Where is Abraham Lincoln’s death mask?No death mask exists. However, two “life masks” exist, one of which is often mistaken for a death mask. The Ford’s Theatre Historic Lobby exhibits a cast of an 1860 life mask right alongside the spiral staircase that leads to the balcony. The original plaster cast was created by Leonard Volk in April of 1860 in Chicago, with later bronze copies created by sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens. A copy of the other later life mask is located in the Ford’s Theatre Museum within one of the glass cases near the stairwell that leads up into the theatre. This later life mask was created by Clark Mills in February of 1865. The toll the previous four years had taken is obvious in the careworn and tired affect of the Mills mask, taken just two months before the assassination. The originals for both are held by the Smithsonian Institution and occasionally on display at the National Portrait Gallery.
If I’m interested in more information, what are some good books about the assassination?Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (2006), by James Swanson. Provides a good and very readable general introduction, especially to those new to the subject matter. Well-paced and crisply written, this book provides a detailed outline of Lincoln’s assassination and recounts Booth’s twelve days on the run.
Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (2005), by Edward Steers. Provides not only an excellent and comprehensive account of the assassination from a leading authority on the Lincoln assassination, but also a very good broader overview of the conspirators involved with Booth in their attempt to topple the U.S. Government.
American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (2004), by Michael Kauffman. Provides a very scholarly historiographic account of Booth’s very deep motives in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln and of how he intended to frame those others involved should his plans fail. Kauffman debunks many myths, and his footnotes alone are a treasure trove of research references. Readers’ opinions will vary on the credibility of his very sympathetic treatment of Dr. Samuel Mudd.
Twenty Days: A Narrative in Text and Pictures of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1965), by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt. A classic narrative with over 300 photographs, many from the Meserve Collection that have not been reproduced elsewhere. The book is particularly detailed in its recounting of the funeral train and of the funerals in the cities from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, IL. Moreover, it is an especially good source of photos of events, people, and artifacts surrounding the Lincoln assassination.
The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies (1983), by William Hanchett. This work provides a good understanding of the general background of the Lincoln assassination (including Booth’s motives for killing Lincoln) and delves into the many varied interpretations of Lincoln’s murder that have been developed since the time that it occurred. Hanchett debunks many of the more speculative (and persistent) conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination.
Abraham Lincoln: His Last 24 Hours (1987), by W. Emerson Reck. An excellent and well researched work on Lincoln’s activities on April 14th, 1865, with an emphasis on the events at Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House. This is an accurate, well-documented, detailed account of the Lincoln assassination. It deals only with historical facts supported by 30 years of research, not with speculation.
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination: The Untold Story of the Actors and Stagehands at Ford’s Theatre (2013), by Thomas A. Bogar. This work provides the untold story of Lincoln’s assassination from the forty-six stage hands, actors, and theatre workers that were on hand for the bewildering events within the theatre that night, and what each of them witnessed in the chaos-filled hours before John Wilkes Booth was discovered to be the culprit.
Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth (2015), by Terry Alford. Based on meticulous and exhaustive research, this is the first scholarly biography of the actor who murdered the sixteenth president.
We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eyewitness Accounts (1995), by Timothy S. Good. A compilation of diary entries, letters, court depositions, and newspaper accounts providing a vivid recounting of the assassination and the scene in the theatre from the perspectives of more than one hundred witnesses.
Lincoln’s Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of America’s Greatest President (2015), by Kathryn Canavan. A new look at the experiences of all of the players in the story, and the ordinary Washingtonians swept up in the event, between the time of the fatal shot and Lincoln’s death the next morning. Particularly strong on the Petersen family, including research not available elsewhere.
If I had a question that isn’t answered here, who could I ask?The park rangers at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site would be happy to follow up with you on any questions you have that aren't addressed in these pages. With varying work schedules, it may take a few days to get a response, and please be sure your email address is entered correctly in the form. Contact us with a Historical Question.
What are some useful websites to learn more about Lincoln, the assassination, and Civil War Washington, DC?Check back in September 2020 for web resource list.
Last updated: August 15, 2020