Skip to content

Real or Not Real?

After Lincoln's death, people began collecting bits and pieces—relics, if you will, associated with the martyred president. Genuine or not, these items speak to Lincoln’s hold on the American imagination, then and now.

Can you tell the genuine items from the pretenders? Sometimes it is difficult for museum professionals to know.

Fragmented piece of wooden railcar.

About the Object:
Lincoln’s funeral car was ready to undergo restoration in Michigan, when the building it was housed in burned to the ground, destroying the railcar. When this artifact was given to the Museum, the donor stated that his great-grandfather retrieved it from the debris.

Which do you think? Is it Real or Not Real?

Research indicates that the donor’s great- grandfather, Robert B. Parker, was living in Oklahoma at the time of the fire — a long way from Michigan. Seventy-seven years old at the time, it is highly unlikely that Parker pulled this fragment from the debris. Wood fragment and bolt, circa 1865
Donated by: S.W. LeNeve
Handwritten card signed by Abraham Lincoln.

About the Object:
Bloomington resident J.S. Beard lost his patronage job with the U. S. Post Office upon the 1856 election of Democratic President James Buchanan. After Lincoln’s 1860 election, Beard sought the new president’s help to regain his job. In response, Lincoln wrote and signed this card.

Which do you think? Is it Real or Not Real?

It was not unusual for individuals to write to President Lincoln requesting favors. He often responded by writing a quick card, like this one. Such cards allowed the bearer to connect with the person most able to assist with the favor. The handwriting on this card was authenticated as Lincoln’s, and J.S. Beard regained his job with the U.S. Post Office. Card to J.S. Beard, circa 1861
Handwritten receipt from A. Lincoln.

About the Object:
When Robert Stubblefield made payment on a debt he owed Lincoln for legal work, Lincoln handed him this receipt.

Which do you think? Is it Real or Not Real?

This receipt is indeed authentic. It remained in the Stubblefield family until 1995, when it was purchased by the Museum. Receipt from A. Lincoln, circa 1857
Tiny circular slice of wood, labeled Lincoln.

About the Object:
This tiny slice of wood (believed to be cedar) was reportedly cut from a rail split by Lincoln near Lancaster, Kentucky. Cedar was typically used to make rail fences because it was abundant and easy to split.

Which do you think? Is it Real or Not Real?

Though made of what appears to be appropriate wood, the Museum has no way to confirm that this mystery item came from a rail split by Lincoln — or that it was ever part of a split rail. Slice of cedar, circa unknown
Donated by: William Mundt

About the Object:
In 1937 this fragment of walnut was presented to a local historian by W. Borchers. The attached label noted, “From the Lincoln cabin located nine miles from Decatur.”

Which do you think? Is it Real or Not Real?

The original Thomas Lincoln log cabin was disassembled and shipped to Chicago to serve as an exhibit at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. This cabin was lost after the Exposition. In 1934 the cabin was reconstructed with new timber in Decatur. Borchers could not have collected the fragment from the original cabin, as he was born in 1907. Someone else could have collected it, but who? And where from? Because of the original cabin’s history, the Museum doubts the provenance (origin or known history) of this artifact. Worked wood, circa unknown
Donated by: William Brigham Collection

About the Object:
This oak gavel was purportedly made from floorboards taken from Lincoln and John T. Stuart’s Springfield law office (Stuart was Lincoln’s first law partner). The floorboards were removed during the 1905 remodel of the building.

Which do you think? Is it Real or Not Real?

According to the Illinois State Historical Society, after the 1905 renovation of the Stuart and Lincoln law office, 10 gavels, including this one, were made from floorboards that were replaced. This one was donated to the museum in 1984. Oak gavel, circa 1905
Donated by: Malcolm L. Jackson
Previous: From Candidate to President and Beyond Next: Looking for Lincoln