Abraham Lincoln's deathbed is part
of an unprecedented collection of artifacts that will
make up the first temporary exhibit at the Abraham
Lincoln Presidential Museum.
Four other collections from around the country also
are loaning items, many of which will be leaving their
collectors for the first time. They will be shown in the
museum's 3,000-square-foot gallery space.
"Some of these items have never been together since
the night Lincoln was assassinated," said William
Snyder, the museum's registrar.
In 1920, the Chicago Historical Society bought
Lincoln's deathbed from the estate of Charles Gunther, a
wealthy Chicago candy maker. The bed became a
centerpiece at the historical society.
"(The bed) really is one of the really great icons of
the Chicago Historical Society," said Lonnie Bunch, its
president. When visitors come to tour the society's
collections, it's what makes the trip worthwhile, he
In fact, it has never left the building. Until now.
The bed will join the six-month temporary exhibit on
Tuesday, April 19, when the museum officially opens. The
exhibit - about Lincoln's assassination - will run until
People visiting it will see much more than the bed.
Perhaps the most significant items are being loaned
by Louise Taper, a Californian who owns the largest
private collection of Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth
artifacts. Pieces of Lincoln's jacket and blood-stained
shirt, original photographs of John Wilkes Booth, locks
of the assassin's hair and an unusual effigy doll of
Lincoln, whose head turns black when it is tilted, are
among some of the items Taper is sending to Springfield.
Other artifacts making a special appearance include
the carriage that took the Lincolns to Ford's Theatre, a
canvas hood and iron manacles worn by Booth's
co-conspirators, and sketches of the accomplices by Gen.
Lew Wallace (who later wrote the novel "Ben Hur").
Other institutions donating artifacts are the
Studebaker National Museum, the Indiana Historical
Society and the Quincy and Adams County Historical
Society. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library also
will be contributing pieces from its own collection.
"So much research and detail is being put into (the
exhibit)," Synder said. "Especially the graphics. Quite
informative and very powerful. There's going to be an
almost hour-by-hour timeline throughout about half the
gallery, comparing what Lincoln and Booth were doing
Planning for the exhibit began last July, according
to state historian Tom Schwartz, who said Taper was one
of the first to suggest an exhibit on the assassination.
"One has never been done well," Schwartz recalls
Schwartz added that Richard Norton Smith, the museum
and library's director, loved the concept and negotiated
a deal with Bunch for the bed. It didn't hurt that the
Chicago Historical Society is planning to close its
Lincoln exhibit during renovations before its 150th
anniversary next year. But Bunch said the timing was
"It's time the entire state got to see the bed. More
importantly, it's my way to celebrate the Lincoln museum
and library," Bunch said.
In 1865, the bed belonged to William and Anna
Petersen, the owners of the boarding house Lincoln was
rushed to after Booth shot him in the head at Ford's
Theatre on April 14.
"Really, it's an extraordinary collection of material
that is being assembled," Schwartz said.
The state is paying for the exhibit, which will cost
The exhibit's title, "Blood on the Moon," shares the
title of a book written by Edward Steers about the
assassination. It comes from the Old Testament prophet
Joel, who wrote that on the day of God's judgment, "The
sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood."
Pete Sherman can be reached at 788-1539 or