To Protect and Preserve
To protect and preserve such valuable items is a big responsibility. Curators know the risks to items like the eagle flag. Sunlight, for example, can fade colors and break down fibers.
That’s why curators preserve the flag under glass to block ultraviolet light. Framing the flag also helps keep it flat. Folding a flag could create lasting creases. 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 nibbling on artifacts or building nests in them. Changes in temperature and humidity can lead to mold, mildew, or rust. So, all artifacts are kept in a controlled environment.
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. In other cases, many years can pass.
After President Lincoln had been shot, he was carried to the home of William and Anna Petersen. There, he was laid on a bed. It was in the bedroom of a young army clerk named Willie Clark.
Doctors attended to the wounded president. Yet, at 7:22 a.m., Abraham Lincoln died from his wound. When Clark returned the next morning, his room was in shambles. The president had been removed.
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....”
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... It is worth keeping for its historical value.” The lace disappeared, but the letter remained. More than 100 years later, it was donated to Ford’s Theatre Museum.
Abraham Lincoln wore this coat, vest, and trousers as his office suit while he was president.
Exhibit showing the coat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated.
Clark’s letter is a first‑hand account of what happened. It is known as a primary source. That's any source of information that was created at the time under study. John Wilkes Booth’s diary is also a primary source. It is the only source that records 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 and many other important 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 www.fords.org
To learn more about the National Park Service’s Museum Resources Center, go to www.nps.gov/orgs/1802/
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.