These Colors Run: The Bloody Lincoln Flag

May 8, 2013 — Local history museums are the attics of entire towns. Everything old and weird and that people don’t want to throw out but don’t know what else to do with ends up there. And with so many people across the generations sharing that attic, you really never know what you’ll find in there. Like the blood of Abraham Lincoln or the noose of an executed wife murderer.

I have this feeling, that if you tally up all the blood on every blood-stained artifact from Lincoln’s assassination, you’d come up with more than could fit in the 16th president’s wiry 180-pound frame.

On the plus side, if we ever get this cloning thing down, we could see the rebirth of one of the top four presidents of the U.S. (Mount Rushmore is still up-to-date, right?). Unless we heed the warnings of Jurassic Park. Presidents and people weren’t meant to mix.

Anyway, we all know the ending of the Abraham Lincoln story. Daniel Day Lewis went back in time and took the place of the president while the real Lincoln was transferred to the planet Excalbia to help James T. Kirk beat a sentient pile of rock and Genghis Khan, but not before a quick stop in San Dimas to help a couple of promising lads with their history homework. Both Lincolns were killed, the one on our planet at a theater thanks to an actor who was a bad loser. Blood went everywhere. People grabbed everything it touched for a souvenir.

And one of these morbid souvenirs ended up in a local history museum in Milford, Pennsylvania, a small town in Pike County, which shares borders with both New Jersey and New York up in the northeast corner of the state.

The Columns Museum is housed in a mansion that dates back to 1904 and contains two floors of artifacts that range from the relics of major wars to strange and mundane objects of yore. But the place knows why you’re really there. Says so right on the sign: “Home of the Lincoln Flag.” Which, of course, undersells the blood-drenched piece of cloth because the place can’t go full-ghoul. That’s for people like you and I.

The Lincoln Flag was one of the decorations in the box at Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. It was torn down and used as a makeshift pillow beneath his bleeding head until the president was moved across the street to the house where he died not long after.

And now the Columns Museum has it, and the thing is so unmissable that it’s almost glorious. The flag measures just about 13 feet long and is more than 8.5 feet tall. It’s displayed with both ends rolled inward to highlight the bloody bit and giving the piece a towering verticality inside of its custom glass case. The blood stains are easy to spot, brown, circumscribed  and astounding, even against the still-vivid read stripes that represent the colonies Lincoln had such a time presiding over. Because of its size, the artifact is extremely dramatic, much more so than if it had been a handkerchief or a surgical implement. It says, kind of more than any other Lincoln assassination artifact that I’ve ever read about, “This was a big deal.”

And they listed the chain of ownership right in the exhibit knowing that you’re going to be doubtful how a county museum could have such a piece. Basically, it was nabbed by the stage manager, whose daughter was starring in the play, and then passed down through the family, who moved to Milford, until somebody threw it in the town attic, where it’s been for the past 60 years.

The museum has had both the blood and the flag tested, and that plus historical testimony makes for what seems a pretty strong case that the flag is, in fact, stained by the blood of Abraham Lincoln. But we won’t truly know until we clone him.

The Columns Museum also offers an opportunity to get even more ghastly than the Lincoln Flag. After all, presidential blood is almost too historic to be truly morbid.

In the next room over from the Lincoln Room, we discovered a glass case full of things connected to the execution of one Herman Paul Schultz of New York City.

You can read the story here, but the Internet-attention-span version is that in the Fall of 1896, Schultz’s wife Lizzie was found in Pike County dead in bed with a bullet to her head. Her husband claimed it was suicide, but later on a jury decided it wasn’t. The story was basically that she was trying to get away from him, he tracked her down from the city, and then he put her down. Schultz was hanged in December of 1897 until he strangled to death, still proclaiming his innocence. He even requested that his wife’s skull be buried with him. It had been exhumed for evidence.

It was the only execution ever carried out in the county. So of course you keep mementos.

In this case, those mementos were the actual noose from around Schultz’s neck, the murder weapon itself, bullets from the gun, shackles for the prisoner, and various documentation. There was even a newspaper clip about the ghost of Herman Paul Schultz.

But that’s okay. I assume the ghost of Abe Lincoln is there doing the noble thing and keeping the ghost of this wife-killer at bay. I mean, if he helped Kirk and Spock, Bill, and Ted, then of course he’d help the good people of Milford, Pennsylvania.

I feel like I make the same pop culture references over and over.

Also, because it’s relevant and because my advertisers pay by the page impression, here are pics of a skull, noose, and other artifacts from another executed wife murder that I visited in some other town’s attic in New York.