WTF Abe Lincoln Ephemera
July 29, 2016 2:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on a hybrid genre writing piece that incorporates all the uncanny things I can find related to Abe Lincoln, especially his assassination and death. Inside I've listed things I am already working with or know of, which should give you some idea. It can really be from any point in Lincoln history, so long as it's kind of weird or gross.

These threads are already in play:
the John Wilkes Booth Mummy

the spiritualist photograph Mary Todd Lincoln had made with Abe after his death, how it led to a court case in which PT Barnum testified to debunk spirit photography (plus all the White House spiritualism stuff)

Lincoln's funeral parade--the idea of his corpse being viewed in so many places, and I'm especially into how they didn't have refrigeration back then, so he must have looked pretty grody by the end

how the man sitting next to Lincoln on the night of the assassination went mad and killed his whole family

not that weird, but how the Library of Congress has the contents of Lincoln's pockets on display

I won't be using this, but I wanted to mention that I have already read/loved "The America Play" by Suzan Lori Parks. And I know that Clutch has a song about the JWB Mummy. And I know that there is a play, Speakeasy Dollhouse, with a portion dealing with the JWB Mummy, but the playwright didn't want to share the text with me.

That's all I got. Please give me your worst, weirdest, Lincoln-related ephemera.
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The Lincoln life masks? (Just found this particular blog post about them via Google, but I think there's a lot more out there about the life masks. And for some reason I think the Hay Library at Brown University has casts of these life masks, or at least a bunch of other unusual Lincoln stuff in its collection.)
posted by dayintoday at 2:35 PM on July 29, 2016

Lincoln's body was exhumed and examined in 1901.
When the casket was opened, a harsh, choking smell arose. 23 people slowly walked forward and peered down. Mr. Lincoln's features were totally recognizable. His face had a melancholy expression, but his black chin whiskers hadn't changed at all. The wart on his cheek and the coarse black hair were obvious characteristics of Mr. Lincoln's. The biggest change was that the eyebrows had vanished. The president was wearing the same suit he wore at his second inauguration, but it was covered with yellow mold. Additionally there were some bits of red fabric (possibly the remnants of an American flag buried with Mr. Lincoln). All 23 people were unanimous in their agreement that the remains were indeed those of Abraham Lincoln.
posted by Knappster at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you familiar with the attempt to steal Lincoln's body in 1876? And in 1901, after the reconstruction of his tomb was completed, his coffin was opened before reburial to confirm that it still contained his body.

There's a story that he had a premonition of his assassination.

The last living witness to the assassination, Samuel Seymour, lived until 1956 and was a guest on the TV show I've Got a Secret shortly before his death.
posted by lharmon at 2:41 PM on July 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

This isn't gross, but it might be relevant to your interests. Given his height and his long limbs/hands/fingers, Lincoln may have had Marfan syndrome.
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

This link (which I found through Knappster's link above), has some interesting ephemera. Including, at the bottom of the page, the fact that Teddy Roosevelt wore a ring at his 1905 inauguration that contained some of Lincoln's hair.
posted by otolith at 2:55 PM on July 29, 2016

It's not gross, but there is the weird second connection between the Booth and Lincoln families.
posted by annaramma at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2016

Are you familiar with the attempt to steal Lincoln's body in 1876?

You basically need to read Stealing Lincoln's Body and you will love it. I have a copy I am through with. PM me your mailing address and it is yours.

I've seen the bullet that shot him (and now so have you). Smithsonian has an article about his blood relics.
posted by jessamyn at 3:24 PM on July 29, 2016

A local history site has some various writings you might enjoy exploring, including a story on his dog Fido, left behind in Springfield and later killed.
posted by Occula at 3:37 PM on July 29, 2016

Not sure if this qualifies, but Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was either at or near three presidential assassinations (Wikipedia link).

Mary Suratt, one of Booth's co-conspirators, was the first woman executed by the United States.
posted by OrangeDisk at 4:01 PM on July 29, 2016

In Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin deals with the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, Secretary of State Seward, and Vice President Johnson the same night. Also, General Grant may have been chosen for assassination as well, though this failed.

