defacing it. Soon Parker erected a board fence to protect it. Although newspapers from the 1920s stated that the stone had been erected in 1866, Pink placed the marker in 1906. Pink told his grandsons that he invited President Theodore Roosevelt to the stone’s dedication with a postcard stating that “while I can’t furnish a carriage for you, I could get you a dray hauled by a couple of mules.”
When those same grandsons asked their grandfather how he was going to get along with all those Yankees when he got to heaven, Pink would say, “Well, I don’t suppose I will find enough up there to bother me.” Pink Parker always believed that John Wilkes Booth was still alive, that Booth did not die from Boston Corbett’s shot through the neck in the Garrett tobacco barn. A belief principally subscribed to by only the most avowed skeptics, conspiracy theorists, and carnival sideshow aficionados of the era.
Parker became ill and, in 1918, his son, Eugene, moved his father to Sardis, Georgia. Parker deeded his home to his three children. They sold it in 1920. In 1921 emotions over Pink’s distasteful display reached a boiling point. The local president of the Alabama Women’s League of Republican Voters, Mrs. C.D. Brooks, instigated a campaign to have the monument removed permanently. Letters poured in from all over the country supporting her stand. Then sometime around Halloween, a group of local boys pulled down the marker as a prank. The Booth monument lay half-buried in the dirt as weeds slowly overtook it.
In 1921, the Troy Messenger received a large volume of indignant letters and the National Sons of Union Veterans wrote to President Waren G. Harding demanding the monument be removed and destroyed. The added attention and the age of the automobile soon brought souvenir hunters to the little town of Troy. These eager relic collectors began to chip away pieces of the stone. The Troy Messenger reported on July 13, 1921, that the monument had been removed by order of the town council. It was hidden away out of sight and mind in a shed and forgotten.
In the midst of the furor, the half-blind, sick, and forgotten Pink Parker passed away in December of 1921 at the age of 82. His body was brought back to Troy and buried next to his wife. His sons retrieved the stone from cold storage and had it re-carved. The inscription honoring Booth was removed from the monument and it was fashioned into his tombstone, his name and birth/death dates on one side and the details of his service in the Confederate Army listed on the other. Confederate veterans served as his pallbearers.
Historians have long realized how much the South lost by the killing of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the one man who might have reunited a broken country. The one man who could have allayed sectional hostilities and rebuilt a nation. Pink Parker was on the wrong side of history. But Pink Parker did not care. Today, the former Booth monument can be seen on Parker’s grave in Oakwood Cemetery, located on North Knox Street in Troy. The gravestone stands on a downward slope in the farthest regions of the cemetery. There is no trace of the former writing, no indication that it ever honored assassin John Wilkes Booth. Perhaps fittingly, Pink Parker’s grave marker lists to the larboard side, forever tilted, just like the man it honors.