Today I visited the Henry Ford Museum. I hadn’t been there in years. They’ve updated it and it is quite nice. The newest exhibit “And Liberty and Justice for All” traces the history of freedom in the United States from it’s founding until now. Our man Lincoln is a prominent feature. I’ve seen the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in before, but it’s been a few years. Today I spent a lot of time at that chair. Actually the chair is a rocker. President Lincoln had used the chair previously at Ford’s theatre (in 1863). When the theatre treasurer, Harry Ford, received the news that Mr. Lincoln would be attending the theatre the evening of April 14th, he had the chair brought to Box # 7. The chair was delivered by theater employee Joe Simms. Although Lincoln was difficult to see by the theatre patrons that evening, he was seen by many in the chair. Mary Lincoln was holding his hand. After he was shot, he remained in the chair with his head slumped. The bloodstains from Mr. Lincoln are still visible in the cloth fabric of the chair. After the murder, the chair was held as evidence by the War Department for the trial of the conspirators. It then was housed in the Smithsonian Institution. Harry Ford’s widow eventually petitioned the United States government for it’s return (which was granted). She auctioned it off in New York for $2,400.00 to none other than Mr. Henry Ford. He was no relation, by the way, to the Ford family of “Ford’s” theatre. Henry Ford had the chair restored as much as possible and placed in an environmentally controlled exhibit display where it is today.
As I gaze in wonder at the chair, I can’t think but how happy President Lincoln was that day. Mary Lincoln has said it was the happiest day of his life. He had remarked that he knew the war was over. He had said that he was looking forward to going back to Springfield when his term was over to resume practicing law. He talked about taking a vacation, possibly to California. Upon his arrival to the theatre that night he was greeted by the 1600 patrons as the hero of the hour. The band struck up “Hail to the Chief.” The play, which was already in progress when the Lincolns arrived at the theatre, stopped to acknowledge his arrival. He, with his wife and guests, made their way into the box specially set up for them. He bowed before the adoring audience and sat down. He loved the theatre so. It was one of the few ways he found to have relaxation. Although, he really didn’t want to go to the theatre that particular night, he felt that it would be a “let down” to the public if he didn’t. The papers had printed his expected attendance at the play that evening. I suppose he decided he would just go and “have a goodtime” since he knew the play was a comedy. So there he sat. It appears to have been a very comfortable rocking chair. It is well padded and inviting.
Then came the terrible moment when the killer struck (approximately 10:22pm). At point blank range, the derringer discharged its load. From that chair Abraham Lincoln saw his last sight, heard his last sound (which was laughter from the crowd?), and spoke his last words. Smoke, gun powder residue, and Mr. Lincoln’s blood made contact with the chair and its upholstery. Lincoln lost consciousness and never regained it, He died the next day at 7:22am. As I think about Lincoln and this chair, I’m reminded of Lincoln and another chair. I’m reminded of the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.. He is posed as sitting in that chair. In that chair he is seated as the victorious Lincoln. He is the one who saved the Union and freed millions. He is seated as the one who overcame all the hatred and strife that so marked his time. He is seated as the one who is considered our greatest President. The Ford’s theatre chair marks Lincoln as the martyr, the Lincoln Memorial chair celebrates him as the forever remembered victor. May we, as Sons of Union Veterans, always celebrate this man. Our Union ancestors served under him faithfully. May we serve his memory fervently.
- B. Nash & the Lincoln chair