Booth was shot (against orders) by a soldier two weeks after the assassination. Some people have suggested that the man who was shot was not actually Booth, who supposedly survived for some years afterwards.
posted by lharmon at 6:24 PM on July 29, 2016

You can "tour" the Clark Mills Lincoln life mask (the one done shortly before his death) in 3D, courtesy of the Smithsonian here.

This article has some additional artifacts beyond the ones listed in the blood relics article jessamyn linked to, including the hoods the conspirators wore (which are creepy).
posted by gudrun at 6:48 PM on July 29, 2016

The ghost of Anna Surratt, daughter of Mary Surratt (Booth's landlady/co-conspirator) is said to haunt the White House, supposedly appearing at the door to plead for her mother's life or wailing at her death.

Personally, I'm more weirded out by the fact that Surratt's boarding house still exists and is now a Chinese restaurant/karaoke bar called Wok and Roll.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:00 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kunhardt Foundation Collection at Yale.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:04 PM on July 29, 2016

If you really want to peer into the abyss -- and maybe have to dodge aside as it spits angrily back at you -- you could put an overarching frame of the solar cycle around the whole thing.

John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry took place less than two months after the Carrington event, during which the biggest coronal mass ejection hit the Earth that we know about. The effects were spectacular along many axes, and MicheleinCalifornia had a very nice recent FPP which linked to some fascinating contemporary accounts I'd never seen before.

Whether the Carrington event bespeaks a more active than usual sunspot maximum, I can't tell you right now, because I'm still refusing to download the plug-in that makes the nifty Sunspot Plotter work, but by the time of the assassination it might well have been a sunspot minimum, which would mean a cosmic ray maximum, and there's a cosmic ray theory of schizophrenia exacerbations that was proposed a few years ago, and also Lincoln's detailed premonition of his assassination needs to be accounted for.

And there are a fair number of recorded and datable sightings of Lincoln's ghost by credible people such as Churchill and the Queen of the Netherlands, beginning in the early 20th Century and up through the Reagan administration at least, that might be fun to try to fit into the sunspot cycle.
posted by jamjam at 11:26 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh it's like my bat signal, for physical artifacts anyway. Lincoln's son had a bunch of concrete dumped on top of his coffin after the grave robbing attempts, which is why we can't exhume Lincoln for modern X-rays or DNA testing.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield IL has both Abe and Mary's bloody gloves from the night of the assassination in their collection. They also have various death mementos of the Lincoln children who predeceased their parents. And effigy dolls of Lincoln, meant to be burned by his enemies.

If you thought the original funeral procession was a bit odd, they reenacted it last year for sesquicentennial of his death and had a whole full-dress funeral parade in Springfield, which is said to have been very sad and moving (although we missed it).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:02 AM on July 30, 2016

Response by poster: These answers are amazing. I <3 this thread. Thank you all, and feel free to throw in any more.
posted by mermaidcafe at 5:38 AM on July 30, 2016

In a weird coincidence, on the day John Wilkes Booth's brother Edwin was buried (09 June 1893), part of the Ford's Theater collapsed, killing 22 people.

Perhaps not too strange, but Ford's Theater was actually the third time in less than a year that someone shot at Lincoln in DC. In July 1864, Confederate sharpshooters wounded a surgeon standing next to Lincoln while he was reviewing the troops during the Battle of Fort Stevens. Then in August 1864, an unknown person shot off Lincoln's hat while he was riding his horse at his cottage on the grounds of the Soldier's Home.
posted by chrisulonic at 6:04 AM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

With his arm fully extended, Lincoln could hold an axe with his thumb and forefinger for long periods of time. Apparently, he did this fairly often to impress and entertain people.

