There are several blood relics associated with Abraham Lincoln’s assassination: swatches of Laura Keene’s bloodied dress, playbills and misc papers dipped in Lincoln’s blood as he was carried from Ford’s, and the remnants of the physicians’ cuffs and clothing at Lincoln’s death-bed. The most intact blood relics, however, come from the Petersen House itself. From pillows, to sheets, to towels, the Petersens sacrificed a great deal of their household furnishings for the dying President. In the aftermath, they experienced more loss as relic hunters seized upon their boarding house. As William Clark, the man who was renting the room in which Lincoln died but was absent the nightof the 14th, wrote to his sister on April 19, 1865:
“Everybody has a great desire to obtain some momento from my room so that whoever comes in has to be closely watched for fear they will steal something.”
The number of items we have today regarding Lincoln’s last moments demonstrates that there was considerable loss on the part of the Petersens. After a few months had passed for national grieving, the Petersens appealed to the government:
Adjusted for inflation, $550 in 1865 is equal to about $8,000 today. Michael Kauffman, author of American Brutus, states in his book that he could find no record that the Petersens were ever awarded compensation for their claim. Part of me feels sorry that the Petersens gave so much for the dying President and got nothing in return, while the other part of me feels that the eternal preservation of their former home and name as a part of a national park may be compensation enough.
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman
Pacific Commerical Advertiser 9-16-1865
Circa 1977, Scalamandre, the fabric and wall covering company, reproduced the deathbed wallpaper for the public, after they had reproduced it for one of the Park Service’s many restorations of the house. I bought a roll and dispersed it to some friends and readers of my newsletter, The Lincoln Log. I charged them only enough to absorb my cost. It’s no longer available, so I wish I had kept more of it, I saved an 11 x 16 piece for myself and framed it. I cut an 8×10 opening into the wallpaper so that I could insert the photo you used, Dave, in this “issue” of your blog. As I recall. the producers of the TV mini-series “The Blue & the Grey” starring Gregory Peck, was able to get their hands on it for their recreation of the scene. I have a publicity still of that scene, and would be happy to share it with you if you wish. Oldroyd acquired that letter from Willie Clark to his sister. I’m almost certain that it’s now owned by the gov’t. Too bad it’s not displayed in the Lincoln Museum of Ford’s Theatre — or at least a good photo copy of it. (I have a xerox of it.)