Mary Todd Lincoln's Mourning Clothes  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Cowan's  Auctions.  

Mary Todd Lincoln dressed in full mourning clothes from the time of her husband’s assassination in 1865 until her own death 17 years later.  She wore a heavy black crepe dress and a black bonnet with a black veil. 

Now he belongs to the ages
— Edwin M. Stanton, Sec. of War

Mary never got over Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  It was a knife in the heart that only sunk deeper. 

At her 1882 funeral in Springfield the minister had this to say, “When Abraham Lincoln died, she died…So it seems today, that we are only looking at death placing its seal upon the lingering victim of a past calamity.”  Mary was 64. 

What ended in a calamity started out as a pleasant evening at the theater on April 14, 1865.  Mary and the President rode alone in their carriage.  The couple arrived at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., and sat in the presidential box decorated with red, white and blue swags.  They were seeing a comedy called “Our American Cousin.”

During the third act, Mary reached over to take Lincoln’s hand and pressed closer to him.  Behind her John Wilkes Booth stepped into the unlocked box, stretched out his arm and aimed a small derringer pistol at the back of Lincoln’s head.  He pulled the trigger. 

Lincoln’s arm jerked and he slumped forward.  Mary reached out to catch him and then screamed. 

She followed the six soldiers who carried her unconscious husband across the street to a nearby boardinghouse.  She kissed him.  When daylight came a heavy rain was falling and Lincoln was still breathing faintly but never woke up again.  He died at 7:22 a.m. the same morning at the age of 56.

A doctor folded Lincoln’s hands across his chest, smoothed out his contracted facial muscles, closed his eyelids and drew a white sheet over Lincoln’s head.

“Now he belongs to the ages,” Sec. of War Edwin M. Stanton murmured.

Lying in his coffin Lincoln had the look of a worn man suddenly relieved, wrote political commentator David R. Locke.  Mary’s life changed overnight and there would be no relief for her  

“Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect.  The wisest know nothing,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Mary couldn’t make herself attend Lincoln’s funeral.  She lay in bed in the Whitehouse for over a month replaying details of the shooting over and over again in her head.   

She never stopped letting people know she was the widow of Pres. Abraham Lincoln and she never went to the theater again.  She blamed herself for encouraging her husband’s political career.

In the years following Lincoln’s death Mary’s health declined.  She had what doctors called “nervous” symptoms.  She never lived long in one place. 

On July 15, 1882, the anniversary of her son Tad’s death Mary suffered a stroke and died shortly afterward.  

On June 11, Cowan’s Auctions featured a selection of Mary Todd Lincoln items in its American History Including the Civil War auction.  The lots descended in the family of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, great grandson of Abraham Lincoln.  

Mary Todd Lincoln

Framed CDV-Sized Prints of Mary; 3; taken at two different sittings; circa 1862; 5 ¼ inches by 9 inches;  $470. 

Book Belonging to Mary; Poems of Thomas Hood; Mary Lincoln on the front; 1872;  $1,763.   

Mourning Parasol, Veil and Fan;  accompanied by a 1976 affidavit signed by Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith;   $19,388.

Egg Cup; from first Lincoln Whitehouse service; Haviland, Limoges; painted with a brown eagle clasping a laurel branch and cluster of arrows in his talons; French; circa 1861; 3 3/4 inches high;  $20,563.

Dessert Sugar Bowl; from first Lincoln Whitehouse service; Haviland, Limoges; painted with a brown eagle clasping a laurel branch and cluster of arrows in his talons; French circa 1861;   $27,613.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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