Lincoln's Overcoat (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Lincoln's Overcoat

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:50:57
And now onto another attraction in downtown D.C. Ford's Theater is, of course, the site where President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. The facility is run by the Ford's Theater Society and the National Park Service. This weekend marks the 202nd birthday of our 16th U.S. President.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:51:16
In this past week, a prized piece of Lincoln-ilia, and that is a real word, I looked it up, returned to Ford's lobby. See, the night of his assassination, Lincoln was wearing a Brook's Brothers Wool overcoat. The coat had been on display in the lobby until this past June when MPS transferred it to Conservation storage. But now, it's back. To learn more, I swung by the lobby and spoke with MPS Ranger, Yana Jaffe.

MS. YANA JAFFE

13:51:44
So the coat is in delicate condition. Because of that, we have it on display in our lobby a few months out of the year. It is in very protective display. You can see the case behind you, it's facing away from the sun. It is humidity, temperature, light-controlled. We put it up in February and then it stays up for a few months, including the busiest months. The spring is our busiest season.

MS. YANA JAFFE

13:52:10
We have lots and lots of school kids from all across the country. April is the anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, the Cherry Blossom Festival. So we have it up the busiest time of the year so that as many people as possible can see it. And then, the other part of the year, starting in July, we put it in protective storage.

SHEIR

13:52:32
I want to hear more about that sort of back and forth arrangement because isn't there some sort of balance you have to reach between protecting a historical artifact, but also giving public access?

JAFFE

13:52:43
Yeah, and it is the priority of the National Park Service to protect and preserve America's important cultural, natural artifacts and its heritage and so we do want to preserve that. That is priority. But at the same time, we do want to make sure that the public actually gets to enjoy this very, very precious, unique item that we are preserving. So it is important to preserve it, but we don't just want to hide it all year.

SHEIR

13:53:12
This actual overcoat that is on display, can you talk about what it looks like? What sort of sets it apart? It's not just your average coat.

JAFFE

13:53:19
No. This is a very, very special. It was custom made for Lincoln for his second inaugural, which was in March of 1865. It's a wool coat, silk stitching and the most important part of it is this beautiful eagle embroidery on the inside of it and the words, one country, one destiny, basically, the words that guided him through the Civil War, his entire wartime policy. And so these are the words he lived by for four years and essentially these are the words he died with.

SHEIR

13:53:54
And what about the rest of his outfit that he was wearing that day? People can see that as well? Not here in the lobby, but...

JAFFE

13:54:00
Yeah, we do also have his suit downstairs in our museum. That's on display year around. That's in less delicate condition than the coat so luckily, even if people come here in the fall, winter, even if they don't get to see the overcoat in the lobby, they do get to see the suit downstairs, as well as a number of artifacts. Just encourage people to come out here and learn the story. It's a really captivating story that we've preserved here. And please make sure you check ahead before. We have a very interesting schedule here and we will welcome you when you come.

SHEIR

13:54:37
Yana, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. It's been a pleasure.

JAFFE

13:54:40
Thank you very much.

SHEIR

13:54:42
You can see Lincoln's original overcoat until August when it returns once more to storage. We have more information on our website, metroconnection.org.
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