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Abraham Lincoln's Overcoat Returns to Public Display at Ford's Theatre


Abraham Lincoln’s woolen Brooks Brothers overcoat. The lining is embroidered with an eagle and the words “One Country, One Destiny.” Photo by Carol Highsmith.

Artifacts associated with famous people and events are important visual connections to the past, and one of them—the coat Abraham Lincoln wore to Ford's Theatre on the night of his assassination—is returning to the Theatre for public display. Where has it been?

The answer is found in one of the dilemmas facing curators and managers responsible for historical objects: What's more important, maximum protection for artifacts or public access?

In the case of the Lincoln overcoat, it's spent the past several months in conservation storage, where better controls of factors such as temperature, humidity and light can help lengthen the life of such objects. A replica of the Brooks Brothers coat has been on display at Ford's Theatre since June 2010.

Abraham Lincoln’s wool overcoat, worn to the Theatre the night of his assassination, will return to its display in the Ford's Theatre Atlantic Lobby on February 9, 2011—just in time for the annual commemoration of Lincoln's birthday on February 12.

According to a spokesperson for Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, "The National Park Service, with the support of Ford's Theatre Society, has agreed to display the original Lincoln coat for six months annually in an effort to balance conservation of and public access to the historic artifact worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night he was shot."

"The original coat is displayed open on a mount showing an embroidered eagle and the phrase: One Country One Destiny. When the original coat is removed for conservation, an exact replica of the greatcoat, made by Brooks Brothers, is displayed on a mannequin along with reproductions of the hat and boots Lincoln would wear."

Additional clothing artifacts worn by Lincoln to Ford's Theatre (including the suit coat, vest, pants, and bowtie) remain on permanent display within the Ford's Theatre Museum.

Ford's Theatre reopened in 1968, more than 100 years after the April 14, 1865, assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Part of Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, the building, the associated museum and The Petersen House (House Where Lincoln Died) are co-managed by the National Park Service and the Ford’s Theatre Society.

The theatre and museum completed major renovations in 2009 and are open to visitors. The Petersen House (House Where Lincoln Died) is closed for rehabilitation and repair until later this spring.

If you'd like to visit Ford's Theatre, you'll need a ticket. A limited number of free, same-day tickets are available at the Ford’s Theatre Box Office beginning at 8:30 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis, or you can purchase advance tickets for a small fee.

You'll find details about hours and tickets for daytime tours at this link; the Ford's Theatre Society website includes additional information needed to plan a visit to the park, including evening performances and other special events.


Maybe it's because I'm a museum professional myself--but I would have liked to know more about what the conservation issues with the coat actually are. It seems like a strange omission in the article. Sure, textiles are fragile; but you mention that a number of other equally fragile Lincoln textiles are out on display year-round. So why is the coat more problematic? This is the sort of thing I'd think even non-museum people would be interested to know...

I am looking for a good picture or drawing of the eagle, banner and writing.
What a great motto for our contentious times!
One country, one destiny.
Does anyone know where I can find a good drawing or picture?

Paul, I'm afraid your motto would soon be amended to read: "One country, One destiny.  As long as you do it my way!"

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