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A couple of screwdrivers, a pair of magnifying goggles, and a very steady hand put a mystery to rest today. The day the Civil War began, did a repairman really engrave a secret message on Abraham Lincoln's watch? NPR's Daniel Zwerdling was at the Smithsonian here in Washington as the secret was revealed.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: I'm standing right next to the desk where, in just a few minutes, the museum staff is going to finally get to the bottom of the mystery. Before he was elected president, Abraham Lincoln got a gold watch. Right after he became president, the watch broke apparently. In any case he sends it to a repair shop. For the rest of the story, I'm going to turn to Harry Rubenstein, the curator here at the museum, and please tell us what happens next.

Mr. HARRY RUBENSTEIN (Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of American History): About a month ago, I got a call from this gentleman, Doug Stiles, who wondered about this story that had been in the family for generations. The story is that as a watchmaker in Washington, his great great-grandfather is working in the shop when Mr. Gould(ph), the owner of the shop, rushes up and says the first shots are fired in the Civil War. At that moment, Jonathan Dillon, the relative, is holding Abraham Lincoln's watch. In the excitement of the moment, he unscrews the dial and writes an inscription. And the inscription says, the first shots are fired. Slavery will end. At least we have a president who will try - or something to that effect.

ZWERDLING: So this young watchmaker, supposedly, he tells his family that he wrote these words inside President Lincoln's watch and then didn't tell anybody?

Mr. RUBENSTEIN: Yes, and so that's what we are going to do today. We're going to see if this is actually there.

Unidentified Man: We've just got a set of screwdrivers with us and we have a case opener here, which we will need to open the back of the case. I'm having somewhat of a problem getting the pins out. Well, that won't work. Yes. The moment of truth has come. There is an inscription. I will let the great-grandson of the watchmaker read it.

Mr. DOUG STILES: It is there. Jonathan Dillon, April 13, 1861. Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date. Thank God we have a government, Jonathan Dillon. This is true. That was Lincoln's - that's in Lincoln's watch. My ancestor put graffiti on it.

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