To Protect and Preserve

To protect and preserve such valuable items is a big responsibility. Curators are trained to deal with the dangers. Light damage is one of the most serious threats. Both visible and ultraviolent light rays can be harmful by fading objects and breaking down fibers. The flag from the presidential box is at risk. It is made of silk that has been dyed dark blue.


Dark fabric dyes can be acidic. When exposed to light, the acids can fade the fabric quickly. The fibers of the fabric also begin to break down. That’s why curators put the flag under special glass that blocks ultraviolet light. Framing the flag also ensures that it will be kept flat. Folding the flag could create lasting creases. Historic fabrics are often rolled up to prevent such damage.

Other dangers come from the environment. Dirt, dust, body oils, and other pollutants can destroy objects. That’s why curators use white cotton gloves to handle any artifact. Curators also have to worry about pests. Rodents or bugs might try nibbling on artifacts or even using them to build nests.

Changes in temperature and humidity can cause damage, too. Curators must look for signs of warping, shrinkage, mold, mildew, or rust. All artifacts are kept in a climate‑controlled environment to prevent those types of damage. The center is also equipped with an advanced fire protection system.

National Park Service museum curator Kamal A. McClarin wears cotton gloves when he handles artifacts like the flag from the president's box at Ford's Theatre.


The Path to Preservation

In some cases, artifacts come into a museum’s collection quickly—soon after the event that made them special occurs. In other cases, many years can pass.

After President Lincoln had been shot, he was carried across the street to the home of William and Anna Petersen. Because Lincoln was so tall, he had to be laid diagonally across a bed in one of the back bedrooms. It was the room of a young army clerk named Willie Clark. Clark was not home at the time.

Soldiers were posted at the doors of the house and on the roof while doctors frantically attended to the wounded president.

The president would not recover. At 7:22 a.m. on April 15, Abraham Lincoln died from his wound.

When Clark returned the next morning, his room was in shambles, and the president was gone. That night, Clark climbed into bed to sleep—the same bed that had hours before held the president.

bedroom at Peterson House,
located across the street from Ford’s Theatre

Willie Clark's letter to his sister has been carefully preserved.

Four days later, Clark wrote a letter to his sister, Ida. In it, he described what was happening at Petersen House.

He wrote: “Since the death of our president hundreds daily call at the house to gain admission into my room.... Everybody has a great desire to obtain some memento from my room so that whoever comes in has to be closely watched for fear that they will steal something.”

Clark himself managed to take a few items as remembrances before he moved out a few days later. He sent his sister something of great value. He wrote:

“Enclosed you will find a piece of lace that Mrs. Lincoln wore on her head during the evening and was dropped by her while entering my room to see her dying husband(.) It is worth keeping for its historical value.”

The piece of lace disappeared or disintegrated long ago. But the letter remained. It stayed in the Clark family until it was donated to Ford’s Theatre, more than 100 years later.

Abraham Lincoln wore this coat, vest, and trousers as his office suit while he was president.

This exhibit shows the coat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was shot.

Historians consider Clark’s letter to be of great value because it is a first‑hand account of the aftermath of the assassination. It is what is known as a primary source. A primary source is an artifact, document, diary, manuscript, autobiography, recording, or any other source of information that was created at the time under study. John Wilkes Booth’s diary is also a primary source. It is, in fact, the only source that recorded Booth’s thoughts at the time.

The Ford’s Theatre collection is full of interesting artifacts. You can see the clothes Lincoln wore to the theater that night; a plaster cast of Lincoln’s face made a few months before he was killed; pieces of evidence used against the conspirators during their trial; and many other objects.

These pieces of our past are an important part of our history. Each object has its own story. But all of these items have been carefully preserved and protected so that people can still see and connect with them today.

To find out more about the artifacts at Ford’s Theatre, go to

To learn more about the National Park Service’s Museum Resources Center, go to

My Career

When not handling artifacts with his white gloves at the Museum Resources Center, Kamal McClarin can be found at different historic sites in the Washington, D.C., area. McClarin serves as an interpretive ranger with the National Park Service.

It's his job to help visitors make a personal connection with historic places and people. He's often working at the home of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a former slave who became an abolitionist. He pressed President Lincoln for equality for all people. McClarin gives visitors a sense of how Douglass lived and worked.