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The Other Lincoln Movie: Saving Lincoln

01/15/2013 11:13 am 11:13:55 | Updated Mar 17, 2013

Just as Steven Spielberg filmed a little-known story of Lincoln and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, two other filmmakers, screenwriting duo Nina and Salvador Litvak, found themselves fascinated by another untold story of Lincoln -- the one told by his dear friend and self-appointed bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.

From the moment of Abraham Lincoln's election on November 6, 1860, tensions in the country were high. Within four months, seven southern states seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy. Lincoln's safety had already been threatened with rumors of an assassination plot to be carried out on his trip to the Inauguration when he would be traveling by train from Springfield to Washington, DC.

The railroads hired private detective Allan Pinkerton to safeguard the trip for the president-elect as there was no Secret Service at that time. While the rest of the entourage remained on the presidential train, Pinkerton put Lincoln on another train unannounced and Lincoln arrived safely in Washington where he was inaugurated on March 4, 1861.

One of the men accompanying Lincoln on that trip was Ward Hill Lamon, a friend and former law partner, whom Lincoln specifically requested join him in Washington. Shortly after assuming the presidency, Lincoln appointed Lamon to be U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia. Lamon observed the lack of security and the number of threats that surrounded the wartime president, and Lamon appointed himself as personal bodyguard.

Saving Lincoln is the story of Abraham Lincoln as told by Ward Hill Lamon, who accompanied Lincoln whenever possible. It was not unusual to find Lamon, covered by a blanket, stretched out on the floor outside of wherever Lincoln was sleeping. Lamon sometimes left Lincoln when he needed to track down plots against the president, and Lamon frequently patrolled the perimeter of the White House. On one of these patrols, Lamon killed an armed Southerner who was skulking in the bushes.

Creating the Film

The husband-wife duo Salvador and Nina Litvak began shopping around a Lincoln script about a dozen years ago, but Spielberg's Lincoln plans were already in the works and they found that there was no funding for their movie because of that.

Their obsession with Lincoln, however, continued, and while they made other films including the award-winning, When Do We Eat?, they mulled over ways they could return to Lincoln. As they continued to read, they came upon different stories than the one they had originally planned. After reading Carl Sandburg's description of Ward Lamon in Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, they became convinced that this was the story that needed to be told.

Lamon had written his own biography of Lincoln, and his family had pieced together other recollections, and so there was material to work with -- but still there was the challenge of finding funding for a period drama. Eventually they connected with producer Reuben Lim, who believed the Litvaks were on to a great story.

They still needed to come up with a way to do a period drama on an independent film budget. Sal Litvak, who directed the film, describes their plan: "We knew of the wonderful collection of Civil War-era photographs available at the Library of Congress, and we came up with the concept of using these historical glass plate photographs for the backdrop.

"The entire film was recorded in front of a green screen, and working with a committed and talented team, we invented a way to layer the photographs in such a way that the actors can 'move through' the setting." A video that demonstrates how the film was made shows the magic that occurred, going from green screen to a historically accurate background.

Though Ward Hill Lamon halted many attempts on President Lincoln's life, Lincoln was killed shortly after his second inauguration. The Litvaks are certain about one thing:

"Ward Hill Lamon did not fail Lincoln," says Sal Litvak.

To understand why, audiences need to see the movie and hear Lamon's story.
The movie will premiere at the Abraham Lincoln Association symposium being held in Springfield, Ilinois on February 11. It will then open in select theatres and be available on DVD. For more information about Saving Lincoln, see SavingLincoln.com or the Saving Lincoln Facebook page.

For more stories about Lincoln and America's past, visit America Comes Alive.