ALBION, N.Y.- It was a mystery for more than a century, who was the boy in the front row of the execution photo of the Lincoln assassination conspirators? Many believe he's from Western New York.
The photograph shows Lewis Payne, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt hanging in the gallows, while a gallery of spectators look on. The front rows are made up of soldiers, one group from the 16th New York Volunteer Cavalry, which cornered and killed John Wilkes Booth 12 days after the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
The surprising thing in the photo is the presence of a small boy in the front row, standing among the soldiers, wearing a military uniform. Researchers now speculate that it is Albion native John Collins.
Collins went to visit his older brother William, a member of the regiment. When his brother was captured, the younger Collins had nobody to take him home to Albion, so he stayed on, becoming a regiment boy. That was something of a mascot for the troops.
After the regiment caught Booth, they were invited to the execution. Collins, years laterspoke of his regret in being that close to the gallows.
Collins soon returned home to Albion, and became a boy of the streets,making money by tending to mules along the canal.
He soon came to the attention of some of the members of the First Presbyterian Church, who talked him into attending Sunday school at the church. He began attending regularly. He was talked into applying to the Normal School in Brockport (now SUNY College at Brockport) where he excelled in school. He did so well, he was accepted to Yale University. A church member subsidized his tuition.
While at Yale, Collins continued to get more and more invloved in the Presbyterian Church and community activities. While he was still a student some local and business leaders in Hartford approached him about coming up with a program to help kids stay off the streets and stop intimidating and harrassing customers.
Collins began the Boys Club of Hartford, which grew into the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He also became a nationally known leader in the Presbyterian Church.
All of that miles away from the day he was front rowat one of the darkest times in American history.