The Lincoln Flag
Unseen circumstances would produce The Lincoln Flag from the common 36 star U.S. flag that had been used as frontal bunting on the State Box at Ford’s Theater the night of the assassination.
The assassin John Wilkes Booth has pulled the trigger, of his concealed derringer, firing a .44 caliber ball point blank into the back of President Lincoln’s head.
The evening of Good Friday, April 14,1865 at Ford’s Theater in Washington,DC would indeed change history.
The flag you see to the left is promptly pulled down, folded and carefully placed under Abraham Lincoln’s bleeding head as he lay mortally wounded on the floor of the State Box at Fords Theater.
The Lincoln Flag is a National Treasure and I am honored to have seen The “Lincoln Flag” close up ( I did not expect that) and to have stood next to this invaluable piece of colorful and exciting American history.
How these historic moments unfolded and how The Lincoln Flag came into being is a story of a large and more or less common 36 star U.S. flag. This flag would become a personal and familial keepsake, a symbol of the “national sadness” that would shroud the north after President Lincoln’s assassination.
A continuation of the “national sadness” that had already enveloped the nation after 4 long years of bloody Civil War. This person was Thomas Gourlay and his descendents would become caretakers of this national heirloom, The Lincoln Flag.
The large 36 star U.S.flag was draped over the front of the State Box at Ford’s Theater where President Lincoln, Mary Lincoln and guests sat watching the evening’s performance “Our American Cousin” starring the well known and beautiful actress Laura Keene.
John Wilkes Booth’s plan was unfolding even better than planned so far. Even Lincoln’s bodyguard for the evening was not present. Booth had mapped out every move so that he could complete his deadly mission and escape into the Maryland night, planning to meet with his accomplices later down south where he expected to have a heroes welcome.
At approximately 10:15pm he will steal into the shadows of the State Box through the unguarded rear door and shoot the President point blank. Abraham Lincoln once attended to by physicians present is lain on the floor of the State Box so the doctors can examine his wounds. The theater crowd is in pandemonium and confusion after understanding the consequences of the gunshot.
The lead actress, well known and talented Laura Keene is pushing through the mob trying to reach the State Box, and the wounded President. She will finally reach the President and will sit down beside him, cradling his head on her lap.
Actor and stage manager Thomas Gourlay also has reached the State Box and as Laura Keene stands, Gourlay not wanting the Presidents head to be on the floor, reaches for the bunting flag and folding it puts it beneath the bleeding head of President Lincoln.
Within minutes, the decision to move the injured President is made and he is carried out of the State Box.
Thomas Gourlay, the man whose intention to offer a small comfort to the dying President Abraham Lincoln takes the blood stained flag home.The flag is kept exclusively by the Gourlay family.
Also in attendence as an actress in the play “Our American Cousin” was Thomas Gourlay’s daughter Jeannie Gourlay who will inherit the flag from father Thomas upon his death in 1885.
Jeannie Gourlay and The Lincoln Flag will later relocate to Milford, Pennsylvania.
This once common flag, now stained with the blood of one of our most beloved and well known U.S.Presidents, his name spoken with reverence and eternal thanks for preserving this Union we call ” The United States of America”, this once common flag now becomes a historic piece of America’s struggle for unity and sacrifice. An American heirloom and National Treasure.
This is The Lincoln Flag, later passed on by Jeannie Gourlay Struthers to her son V.Paul Struthers of Milford, Pa. when Jeannie passed away in 1928 in Milford, Pennsylvania.
Mr. Struthers, the direct grandson of Thomas Gourlay the very man who placed the flag under President Lincoln’s bleeding head, donated this invaluable piece of our American Heritage The Lincoln Flag to The Pike County Historical Society in 1954. Thank you Mr.V Paul Struthers.
The Lincoln Flag has undergone several tests has been declared authentic. The color dyes used in the manufacture of the flag are Civil War era, the blood stain confirmed to be human blood and a “contact stain” that would be expected from a head wound being in contact with the flag such as described.
If I may quote from the Pike County Historical Society..
In 1996, Joseph E. Garrera, current president of the Lincoln Group of New York, an organization dedicated to studying the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, concluded an independent year-long study regarding the authenticity of a bloodstained, 36 star, American flag which played an important role in the events at Ford’s Theatre on the night President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. His findings and conclusions, subsequently published in a 125 page research document, THE LINCOLN FLAG OF THE PIKE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, declare the flag “authentic.”
Nationally recognized and highly respected Lincoln scholars such as Dr. Wayne Temple, Chief Deputy Director of the Illinois State Archives; Michael Maione, the Historian at Ford’s Theatre; Dr. Edward Steers, Jr., the Lincoln assassination expert; and Frank J. Williams, Chairman of the Lincoln Forum; and others; have since concurred with and confirmed Mr. Garrera’s findings.
The Lincoln Flag may be viewed at The Pike County Historical Society Museum in Milford, Pennsylvania, a beautiful old home rich in history appropriately named “The Columns” due to the grand columns that one walks between as you walk to the front entrance. Our visit to see this national heirloom The Lincoln Flag was more than memorable.
I suggest calling ahead or checking the website link below for museum hours.
You may get lucky and meet Lori, the curator of The Columns Museum. We were fortunate enough to have some of her time which I am very grateful.
Lori is more than a curator and guide sharing facts and personal feelings of The “Lincoln Flag”. Her extensive knowledge was informative and her kindness and casual wit was relaxing and sincerely appreciated. My personal thanks to Lori for her service and her dedication.
Contact: “The Columns” Pike County Historical Society Museum for hours and other exciting events
Address: Pike County Historical Society Museum 608 Grand Street Milford, Pa. 18337 (570) 296-8126
Link: Acedemia.edu / The Lincoln Flag