US President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, a moment that has immortalized the United States’ 16th president. The assassination occurred just days after the US Civil War had ended, a time that wreaked havoc across the nation. Upon his assassination, Lincoln was transformed into a martyr.
When one of the US’ most famous and important figures was killed, what did he have on his person at the time? It turns out it was some rather strange stuff.
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one of the United States’ most significant historical moments. At the time, he had just finished guiding the nation through the Civil War, the country’s most turbulent period, and was extremely popular both in the US and internationally. He was especially beloved by African Americans, as he had made enormous contributions to the abolishment of slavery.
Lincoln attended the Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. to watch a play with his wife, Mary Anne Lincoln. While Lincoln was enjoying the show, his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had made his way into his box. Booth was actually already a celebrity at the time, as he was a successful stage actor.
He walked up behind Lincoln, who was unaware of Booth’s presence and shot him once in the back of the head with a .44-caliber derringer pistol. Booth then began a dramatic escape from the scene, fighting his way out of the theatre and racing away on horseback. Lincoln was declared dead the next morning.
One of the US’ most highly respected presidents was assassinated at the age of 56.
Although the death of Lincoln was an enormous moment in US history that is still discussed to this day, one of the more mundane yet interesting things about it was what the President was carrying at the time of his death.
The contents of Lincoln’s pockets
When he was shot, Lincoln was carrying a small pocket knife, two pairs of spectacles, and a pocket watch fob. Interestingly, one of the pairs of glasses has evidence of a small repair made by Lincoln himself. In addition to this, he was also carrying a leather wallet and a linen handkerchief with A. Lincoln inscribed on it in red letters.
The President had more than just everyday items on him, though.
He carried a small collection of newspaper clippings, which featured words of praise about himself.
Perhaps the most interesting thing on Lincoln that night was a five-dollar Confederate bill contained within the wallet. But why was the US president carrying a currency used by his enemy? The exact answer is not known and researchers at the Library of Congress have one idea.
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“We don’t know with one hundred percent certainty but just a few days earlier, Richmond had fallen, and Lincoln did actually travel to Richmond and this was likely passed onto him as a souvenir,” said Clark Evans, the Head of Reference Services in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress.
The fact that Lincoln’s possessions carried by him on the very night he was assassinated still survive is simply incredible. After his death, these items were given to his eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln. His family kept hold of the possessions for the next 70 years. Today, they can be seen at the Library of Congress, which was given to them in 1976; they are the library’s most prized items.