To Protect and Preserve

To protect and preserve such valuable items is a big responsibility. Curators understand the risks to items,such as the flag from the presidential box. Ultraviolet light can fade its dark blue dyed silk. Its fibers can break down.


That’s why curators preserve 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 harm objects. That’s why curators use white cotton gloves to handle any artifact. Curators also have to worry about pests. Rodents or bugs might nibble on artifacts. They might even use them to build nests.

Changes in temperature and humidity can also cause damage like shrinkage, mold, mildew, or rust. So, all artifacts are kept in a climate‑controlled environment. The center also has 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.


The Path to Preservation

In some cases, artifacts come into a museum’s collection quickly. 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. There, he was laid across a tiny bed in one of the back bedrooms. It was the room of a young army clerk named Willie Clark.

Soldiers were posted at the doors of the house while doctors attended to the wounded president. 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.

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. 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 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 . . . It is worth keeping for its historical value.”

The lace disappeared, but the letter remained. More than 100 years later, it was given to the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

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.

Clark’s letter is a first‑hand account of what happened right after the assassination. It is what is known as a primary source. A primarysource is an artifact, document, diary, 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 records Booth’s thoughts.

The Ford’s Theatre collection is full of interesting artifacts. You can see the clothes Lincoln wore to the theater that night and many other objects.

These pieces of our past have been preserved and protected so that people can 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.