Election 2008

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Does America Need Lincoln Now, More Than Ever?

October 21, 2008 07:58 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Preservationists argue against displaying Abraham Lincoln’s bloodied coat at Ford’s Theatre, but now seems a relevant time for Americans to glean inspiration from the political icon.

To Display, or Not to Display?

Beginning in February 2009, the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, Ford’s Theatre plans to put the bloodied overcoat worn by the former president on the night of his assassination back on display. The garment would be held in the renovated theater’s lobby beneath protective glass, and be visible from the street 24 hours a day. But The Washington Post reports that some textile conservators argue the coat is “too fragile to return to full-time display … and instead ought to be sheltered for the good of posterity.”

Lincoln’s Brooks Brothers coat, as well as other garments he wore the night he died, “had been on almost continuous display from the time they were acquired in 1968 until Ford’s was closed for renovation last year,” according to The Washington Post.

Cathy Heffner, president of Textile Preservation Associates, said, “It might be that it’s time to put these things away and not to exhibit them to the public if there’s any hope of saving them for future generations.”

But Americans still show keen interest in Lincoln’s life, and with the country experiencing two wars, a possible recession and a hotly contested election, when better to give the public full access to his legacy?

The New Yorker’s Oct. 13 review of “Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon” delves into “the American craving for Lincoln,” that arose immediately after, and in the decades following, his assassination. Lincoln’s name was used to sell various items, including life insurance and cholera remedies, while “Authentic Lincoln relics,” such as his entombed remains, “acquired ever-greater imaginative and monetary power.”

Today, museums and individuals alike demonstrate a reverence for Lincoln. The Neville Public Museum in Green Bay, Wis., is currently featuring an autographed photograph of Lincoln with his son, Tad, taken in February 1864. The exhibit required intensive fundraising efforts to bring to fruition. 

And 70-year-old Washington D.C., attorney Ron Drake recently put his admiration for Lincoln into action. Last month, Drake was commissioned by Lincoln Bicentennial organizers to recreate Lincoln’s 1828 voyage of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. At the end of Lincoln’s journey, he witnessed the slave auction that would spur him to action decades later, reports The Tribune-Star.

As it stands, plans to display Lincoln’s garments are moving forward at Ford’s Theatre.

Background: The life and death of Lincoln

According to an Abraham Lincoln article on The Biography Channel, his “relevance endures and grows especially because of his eloquence as a spokesman for democracy.” Despite scrutiny over Lincoln’s views on race and politics, he continues to inspire both researchers and the American public.

Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, and died the next day. But Lincoln was not the only target. Several Booth accomplices had been conspiring to assassinate members of Lincoln’s cabinet, including Secretary of State William Seward.

The night of his death, Lincoln was accompanied by his wife, and joined by Maj. Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, after General Ulysses Grant and his wife backed out. The findingDulcinea “On this Day” article about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination includes little-known details of the tragic event.

Related Topic: Preserving the Mona Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” has been the focus of intensive preservation and restoration efforts. For the North American exhibition of “Mona Lisa Secrets Revealed,” French engineer Pascal Cotte invented a camera capable of using “infrared technology and intense illumination to scan the painting,” peeling away centuries-old layers of varnish and “over-painting,” according to PR Newswire.

In 2005, Evan Quasney, a 19-year-old researcher from the University of Michigan, theorized that the Mona Lisa had continued deteriorating “despite rigid temperature and humidity controls in its chamber,” because of where it hangs at the Louvre. The painting is fixed on “an exterior wall” of the museum, making it vulnerable to outside temperatures, concluded Quasney.

Reference: Textile conservation


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