Watch as the House Where Lincoln Died changes through the years
Born in Germany in 1819, Anna Kloman[n] Petersen immigrated to the United States alongside her husband when she was 23. She and William had 10 children together, five of whom survived to adulthood. She was away at the time of the assassination but returned the next morning to find that the President had died in her home. She and William died within months of each other.
This photograph, taken by boarders Henry and Julius Ulke the morning of April 15, 1865, captures the bed and room in which Lincoln died. In a touch of irony, rumor has it that John Wilkes Booth rested in this very bed a month earlier when he visited friend and fellow actor Charles Warwick, who was renting this room at the time.
A former private in the 13th Massachusetts, William T. Clark spent the night of April 14 out celebrating the end of the war and was not at home when President Lincoln was shot. Clark returned the next morning after Lincoln’s body was removed and climbed into his bloodied bed to sleep. He later wrote a letter to his sister describing the constant influx of tourists and souvenir hunters, who often stole mementos from his room. Clark himself kept a lock of Lincoln’s hair.
A well-known German-American attorney, Louis Schade, purchased the Petersen House in 1878 for $4,500. He used it as his home and as office space for his newspaper, The Washington Sentinel. While he and his family initially enjoyed living in the home, they eventually tired of the constant curious visitors and sold the building to the federal government in 1896.
Osborn Oldroyd, a Civil War veteran, became entranced with Abraham Lincoln during the 1860 presidential election. He dedicated the rest of his life to collecting as many Lincoln-related objects as he could. He created and operated his own Lincoln museum in the Petersen House until his death in 1930.
In 1926, Congressman Henry Riggs Rathbone (R-Ill.), son of Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, who were Lincoln’s guests the night of the assassination, arranged for the government to purchase Oldroyd’s collection for $50,000. Many of the items were then moved into the newly created Lincoln Museum inside the former Ford’s Theatre.
The Interior Department decided to renovate the Petersen House to its appearance on the night of the assassination. Using photographs and drawings from Lincoln’s last night, those involved were able to produce a historically accurate restoration. Oldroyd brought the sofa at left from Lincoln’s family home in Springfield.
Ford’s Theatre Society purchased the 10-story building next to the Petersen House and in 2012 opened the Center for Education and Leadership, which explores the aftermath of the assassination and Lincoln’s impact on the world. Museum exhibitions focus on Lincoln’s funeral, the capture and prosecution of his killers, and his evolving legacy.
Anna Snyder, Digital Public History Intern
David McKenzie, Digital Projects Manager
Sarah Jencks, Director of Educational Programming
Tracey Avant, Curator of Exhibitions
Liza Lorenz, Director of Communications and Marketing