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Lincoln's watch reveals its secret

FOR nearly 150 years, a story has circulated about a hidden Civil War message engraved inside Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch. This week, museum curators confirmed the rumors that it was true.

A watchmaker used tiny tools to carefully pry open the antique watch at the National Museum of American History, and a descendant of the engraver read aloud the message from a metal plate underneath the watch face.

"April 13 ?? 1861," the first line reads, "Fort Sumpter (sic) was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon."

The second part repeats same date, states the location as Washington and says: "Thank God we have a government."

The words were etched in tiny cursive handwriting and filled the space between tiny screws and gears that jutted through the metal plate.

A magnifying glass was required to read them.

Jonathan Dillon, then a watchmaker on Pennsylvania Avenue, had Lincoln's watch in his hands when he heard the first shots of the Civil War had been fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

The Irish immigrant's story was passed down among his family and friends, eventually reaching a New York Times reporter.

In a 1906 article, an 84-year-old Dillon said no one, including Lincoln, ever saw the inscription as far as he knew.

But for years the story went unconfirmed.

A few months ago the watchmaker's great-great grandson, Doug Stiles, used Google to find the New York Times story, and last month passed the information along to Smithsonian curators, who previously knew nothing about the engraving.

On Tuesday, George Thomas, a volunteer at the museum, spent several minutes carefully opening the watch as an audience of reporters and museum workers watched on a video monitor.


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