Jonathan Dillon, an Irish jeweler who emigrated to America during the 1845 potato famine, was fond of telling family members of his secret connection to President Abraham Lincoln.
Dillon’s tale of engraving a secret message in the president’s pocket watch may have seemed a bit far-fetched to some, but it was true.
Dillon was repairing the president's watch on April 13, 1861, when he learned a shot had been fired at Fort Sumter and the Civil War had begun. Dillon claimed to have opened up the watch and engraved a message of support to the president inside.
Two of Dillon's great-great-grandchildren, Laurie Stiles Daynes and her cousin, Doug Stiles of Waukegan, Ill., set out to prove Dillon’s story. Doug Stiles found a watch matching Dillon’s description that the Lincoln family left to the Smithsonian Institution half a century ago.
Stiles persuaded the museum to open the watch in March. Inside, they found Dillon had engraved his name, the date of April 13, 1861, and "Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date" and "thank God we have a government."
After the discovery, the watch display in the "An Extraordinary Life" exhibit in the museum was changed to reflect the new chapter in its history.
There's a lesson to be learned from Dillon's tale, Stiles Dayne told Laura Ory in an Associated Press story.
"Family stories should continue to inspire," she told Ory. "Keep passing them on."
Writing prompt of the day: What are some of the more far-fetched stories in your family history?
Flickr photo of pocket watch courtesy of Andreas Falk.