Lincoln carriage to be displayed at Smithsonian

File (MGN/Wiki Commons)
File (MGN/Wiki Commons)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — South Bend’s historic Lincoln carriage will roll out of town next year to spend two months on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The vehicle, which is on permanent display at Studebaker National Museum, is the carriage that President Abraham Lincoln and his wife rode to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night he was assassinated.

The carriage will be on display from March 15 to May 25, 2015, at the National Museum of American History as part of an exhibit to mark the 150th anniversary of the assassination, Rebecca Bonham, executive director of Studebaker National Museum, told the South Bend Tribune Monday.

“It’s by far our most precious artifact,” Bonham said, explaining her original reluctance to grant the loan request.

The carriage, which is extremely fragile, has been loaned out only twice before: for exhibits at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis and at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

In both cases, despite precautions, the carriage returned to South Bend with some minor damage, Studebaker Museum archivist Andy Beckman said.

When the Smithsonian initially made the loan request more than a year ago, Bonham said after consultation with her staff, she said no.

After further discussions with Smithsonian representatives — including a visit this spring by Bonham and several others to the museum in Washington to see precisely where in the building the carriage might be displayed — Studebaker National Museum leaders agreed to the temporary loan.

“They really wanted to make sure we were comfortable with what they wanted to do,” Beckman said.

Extreme care will be taken to ensure the carriage is carefully packed and protected for its trip to Washington.

“Unlike an automobile, we can’t just roll it into the back of a trailer and strap it down,” Beckman said.

A specialized pallet system may be created to protect the carriage, which will make the trip in a truck. Beckman plans to travel with the carriage and help set it up for the Smithsonian exhibit, which also will include many other Lincoln artifacts on loan from around the country.

As part of the loan agreement, Beckman also will present a speech at the Smithsonian museum.

The Smithsonian will cover the full cost of transporting the carriage to and from Washington, Bonham said.

The Lincoln carriage will remain on public display at Studebaker National Museum until late winter, a few weeks before it goes on display in Washington, Bonham said.

And it will return to South Bend in time to be the focal point of a June 19 to Oct. 31, 2015, exhibit marking the sesquicentennial of the president’s death. The exhibit will focus on Lincoln, his life and his ties in Indiana, where he lived from age 7 to 21.

The Lincoln carriage is owned by the city of South Bend, and is part of a collection of Studebaker-owned vehicles given to the city in 1966. The museum has a contract to manage the city’s collection.

The carriage was made in 1864 by Wood Brothers of New York, an upscale carriage manufacturer of that era. The black barouche has a collapsible leather hood and fabric-covered padded seats. It is believed to have been presented as a gift by the Wood family to Lincoln in late 1864.

The vehicle underwent a year of painstaking conservation work from 2007 to 2008.

The carriage’s wood, leather and fabric were in various stages of deterioration when it was transported in 2007 to B.R. Howard & Associates of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The firm specializes in conservation of historic artifacts. The carriage went through a careful process designed to stabilize its condition and ensure it can remain on public display.

At the time of the conservation, Brian Howard, an employee of B.R. Howard & Associates, told The Tribune the carriage was in very poor condition.

That was not the result of being on display for many decades in South Bend, he said, but mainly from its years of use by a New York physician who owned the vehicle after the president’s death.

After Lincoln’s assassination, the carriage was inherited by his son, Robert Todd Lincoln. It later was sold to the physician, F.B. Brewer, of New York, who used it on calls he made during his medical practice.

Clement Studebaker, one of the founders of the South Bend-based Studebaker wagon and carriage company, purchased the carriage from Brewer in 1889. For years, the Lincoln Carriage was displayed at the Studebaker Carriage Repository in Chicago.

The carriage eventually was moved to South Bend and displayed in the Studebaker Corp. headquarters. It occasionally was driven in parades.

The conservation work turned up some surprises. Workers discovered the carriage originally wasn’t black, but rather dark green with maroon, gold and white details.

The conservators also carefully uncovered an elaborate cursive presidential monogram — A.L. — on each door. The monograms had been painted over, but are now clearly visible.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

 

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