'Lincoln' film carriage nod to Carlisle man's work

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CARLISLE, Pa. -- Brian Howard will see and hear something very familiar when he watches Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."

He'll see a replica of the carriage that he spent the better part of a year restoring.

Mr. Howard, who owns B.R. Howard & Associates in North Middleton, worked for about a year in 2008 with his team -- son Braeden Howard and Toby Baker -- to restore the carriage thought to be used by Abraham Lincoln on his way to Ford's Theatre, where the president was assassinated.

"Lincoln," which opens in wide release in theaters this weekend, focuses on the last years of Lincoln's life and features the carriage.

The carriage on-screen is a replica, but famed sound designer Ben Burtt, who created the sounds of the lightsaber for the original "Star Wars" trilogy, made sure to incorporate noises the actual carriage makes when its door opens and closes.

According to an article from the South Bend Tribune, based in South Bend, Ind., where the Studebaker National Museum is located, Donnie Rogers of Grassroots Media took the sound and sent it to Mr. Burtt to put in the final audio for the film.

"It's a surprise," Mr. Howard said. "It was a great honor to have worked on that carriage, and it's good to see it's still getting attention."

Though only the sounds of the original carriage will carry into the film, Howard's conservation of the carriage helped establish what Lincoln's carriage actually looked like and will be reflected in the carriage on-screen.

It wasn't an easy task for Mr. Howard to get the carriage back into shape.

"It was in pretty poor condition," he said. "My understanding is that it was sold to a physician after Lincoln's death -- I don't know how long it stayed in the family. It was sold and used pretty hard. The top was replaced, and it was repainted several times."

To figure out which coats of paint were original, Mr. Howard explained that he takes minute sections of paint and looks at the sections microscopically. Eventually, he'll see what was painted on first.

And he found that the original deep green color was not the only paint on the carriage.

"The most interesting part is that we found Lincoln's monogram on the door of the carriage," Mr. Howard said.

It helps that in the case of the Lincoln carriage, Mr. Howard had an inkling of what the original looked like.

"The reason I even knew to look for it was because of a 1960s newspaper article, where a young boy interviewed an old man, who said when he was little, he remembered watching his father fixing the carriage to get to Ford's Theatre," he explained. "The old man described it as being dark green and black trimming with Lincoln's initials, or monogram, on the door.

"It was painted black several times, but the body was indeed dark green. And sure enough, we did find his monogram. It's sort of like an [archeological] dig."

Mr. Howard has only seen the carriage once since it was returned to the museum, and considering he braved "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," Spielberg's Oscar contender will be on his must-see list.

"I'll watch it, especially now that the carriage will be represented in some way," he said.

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