The Lincoln Curtain

On or about January 30, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was getting ready for his trip to Washington — to become the 16th President of the United States of America. He and Mary would leave their home at Eight and Jackson Streets in Springfield destined for a new life in the White House. In anticipation of this transition, the Lincolns held a yard sale of furniture, china, stoves, carpets and other belongings which they couldn’t take to Washington.

Harry Wilton, a neighbor and local United States Marshall, bought an assortment of the Lincoln’s possessions. Included in the lot was a magnificent 96 inch burgundy curtain – stitched with gold thread. This drape had hung in the parlor on the first floor. The Wilton family retained ownership of the curtain until 1933 when Dr. Charles Olsen purchased the drapery at Chicago’s Century of Progress. Dr. Olsen was noted for his magnificent – and complete – collection of original letters and documents of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

On February 18, 1984, I acquired this magnificent historical item from Dr. Olsen’s daughter. And months later, I donated the item to the Lincoln Home Historic Site – along with the original letters detailing the provenance of the drapery. In the 120 years between the yard sale and my acquisition, the curtain had been torn in one corner. So I snipped off a piece – which I still have. Along with copies of the letters of provenance. Much like an original letter signed by Abraham Lincoln, it’s very special to know that Number 16 probably handled this curtain with frequency (“Hey Mary – mind if I open the curtains . . . . “).

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