SCV to host reunion, controversial play

The statue of Abraham Lincoln, and quote above it, inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, are shown on June 4, 2017. - File photo by The Associated Press

The Sons of Confederate Veterans will hold its annual National Reunion at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa from July 19-22, with members from around the country attending ceremonies, banquets and a controversial play.

SCV members gave a warm reception to an earlier play by Dr. James M. Keller Camp No. 648, entitled "The Trial of David O'Dodd," when it was presented at the last reunion in Hot Springs in 2009, and the local members decided to stage another one, according to Robert Freeman, camp historian.

The curtain will go up on "The Trial of Abraham Lincoln" at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Crystal Ballroom at the Arlington, written during the Civil War by a staunch critic of Lincoln's, John Mullaly.

The chapter has changed its bylaws for the reunion to allow the public to purchase tickets at the door for $15 to see the play, according to Freeman.

The full title of the work, which was printed in pamphlet form and is still available in the Library of Congress, is "Trial of Abraham Lincoln by the Great Statesman of the Republic: A Council on the Past of the Tyranny of the Present: The Spirit of the Constitution on the Bench -- Abraham Lincoln, Prisoner at the Bar, his own Counsel." The title page reads "Reported expressly for the New York Metropolitan Record."

Mullaly was an Irish immigrant who went on to become known as "the father of the Bronx's park system." He was the editor and proprietor of Metropolitan Record, a self-described "Catholic family paper." The publication was headquartered at 419 Broadway in New York City.

Published during the height of the Civil War in 1863, the play was never performed for an audience, according to Freeman.

"(Mullaly) was quite a man," said Freeman. "I'd be interested in meeting a member of his family to see if they know how many times he went to Washington to do his research."

Freeman says he has had trouble finding a cast. Most actors he talked to had a hard time being severely critical of Lincoln, so he had to look outside the traditional pool of actors.

"We didn't have real good luck in casting," he said. "Only a few theater people. We had to go with some men who wanted to be in the play. They don't read that well. It was impossible for them to remember their lines."

Freeman said there were far too many lines in the play for untrained actors to memorize. The cast is made up mostly of a jury of contemporary statesmen accusing Lincoln of all sorts of crimes -- from suppressing freedom of speech to war crimes. Looking outside the area, some of the cast came from as far away as Helena and Fort Smith to take part.

"This man, Mullaly, wrote some statements from the jurors that are just brilliant," Freeman said.

After the performance, Freeman says he will give copies of the script, which are available at the Library of Congress, to other chapters so they can put on their own production of it.

"Everything that's in this play, people should be aware of," he said. "It will be an unending battle and controversy for the rest of our lives."