SEVERAL YEARS AGO, Teresa Roberts Logan, an artist and author, was dining at the now-shuttered Bistro D’oc restaurant in Northwest Washington and feeling a special connection to its brick and plaster that have held so much history. That sensation made sense; the building ran in her family.
In the 1880s, this site was the Logan Cafe and Boarding House, where ancestor W.E. Logan offered 15-cent breakfasts and dinners, and promised “the best coffee to be had in the city.”
But the house, at 518 10th St. NW, was linked to a more tragic past. The structure shared a wall to the south with the Petersen House, where in April of 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died shortly after he was shot across the street, inside the Ford’s Theatre.
Given that these streets are so steeped in history, Roberts Logan began asking whether anyone of note had ever resided at this boardinghouse, which in the 1860s was called the Forsyth. She soon posed that question to National Park Service museum curator Laura Anderson — and that, the artist says, “led me to Carl.”
“Carl” is Carl Bersch, an artist who had been a jack-of-all-trades in the studio of the famed portrait photographer Mathew Brady. Bersch lived in the Forsyth B&B during the Civil War, and from his balcony on the night of April 14, 1865, with a bird’s-eye view of the commotion outside Ford’s, he quickly began to document history.
The result, a painting titled “Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands,” became the only eyewitness-account artwork of the mortally wounded president.
More than 150 years later, those events inspired Roberts Logan, a Pittsburgh-based cartoonist and performer, to create a narrative webcomic, titled “Painting History,” that is newly published by “ReDistricted Comics” — the year-old online anthology edited by Washington cartoonist-publisher Matt Dembicki that shares short illustrated slices of little-known area history.
Roberts Logan wanted to render the story of Bersch, this 30-year-old German immigrant who had built a “burgeoning portrait business” that afforded him nice lodging — and a window onto American tragedy. Dembicki guided Roberts Logan to tell this tale from Bersch’s point of view.
“There was this very historic, sobering story, of an artist recording what was later called ‘morbid’ detail,” Roberts Logan says. “A painting which was banned at first because it had actual evidence in it . . . and then again later, because it was deemed ‘macabre.’ ”
In the 1880s, Washington residents stand on the same boardinghouse balcony where two decades earlier artist Carl Bersch viewed the mortally wounded President Lincoln. (used by permission of Teresa Roberts Logan)
Bersch had written that he had a clear view of the scene outside Ford’s, recognizing “the lengthy form of the president by the flickering light” of torches and gaslight.
“The tarrying at the crib and the slow, careful manner in which he was carried across the street,” Bersch wrote of Lincoln, “gave me ample time to make an accurate sketch. … Altogether, it was the most impressive scene I have ever witnessed.”
Because Bersch’s final painting of the scene was deemed too vividly morbid at the time — we see Lincoln’s bandaged and bloodied head, and a woman seems to scream — the artwork was kept hidden for decades, Roberts Logan says, until a Peterson House curator lifted the ban.
The painting remained in the family until 1932, when Bersch’s daughter, who lived in Annapolis, lent the work to the old Lincoln Museum in Ford’s Theatre, The Post reported in 2015.
Bersch is believed to have died in Baltimore in 1914.
But the history of that painting continues to be revealed, by conservators and cartoonists alike.
Lincoln assassination emerges in painting from 150 years of grime