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Abraham Lincoln's coat, and its hidden, bloody stories

The bloody history behind Lincoln's coat
The bloody history behind Lincoln's coat 03:20

While some arrivals at this year's Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City were greeted with a lot of fanfare, one treasured object arrived undercover, amid great secrecy, from a museum warehouse outside Washington, D.C.: the coat that Abraham Lincoln was wearing on April 14, 1865, the night he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre. It arrived with a police escort.

"It's slightly an out-of-body experience to realize that this was worn by President Lincoln, and the circumstances in which it was worn," said Andrew Bolton, head curator of the Met's Costume Institute. "It's just incredibly meaningful and very emotional, I think."

Prepared for display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is the coat worn by President Lincoln on the night he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre - a treasured object that speaks to tragedy in our nation's history. CBS News

The coat is part of the Met's new exhibit, "In America: An Anthology of Fashion," which illuminates the complex history of our country through clothing

"Sometimes the most moving stories are stories that are untold," Bolton told correspondent Faith Salie. "And this story, for many people, will be an untold story."

Untold and unseen, as well. Shortly after her husband's death, Mary Todd Lincoln gave the coat to their beloved doorman, Alphonse Donn, whose family kept it for over a century, before bequeathing it to Ford's Theatre in 1968.

The coat, created by Brooks Brothers for Lincoln's second inauguration, has never before left the D.C. area, and is rarely shown to the public in order to protect its fragile nature.

What's not on display is an embroidered message in the coat's lining: "The inside of the coat is very meaningful because it has the inscription, 'One country, one destiny,' which came from a speech from one of Lincoln's heroes. So, it has this very personal message for Lincoln."

The message stitched into the lining of Lincoln's coat ("One Country, One Destiny") comes from a speech by Daniel Webster.  CBS News

"And how symbolic for a man who had to probably carry such a complicated inner life," said Salie.

"Absolutely  And it was obviously something that he spoke to Brooks Brothers about, and Brooks Brothers came up with the lining."

Perhaps the most moving aspect of the coat is the part that's not there: the lining that was soaked in Lincoln's blood. "The sleeve has been severed because of the lining that has been cut away for relics, and sold as relics," said Bolton. "So, the sort of gruesomeness and the sadness and the pathos of this particular piece all comes out when you see it."

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Salie said, "It makes you remember there was a human being in this."

"I think often when you see clothing, the absence of the body sometimes is more poetic than the presence of the body," said Bolton. "You walk around the exhibition and you look at the George Washington coat, or the coat worn by an enslaved man, the absence of that body somehow gives it almost more potency, I think."

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Story produced by Juan Torres-Falcon. Editor: Emanuele Secci. 

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