Two years ago, when Bryan Young explained the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to his 8-year-old daughter after his trip to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, he was surprised by how fascinated she was.
“That was the first time she realized that presidential assassination was a thing that could happen and that it was a thing that had happened in history,” Young said. “She wanted to know about who would do such a thing, and why would they do such a thing.”
Soon, Young can give his daughter, and other kids her age, the answers. In An Illustrated History of Presidential Assassinations, out early next year, Young writes about U.S. presidents who survived assassination attempts (and the ones who didn’t) in a style that’s equal parts history textbook and bedtime story.
The book begins with the first attempted assassination of a president in U.S. history. In 1835, Richard Lawrence, delirious from paint chemicals and convinced he was meant to be King Richard III of England, shot at Andrew Jackson after a congressman’s funeral on Capitol Hill.
Jackson was leaving the Capitol through the East Portico when Lawrence struck, firing his first pistol…
…but it misfired!
Pulling his second pistol, he fired again…
…but it misfired, too!
Not one to take such actions lightly, Jackson hit Lawrence with his cane, chasing him around and hitting him until the onlookers could restrain the would-be assassin. Fortunately for everyone, Congressman Davy Crocket, hero of the frontier, was there and was able to subdue Lawrence with the other onlookers.
The book documents the most famous assassination victims, like Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. It also chronicles attempts with (under the circumstances) happy endings, like the time Theodore Roosevelt gave a 90-minute speech while bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest. And the time Samuel Byck hijacked a plane to fly into Richard Nixon’s White House. And the time John Hinckley Jr. fired a bullet that missed Ronald Reagan’s heart by an inch.
Last month, Young began raising money for the book on Kickstarter, a fundraising website. He reached his goal of $3,000 within 10 days. With less than a week to go until the campaign closes, the people of the Internet have pledged $5,238. Young said he was surprised by the response, but thinks there are parents — and people in general — like him out there who like seeing history packaged in a quirky way. Especially political history, which he says carries a certain stigma.
“In today’s day and age with such a divisive political landscape, I think people forget that we have a shared history, and that it doesn’t have to be divisive or uncomfortable,” Young said. “It can be interesting or fun even though the topic is grim.”