You walk slowly around in a circle in the hotel's lobby as you cast your gaze up toward the stair's second floor landing. You want the hotelier to presume you are waiting to meet someone. Then, when the clerk behind the front desk walks over to have a word with a "bell-boy," you walk slowly to the front desk and casually take pen to hand and turn the hotel register book around for you to sign - and to read.
Here is what you read on the register:
Robert Kennedy ... Room 209
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St. Dennis Hotel The leader of the "fire brigade" was a Confederate by the name of Robert Kennedy -- any relation? At any rate, Kennedy and the rest of his group met at the St. Dennis Hotel like planned. At that time final coordinates were made. Over the next few days his men were to each register for a weeks stay in several assigned hotels each -- using assumed names and towns of course. This was to gain them access to rooms in the hotels.
Arrangements had been previously made with a chemist residing in New York, but a Southern Sympathizer, to pick up a load of "Greek fire." This was a special chemical combination that looked like water but, when exposed to air, after a delay, would ignite in flames. When Kennedy picked up the valise, he found it contained dozens of small bottles of the liquid and each bottle was sealed with plaster of Paris. Instructions were to use the bed in each room, pile it with clothing, rugs, drapes, newspapers, and anything else that would burn, Next, they were to empty two bottles of the "Greek fire" on top of the pile. In about five minutes, flames would ignite the pile. This delay gave them plenty of time to escape unnoticed before the fire started. After starting one fire, the man would then proceed to the next location and do the same. Each man would thus be capable of setting off several fires blocks from each other.
Still making final arrangements on November 2 to finish the deed, a disturbing telegram was sent by Secretary of State William Seward to the Mayor of New York. It read: This Department has received information from British Provinces to the effect that there is a conspiracy on foot to set fire to the principle cities in the Northern States on the day of - the Presidential election. It is my duty to communicate this information to you." Later that afternoon the telegram was made public. (The same telegram was also sent to the mayors of other major Northern cities like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.) At this time MOST of the Order members decided to abandon the plan and get out of the city in an attempt to save their own lives -- ALL that is except for Kennedy and five of the seven members of his band.
After several meetings, it was decided by Kennedy and the rest of his gang to go ahead with the plan and set New York City on fire. They wouldn't be in a position to capture New York after all but at least they could retaliate for Sherman's March to the Sea.
On the evening of November 25, 1864 the fires began. Before the night was over almost every hotel in New York City had been set ablaze. These hotels included the St. Nicholas, St. James, Fifth Avenue, La Farge, Metropolitan, Tammany, Hudson River Park, Astor House, Howard, United States, Lovejoy's, New England, and the Belmont. There were also fires on the Hudson River docks and a lumber yard. As a last minute thought, Kennedy decided to go into Barnum's museum and up to the fifth floor where he could obtain a good view of Broadway and several of the fires. After watching for several minutes, Kennedy started going down the stairs. The remaining bottle of "Greek fire" dropped from his coat pocket and broke in the stairwell. Wasting no time, Kennedy ran from the museum, out the front door and on down Broadway.
Meeting his band of men the next morning at the Exchange Hotel, one of the few that they hadn't set fire to, Kennedy and his men read the morning papers. While there were some reports of the fires, the news didn't fill the front page like they hoped it would. Both the Times and the Herald however headed the news of the fires as a "Rebel Plot."
Kennedy and his men managed to get out of New York City on November 28. Soon a $25,000 reward was offered. This, combined with Kennedy's boasting of his role in setting the fires, led to his capture three months later. After a short trial, Kennedy was found guilty on all counts. At this time, Kennedy signed a confession but refused to name anyone else involved in the plot. On March 25, 1865, -- just three weeks prior the Lincoln's assassination -- Kennedy was hung.
(Despite being off the subject, but as a result of researching the above article, I must divulge some interesting tidbits I learned about the Lincoln assassination. John Wilkes Booth arrived in New York the same day that Robert Kennedy did and they had a couple of meetings together. Robert Martin, a member of Kennedy's gang in New York, but who didn't get caught, was a member of Booth's gang that attempted to kidnap Lincoln barely a month before the assassination was carried out. This leaves me to wonder that if Kennedy hadn't been caught for the arson in New York would he have also been with Booth on April 14, 1865?)