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The Passing of a President

Four image collage: painting of Lincoln in his death bed, black and white photograph of the bed, the bed on display in the Musuem in the 1970s, and the current display

On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died in the Petersen family’s boarding house in Washington, DC, at 7:22 a.m. The night before, John Wilkes Booth shot him during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, and soldiers carried Lincoln across Tenth Street so that he could pass his last moments peacefully and not risk a bumpy carriage ride back to the White House. 

After Lincoln’s body was removed, the bed on which Lincoln died followed a circuitous route to Chicago. The owner of the Petersen House, William Petersen, died in 1871. His wife died later that year, and their adult children auctioned off all the furniture at the inn. Washington William Boyd purchased the deathbed and some other furnishings and later gave them to his brother, Andrew Boyd, a New York City publisher and Lincoln biographer. In 1877, Andrew Boyd found himself in financial trouble and ended up selling the deathbed and other furnishings to Charles F. Gunther, a wealthy confectioner whose success allowed him to collect historic memorabilia. He acquired many Civil War items shortly after hostilities ended and traveled the country looking for what might have been considered junk at the time. 

In 1920, the Chicago History Museum (then the Chicago Historical Society) acquired thousands of manuscripts and artifacts from Gunther’s estatewhich included materials from the seventeenth century, eighteenth century, and the Civil War. The objects relevant to the Lincoln family are now part of the Museum’s John and Jeanne Rowe Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln CollectionAbraham Lincolns deathbed is currently on display at the Museum in the alcoves. 

See the bed up close.  

Images: Clockwise from top left: Alonzo Chappel“The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln,” oil on canvas, 1868CHM, ICHi-052425. The bedroom at the Petersen House just after Lincoln’s remains were carried out, Washington, DC, April 15, 1865. CHM, ICHi-011209; Julius Ulke, photographer. The Lincoln deathbed today at the Chicago History Museum. Photograph by CHM staffA group of schoolchildren viewing Lincoln’s deathbed at the Chicago Historical Society (now Chicago History Museum), c. 1975. CHM, ICHi-066997. 

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