Crime Lab to Test If Blanket Was on Lincoln's Deathbed

President died 150 years ago today
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2015 6:31 AM CDT
Crime Lab to Test If Blanket Was on Lincoln's Deathbed
This historical photo provided by the George Eastman House shows Matthew Brady's Jan. 8, 1864, portrait of Abraham Lincoln.   (AP Photo/George Eastman House, Matthew B. Brady)

The Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory is testing unusually old blood samples: some that could be from Abraham Lincoln himself. Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, and the start of a story around a beige bedspread. It's said Lincoln was laid on it at a rooming house across the street from Ford's Theatre after being shot. It was given to Richard Lloyd Jones—the man who bought the farm Lincoln was born on and who would later own the Wisconsin State Journal—in 1907, reports Reuters. He says it came from the nieces of the boarding home's owner; they were moving to Italy and wanted it kept in America. In 1919, he gave it to the Wisconsin Historical Society, but he admitted to forgetting the women's names. "There are spots on it," Leslie Bellais, the society's curator of social history, tells the Journal Sentinel. "They could be iron rust spots, but blood has iron in it."

But there are some possible holes in the story: Bellais hasn't been able to prove the existence of any nieces of boardinghouse owner Anna Petersen, who would have been in the right place at the time Jones specified. Further, a photo that exists of the president's deathbed shows a spread without fringe on it, which the blanket in question has, reports WKOW. Why test now? "Until recently, you had to cut out a piece of fabric for DNA testing," Bellais explains, "but now you can just swab it and not destroy the piece." So Bellais reached out to Majid Sarmadi, a professor of textile science at UW-Madison, who carefully removed a single fiber from the bedspread. That was passed to the State Crime Lab, which will confirm whether the spots are blood and, if so, try to find DNA. Reuters reports preliminary tests were run, with more tests planned for today. (Historians solved another Lincoln mystery last year.)

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