Opera glasses ‘used by Abraham Lincoln’s wife’ on the evening of his assassination are discovered

Opera glasses believed to have been used by the wife of American president Abraham Lincoln on the evening he was assassinated have been found 154 years later.  

Mary Lincoln dropped her ivory binoculars when her husband was fatally shot in the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC in 1865.

They were then picked up by theatre patron William Kent who rushed to the stricken president’s aid.

Brass and ivory binoculars which belonged to Abraham Lincoln's wife Mary Lincoln have been discovered during a house clearance at a property in Suffolk

Brass and ivory binoculars which belonged to Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Lincoln have been discovered during a house clearance at a property in Suffolk

Now the brass and ivory glasses have been discovered in a house clearance at a property in Suffolk by a man whose father inherited them years ago. 

It remains unknown how they originally came into the family’s possession but an ancestor is known to have had links with America.

She was believed to have been wearing them during a performance at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, in April 1865, on the evening that her husband was shot (pictured illustration)

She was believed to have been wearing them during a performance at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, in April 1865, on the evening that her husband was shot (pictured illustration)

Historians say they have 'no doubt' that the pair of spectacles are authentic because of the engravings and the style is mid-19th century period

Historians say they have ‘no doubt’ that the pair of spectacles are authentic because of the engravings and the style is mid-19th century period

 

Abraham Lincoln, pictured, was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth

Abraham Lincoln, pictured, was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth

The ivory clad glasses are engraved with the words ‘Mrs Mary Lincoln left these glasses in the box as Ford’s Theatre, Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when our beloved President and Leader was cruelly assassinated, found by William Kent Esq.’

Lincoln scholars have studied the glasses and said they are of the right period and style to be genuine. 

American historian Ed Steers said if they were fake, they would have been ‘done a century ago quite cleverly.’

He added how there is ‘no doubt’ in his mind’ as he has ‘handled dozens of artefacts associated with Lincoln’ and has a ‘different feeling about (this) item.’ 

Message on the opera glasses 

Mrs Mary Lincoln left these glasses in the box as Ford’s Theatre, Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when our beloved President and Leader was cruelly assassinated, found by William Kent Esq.

Mrs Lincoln’s empty glasses case from the same fateful occasion are held by the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

The glasses believed to go with the case Daniel Wright, auctioneer and valuer at Reeman Dansie, said: ‘When the chap brought them out and I read the inscription it really sent a shiver down my spine.  

The ivory on the glasses had split which has happened over a period of time but the father is nearly 100 and cannot remember where they came from.

‘We know Abraham Lincoln’s glasses he used on the night were black with gilt trim and these are white with gilt trim, so they are almost like ‘his and hers’.’

Theatre patron William Kent leaves a note on the binoculars which an auctioneer says the item 'give you a sense of the chaos and the panic and things being thrown and discarded in the heat of the moment at the time of the shooting'

Theatre patron William Kent leaves a note on the binoculars which an auctioneer says the item ‘give you a sense of the chaos and the panic and things being thrown and discarded in the heat of the moment at the time of the shooting’

The ivory on the glasses had split which has happened over a period of time but the father is nearly 100 and cannot remember where they came from. 

He added how it will be ‘up to the market to decide the engraving on them’ but it is in the style of the mid-19th century period.   

‘We think these glasses are a real relic from a major historical event. They give you a sense of the chaos and the panic and things being thrown and discarded in the heat of the moment at the time of the shooting.’

An added complication to the sale is that the law on trading in items made from ivory is much stricter now than ever before.

The sale of ivory from elephants killed after 1947 has been illegal for nearly 30 years, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

While in the US new laws were introduced in 2015 which clamped down on ivory entering the country no matter how old the item.  

Mr Wright said: ‘These glasses have ivory cladding. If they were to sell to a US bidder I suspect that a license for them could be secured if the item is deemed to be of major interest and significance.’

Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth, a confederate strongly opposed to the president’s plans to abolish slavery.

Booth shot Lincoln once in the back of the head and he died the next morning.

Booth fled the scene on horseback and was tracked down to a farm in Virginia 11 days later. He was shot dead by a soldier after the barn in which he was hiding was set ablaze.

The opera glasses will be auctioned on September 25.

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln 

President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head during a performance at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. 

This came just five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army and effectively ended the American Civil War. 

They were watching the acclaimed performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ while the killing took place. Military officer and diplomat Henry Rathbone shared the box with the Lincoln’s and Rathbone’s socialite wife Clara Harris – and the diplomat suffered severe stab wounds trying to prevent Booth’s escape. 

Booth then rushed on to the stage and announced ‘Sir semper tyrannis!’ which translates to ‘Thus ever to tyrants!’ which the audience thought was part of the production. They went along with it until they heard the piercing scream of Mary Lincoln and this is when she left the theatre – with her opera glasses left nearby.   

The culprit broke his leg in the fall but managed to escape Washington on horseback.   

Meanwhile Lincoln was carried to the Petersen House by several soldiers where he died at 7.22am the following morning.

The cold-blooded killer was tracked down to a farm in Virginia 11 days later. He was shot dead by a soldier after the barn in which he was hiding was set ablaze. 

He died saying ‘Tell Mother I died for my country’ and his body was buried in Washington.

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