Bringing History to Life
Most Americans are familiar with the basic facts concerning the Civil War. But the events that took place after the war are the focus of 1865, a popular podcast created by Steven Walters, BFA ’03, and Erik Archilla, BFA ’03. Named for the year the Civil War ended, 1865 has been downloaded almost 2.75 million times.
“We’re grateful that so many people have listened to it and we have such an engaged audience,” Walters said. “I’m not surprised that this amount of people are interested in history, but I was surprised that they were interested in an audio drama.”
The podcast, which began as a play when Walters and Archilla were students at Baylor, debuted on the paid podcast provider Stitcher Premium in December 2018. In June 2019, 1865 was released on Apple as a free podcast, and it is now available for free across all major podcast platforms.
“Podcasts are a kind of throwback to an earlier time and an earlier way of telling stories,” Walters said. “Audio dramas are having a resurgence right now.”
As co-creators, Walters and Archilla both serve as writers for the show and take on roles in the drama as well. Walters plays Robert Lincoln, the oldest son of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. Archilla plays a composite of two Booth conspirators given the name of Samuel O’Loughlin in the script.
The 1865 podcast starts with the assassination of President Lincoln, continues through the capture and death of assassin John Wilkes Booth, and ends with the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. It contains the fruits of many hours of research and attempts to be as factual as possible.
“The facts don’t change. The underlying information doesn’t change, but the interpretation of the facts definitely does,” Walters said. “My hope is that the people who listen to the podcast will be inspired to go and look into the facts for themselves.”
At the same time, 1865 reminds the audience of some of the conspiracy theories that grew from Lincoln’s murder.
“I think we do a good job of navigating those waters without giving too much credence to any one theory, and painting a portrait through historical fiction that is rooted in some form of truth,” Walters said.
Artistic liberties are taken with some of the people and events portrayed in 1865. But in contrast to many historical dramas, the podcast’s listeners are not left to discern what is based on solid fact versus what is the product of informed speculation. The 13 episodes are accompanied by 13 bonus episodes titled “Inside the Episode,” in which Archilla, Walters and others involved with the show discuss which elements of each episode might have been based on educated guesses.
“The [bonus episodes] are there for fans of the show — to shed light on the liberties we’re taking and to give some insight into why we’re taking them,” Walters said. “The ‘Inside the Episodes’ also gave us a platform to talk about aspects of history that didn’t make it into the show but that might be compelling to the people who are interested in those.”
If that isn’t enough for history buffs, 1865 also features three additional theatrical episodes, which do a deep dive into Booth’s side of the story and the events leading up to the assassination.
Walters and Archilla are evaluating the prospects of a second season and shopping the show as a possible television series. They are also writing for a new history-based podcast — American Elections: Wicked Game — that reviews the entire history of U.S. presidential elections, from George Washington to Donald Trump.
Archilla and Walters credit Baylor’s theatre arts program for giving them a good foundation.
“Our experience at Baylor was fantastic,” Archilla said. “It’s an incredible university.”
For a longer version of this story visit the Baylor College of Arts & Sciences blog.
Listen to the “American Elections: Wicked Game” podcast here.