Petersen House Damages

Aftermath Petersen House

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:
Petersen's claim Pacific Commerical Advertiser 9-16-1865
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

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10 thoughts on “Petersen House Damages

  1. Richard Sloan

    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.)

    • At the conference didn’t Erik Jendersen say that they got the same reproduction wallpaper for the set of Killing Lincoln?

  2. J. Beckert

    I remember reading somewhere that Petersen was so incensed after Lincoln was removed he threw one of the bloody pillows out the window. Neat piece, Dave.

    • One book I keep meaning to buy but forget about until times like this where I want to reference it is Lincoln’s Last Battleground which is a short book written by a Petersen descendant about the death of Lincoln and its aftermath. I wonder if your story comes from there Joe.

  3. I remember seeing the bed and bloody linens at the Chicago Historical Museum several years ago. Mary Lincoln’s black cape was also there. So haunting. They are no longer on display as the museum feels they are not relevant to its mission of presenting Chicago history. I wish they would give/sell them to the Smithsonian or Petersen House so they could be seen. The assassination chair at the Henry Ford in Dearborn MI is also a relic that is very moving to see. People just stand around it in silence. In the general din of the place, it is an oasis of quiet sadness.

    • When I went to the Chicago History Museum in November 2011 the bed was on display. It would be a shame if it were put away. I know there used to be a whole room made up to look like the death chamber but that they took that down several years ago. When I went the bed was just in a little bubble of a room. Chicago acquired the Gunther collection which contained his Libby prison materials along with a lot of Lincoln things.

      • Gina

        If the CM isn’t going to display this period in history they need to donate it to someone else either the Lincoln museum in Springfield or the Smithsonian. This is a treasure!!!

  4. The Chicago Museum had nothing on display after traveling all the way up there. The Petersen house
    don’t even have anyway to tell you anything. LUcky I already know, it’s like a 5 minute rush into that place, I didn’t even know there was another museum up stairs. Will be there next week.

  5. Joe, you may have read it in “Twenty Days.” On p. 97 the Kunhardts write, “When her husband (William Petersen) now advanced to the bed, seized one of the bloodstained pillows from beneath the head of the recently expired President and hurled it angrily through the window into the yard, Henry and Julius were terrified.”

  6. Lynnda Herman

    In the mid-1970s, I was a tour guide in the Capitol in Albany, New York. Within the building is a museum and I remember a small piece of material with faint blood stains in one of the cases. I was told that it was from the dress that Laura Keene was wearing on the night of the assassination.

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