American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Artifacts of Assassination

Contents of Lincoln's pockets
Lincoln realia,
New York Times, vol. XIV, no. 4236
(April 15, 1865)
Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Newspaper clippings
Newspaper clippings
#2 - #3 - #4 - #5 - #6 - #7 - #8

Spectacles case
Reading glasses

Ford's Theatre . . . Friday Evening, April 14, 1865 . . . 
"Our American Cousin"
Ford's Theatre . . . Friday Evening,
April 14, 1865 . . .
"Our American Cousin"

Washington, DC: Polkinhorn & Sons [1865]
Gift of Alfred Whital Stern, 1953
Rare Book & Special Collections Division (51.3)

When Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865, he was carrying two pairs of spectacles and a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a linen handkerchief, and a brown leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate note and nine newspaper clippings, including several favorable to the president and his policies. Given to his son Robert Todd upon Lincoln's death, these everyday items, which through association with tragedy had become like relics, were kept in the Lincoln family for more than seventy years. They came to the Library in 1937 as part of the gift from Lincoln's granddaughter, Mary Lincoln Isham, whose gift included several books and daguerreotypes, a silver inkstand, and Mary Todd Lincoln's seed-pearl necklace and matching bracelets.

It is quite unusual for the Library to keep personal artifacts among its holdings, and they were not put on display until 1976, when then Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin thought their exposure would humanize a man who had become "mythologically engulfed." But the availability of these artifacts has only piqued interest in the Lincoln myth--the contents of Lincoln's pockets are among the items visitors to the Library most often ask to see.

The playbill announces the fateful performance of Our American Cousin, part of a collection of Lincolniana donated by Alfred Whital Stern.

One of the most complete representations of conspiracy literature as well as newspaper accounts of the assassination, like that in the New York Times pictured here, was assembled by Alfred Whital Stern. The most extensive collection of Lincolniana ever assembled by a private individual, Stern's important gift to the Library in 1953 included books, broadsides, paintings, photographs, medals, manuscripts, and memorabilia.

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