Embalming became popular in the Civil War, which is why Lincoln could be displayed for so long.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:29 PM on July 30, 2016

At the end of her life, my mother was in an assisted living place. We'd talk pretty often on the phone -- she was in Illinois, I'm here in Texas, but telephones are magic. We talked about a lot of things -- pretty much everything -- and one day we got onto poetry. I told her about how my father would always say something about "crossing the bar" and my asking him what he was talking about, and him showing me the Tennyson poem "Crossing The Bar" and how important that poem is for me, a gift from my father, our kitchen table.

We set to talking about poetry in general, and she told me that her favorite poem is "O Captain! My Captain! written by Walt Whitman shortly after Lincolns murder. I didn't know the poem but I knew it right after we got off the phone, and I really think it's something else.

Wikipedia is my friend -- really good info on the poem, and also a copy of a hand-written draft. It's a heart-breaker -- Whitman loved Lincoln, Lincoln had just given his all to keep the country united, or, rather, to re-unite it. Lincoln was such a fine man, he didn't see the Confederates as the enemy, saw them as our brothers, saw us as a family that needed help to keep together. Our finest leader. The best president, IMO.

Not the best US citizen -- that would be MLK. But Lincoln was the best president.

I printed out everything about the poem that I thought she'd find interesting, sent her a packet -- she sure enjoyed it. She never, ever could grok the internet, I'd try to give her what I could.

Anyways. That poem just takes me right back into what it must have been; the confusion, the heartache, the heartbreak, the desolation. I think it's worth spending some time with -- might be that you will find that also.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:17 AM on July 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Confederate Major General George E. Pickett -- who led the Virginians in the devastating charge against entrenched Union troops dug in on the heights at Gettysburg -- Pickett was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Pickett got into West Point through being nominated by Lincoln. Pickett was, fyi, the last in his class at West Point, but he was a great general because of his absolute fearlessness, his straight-up integrity, his charm and gaiety.

Lincoln was deeply and profoundly hated by confederate troops. But those troops quickly found out that it was *not* a good idea to say anything bad about Lincoln in Pickett's presence.

Such a strange war. Brother against brother indeed...
posted by dancestoblue at 5:42 AM on July 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Lincoln took large quantities of a mercury-based medicine called Blue Mass for constipation.
posted by schrodycat at 6:03 AM on July 31, 2016

Abe Lincoln totem pole in Saxman VIllage, Ketchikan, AK.

Explanation from the link: "In 1868 the US Government built a fort on Tongass Island and assigned a revenue cutter named the Lincoln to the area. At the time, the Kagwantan Eagles and the Tongass Ravens were at war. The Eagles drove the Ravens onto a small island with little food and no water. When the Lincoln arrived at the island, the two groups made peace under the shelter of its guns. This pole was carved to commemorate the event. The Tlingit refer to it as the proud raven pole because of the raven at its base. The pole pictured here is a replica; the original is now in the Alaska State Museum in Juneau."

All I remember from the tour was that the carver made Lincoln's legs so short because he was working from a photo, which only showed him from the knees-up.
posted by hopeless romantique at 4:12 PM on July 31, 2016

Booth was shot (against orders) by a soldier two weeks after the assassination.

That soldier, Boston Corbett, was a possibly literal mad hatter-turned-religious zealot who castrated himself prior to the war. Which is sort of WTFish.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:45 AM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pickett got into West Point through being nominated by Lincoln.

This was a rumor spread after Pickett's death by his widow as part of her long PR campaign to rehabilitate his (and the Confederacy's) image. Lincoln was not a U.S. Representative (and therefore could not nominate people to the Academy) until 1847, the year after Pickett graduated. Lincoln's law partner John Stuart nominated Pickett.
posted by Etrigan at 7:12 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Robert Lincoln (as mentioned above, at or near the three presidential assassinations that occurred during his lifetime, and also the only member of his family to survive to see the twentieth century) had his life saved by Edwin Booth, J.W.'s brother.

The "Booth mummy" story has fascinated me for awhile, particularly because I lived for a short time in Enid, Oklahoma, where the man who would be Booth died. One of the more interesting things about the story is that the man who promulgated the story, Finis L. Bates, was the grandfather of actress Kathy Bates.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2016

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