Lincoln Flag ‘rare,’ ‘moving’ and ‘mind-boggling’
People walked slowly around the first-floor room of the East Bloomfield Academy Building, paused before a blood-stained, 36-star American flag in an oblong display case, then moved quietly on.
This ancient room, where students studied in Abraham Lincoln’s day, is now a museum, hosting a display paying respect to the man who held the United States together amid a catastrophic Civil War, abolishing slavery in the process.
For this weekend’s History Days festival, a special exhibit bears Lincoln’s likeness everywhere — on a complete set of Lincoln-head pennies, on printed keepsake images, on an ivory head and shoulder bust, and in newspapers announcing his assassination. But the bloodstained flag, known as the Lincoln Flag, stops everybody in their tracks and elicits a range of reactions.
“It chokes me up,” said Genevieve Britt of Fairport, N.Y., standing beside her husband, Larry. “That is his blood. I’m amazed that this is here.”
This is the same American flag, authenticated in the 1990s, that was draped over a railing around the Presidential Box in Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. And it also served as a desperately fashioned pillow for the president’s head as he was dying. That night, a stagehand quietly took the flag and preserved it. His family passed it to a history museum in Milford, Pa., in 1954. It is on display in Bloomfield, N.Y., through Aug. 12.
“I like Civil War history,” said Sharon Wylie of Penfield, N.Y. “To think that a family kept that and preserved it. I’m glad that they did.”
Bloomfield resident Hillary Brown shook her head. “It’s crazy,” said Brown, who just finished her senior year in high school here and lives a few steps up the block. “To grow up in Bloomfield, go to high school in this dinky town, and now be four feet from Lincoln — his blood or DNA? It’s really moving.”
Next week, the Lincoln Flag proceeds to Washington, D.C., and the upcoming national celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
Old hands at tracking Lincoln visited Bloomfield’s exhibit on Thursday to beat the crowds. Two came because they had already seen Saturday’s other exhibit. That second artifact display comes from the Ontario County Historical Society and is perhaps the ultimate Lincoln likeness, created from an 1860 plaster cast of Lincoln’s head and called the Lincoln Life Mask. The combination of the two artifacts together opens an emotional door to history.
“We saw the original Lincoln Life Mask (in Washington, D.C.),” said Karen Owen of Brockport, N.Y. She came to Bloomfield with Barbara Owen, her companion on many Lincoln trips, to check out the Lincoln Flag.
“We did the Booth Escape Tour. That starts at Ford’s Theater and goes down to Fredericksburg where he was killed,” said Karen. “We saw the contents of Lincoln’s pockets when he was killed. Whatever Lincoln papers are not in Springfield, (Ill.), are at the Library of Congress. Even with all that, they did not tell us anything about this flag.”
“I’m kind of in awe that that’s the blood of Abraham Lincoln, and I can still see it,” said Kathy Allen of East Rochester, N.Y. She took solace in an already symbolic object that eased a president’s pain. “It’s something that comforted him.”
“This is the real thing?” 11-year-old Jessica Rush asked her dad, Lee Rush.
He was looking hard at the Lincoln Flag.
“I’m just amazed. I’ve never heard of it. I don’t think it’s very well known,” said Lee Rush.
He has read up on the Civil War, but not this flag. He was visiting relatives in Fairport when the family decided to check the Bloomfield exhibit. The Rushes live in Perkasie, Pa., two hours south of Milford, home base for the Lincoln Flag.
“Mind boggling,” said Jared Kozik of Mumford, N.Y. Kozik has done some Civil War re-enacting. “It’s like a mini-time machine.”
Chris Klein, also of Mumford, brought Kozik to Bloomfield to see the Lincoln Flag.
“It brings us history as close as we can get to Abraham Lincoln,” said Klein.
Bill and Sheryl Galloway of Hopewell, N.Y., will come back Saturday for the rededication of Bloomfield’s Civil War monument and another visit to the Lincoln Flag.
“His (Lincoln’s) face is so familiar. But that flag’s very rare. We went to Gettysburg. I had to know where he stood,” said Sheryl. She loves Abraham Lincoln, “the life he led … how he taught himself to read, cared so much for his country.”
For Bill Galloway, Lincoln’s legacy was the united democracy he left behind, which forever ended an amalgam of loosely confederated states north and south.
“Americans began thinking of themselves as Americans after the Civil War,” said Galloway.
Contact Daily Messenger writer Morgan Wesson at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 256, or at email@example.com.