The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 5, January 30, 2011, Article 21


While it's non-numismatic, it is a cautionary tale for researchers: One, don't believe everything you see, Two, trust no one, and Three, don't end up like this guy - a hero for a while, now exposed and shamed. Len Augsburger forwarded a link to the original press release from the National Archives. The story also made the national (and perhaps international) news. One story was in The Washington Post. -Editor

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that Thomas Lowry, a long-time Lincoln researcher from Woodbridge, VA, confessed on January 12, 2011, to altering an Abraham Lincoln Presidential pardon that is part of the permanent records of the U.S. National Archives. The pardon was for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion.


Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy's pardon, written in Lincoln's hand, from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC. Having changed the year from 1864 to 1865, Lowry was then able to claim that this pardon was of significant historical relevance because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

1865 National Archives archivist Trevor Plante reported to the National Archives Office of Inspector General that he believed the date on the Murphy pardon had been altered: the "5" looked like a darker shade of ink than the rest of the date and it appeared that there might have been another number under the "5". Investigative Archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the Inspector General's Archival Recovery Team (ART) confirmed Plante's suspicions.

This matter was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution; however the Department of Justice informed the National Archives that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore Lowry could not be prosecuted. The National Archives, however, has permanently banned him from all of its facilities and research rooms.

At a later date, National Archives conservators will examine the document to determine whether the original date of 1864 can be restored by removing the "5".

To read the complete press release, see: National Archives Discovers Date Change on Lincoln Record (

The Archives on Monday accused Lowry of altering the pardon in plain view in the agency's main research room to amplify its historical significance. Lincoln had indeed issued a pardon to Pvt. Patrick Murphy, but the 16th president did it exactly one year to the day before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Archives officials, after a year-long investigation, say Lowry signed a written confession Jan. 12 that he brought a fountain pen into the research room sometime in 1998 and wrote a 5 over the 4 in 1864, using a fade-proof ink.

Lowry, a retired psychiatrist who discovered the pardon in an unsorted file box, has denied any wrongdoing. He said he was pressured by federal agents to confess.

"I consider these records sacred," he said in an interview Monday at his Woodbridge home. "It is entirely out of character for me. I'm a man of honor."

His wife, Beverly, said the change was made by a former Archives staffer, a charge the agency denies.

"He became known as somebody who found an amazing document," Brachfeld said. "You take a figure like Lincoln, you say he signed this on the day he died and amplify it, and it became one of our more important documents."

The Archives does not inventory its holdings because they are so vast, so the Lowrys' discovery "had huge implications," Plante said Monday. "The story of this pardon has been told over and over for the past 13 years. It's everywhere in Civil War history."

With each passing viewing, he grew more suspicious that something wasn't right. The ink on the "5" in 1865 always looked too dark, and it appeared to him that another number was written under it.

"It was one of those gut feelings you get," Plante said. "Something wasn't right."

His suspicions were confirmed when he consulted a respected collection of Lincoln's writings edited by Roy P. Basler in the 1950s. Basler reprinted the pardon of Murphy with the date April 14, 1864. "In the 1950s, that was the date, so at some point it changed," Plante said.

Lowry said he was in his bathrobe shaving when he heard a knock on his door on the morning of Jan. 12. It was two agents with the Archives.

Lowry recalled sitting at his dining room table with the men and repeatedly telling them that he never changed the pardon. Eventually, however, investigators said Lowry confessed to making the alteration and offered details.

The pardon will be removed this week from an evidence room at the inspector general's office and brought to the Archives' preservation labs, where experts will try to restore the original date. Plante says he's not optimistic, though, since "Lowry purposely used ink that's going to last a very long time."

"It makes me very angry," Plante said. "We have a level of trust with researchers, and that trust was broken."

To read the complete article, see: (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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