Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Studying Lincoln's Boots

Physical items associated with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are among the most sacred artifacts of Lincolniana.  The contents of Lincoln's pockets are owned by the Library of Congress (and are included in their fantastic bicentennial exposition "With Malice Toward None").  The bedroom furniture of the room in which Lincoln died is owned by the Chicago Historical Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society).  Ford's Theatre (part of the National Park Service) has the assassination weapon, a .44 derringer, but the bullet that killed Lincoln is owned by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.  The rocker in which Lincoln was seated at the theater, though, is owned by the Henry Ford Museum.

Interestingly, most of the clothes that Lincoln wore to Ford's Theatre that fateful night are owned by Ford's Theatre, including his frock coat and his boots.  While Ford's Theatre has been undergoing a massive renovation over the past 18 months (the theatre reopened in February, while the basement museum is now scheduled to reopen in July), its collection has been has been in storage.  The police-escorted process of moving the collection was described in The Washington Post in 2007.

Last week, a bootmaker was given permission to examine Lincoln's boots in the storage facility.  Evidently, this is a rare occurence.  A Washington Post article quotes the Park Service saying that this is the first time in almost 20 years that such an examination has been allowed.

There are interesting aspects to the article, especially at the end.  The bootmaker, Michael Anthony Carnacchi, describes the boots as the height of men's fashion at the time.  In fact, a notice of decorative cross-hatching on the heel, along with the description of Moroccan goatskin, make them seem like designer artifacts.  Such an item does not match popular conceptions of Lincoln, the homespun frontier lawyer become homespun president.  While more attention is usually paid to Mary Lincoln's expensive fashion tastes, there are bits of evidence that Lincoln himself occasionally purchased fine clothing.

More intriguing, at least to me, is the final observation in the article, in which the bootmaker describes the heels of the boot.  His last quotation is fascinating -- and also runs counter to the common perception of the meditative, low-key Lincoln.  "When Lincoln walked on a wooden floor, the sound would have been commanding.  'You would have known when the president walked in the room,' he said."  Maybe there is more to the appellation Nicolay and Hay gave Lincoln -- The Tycoon.

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