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Cool Things - Memento of Lincoln's Assassination

Ford's Theatre playbill fragment stained with Lincoln's blood

This blood-stained fragment of a Ford's Theatre playbill dates from a fateful spring night in 1865, when Abraham Lincoln was shot.

The play "Our American Cousin" was already famous for its long run when President Abraham Lincoln attended a performance on the night of April 14, 1865.

From his box at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., the President and his wife laughed at one of the play's funniest lines. In Act III, the character of the cousin says, "Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal—you sockdologizing old man-trap."

A shot rang out during the laughter, and shortly afterwards John Wilkes Booth jumped from the President's box onto the stage. After a few seconds of confusion in which Booth made his escape, the crowd in the theatre quickly realized that Abraham Lincoln had been shot!

Photograph of playbill fragment

Among those present at Ford's Theatre that night was 28-year-old T.D. Bancroft. A veteran of Bleeding Kansas, Bancroft had served with Free State troops led by James Lane and John Brown. By the beginning of the Civil War, Bancroft was in Washington where he became part of Lane's Frontier Guard. This group of Kansas men were called upon to protect Lincoln, even camping out in the East Room of the White House. Bancroft had also attended the President's inauguration and was acquainted with the nation's leader.

On that fateful night at Ford's Theater, Bancroft provided one last service for the President. He was among those who stood at the head of the stairs and kept back the crowd as the fatally wounded Lincoln was carried from his box.

After Lincoln had passed by, Bancroft observed that drops of the president's blood had fallen on a playbill fragment lying on the floor. Bancroft kept this memento until 1901, when he donated it to the Kansas Historical Society. Photographs of the fragment (bottom, left) were sold as a remembrance of the President's assassination (view text on back of photo).

The original playbill fragment is now in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.  

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Entry: Cool Things - Memento of Lincoln's Assassination

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2005

Date Modified: January 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.