Va. Family Donates Relic to Ford's Theatre

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Inside the box at Ford's Theatre where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, most of the furnishings are carefully chosen replicas: the heavy gold drapes and tassels, the red, gold and white floral carpet, the presidential rocker.

But last week, the National Park Service got hold of the real thing. A carved-back, cane-seat parlor chair that was in the presidential box the night Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth -- perhaps the one Mary Todd Lincoln was sitting in -- was donated to the government by a Virginia family that had kept the artifact for 140 years.

"This is a fabulous thing we've been given. We're very excited about it," said Gloria Swift, the Park Service's curator for Ford's Theatre.

After the assassination darkened the theater in 1865, the government bought the structure on 10th Street NW and turned it into a three-story office building. One of the workers dismantling the theater claimed that his boss had told him to take anything he wanted out of the presidential box. He removed the parlor chair and gave it to the Virginia family, where it was handed down for generations, Swift said.

The family, which Swift said has asked to remain anonymous, tried to sell the chair to the Park Service in the 1950s, when the theater box was being reconditioned as a historic site. But the agency didn't have the cash to buy it and made a replica instead, Swift said.

The current matriarch of the family told the Park Service recently that ownership of the chair was weighing on her.

"All her friends told her she is crazy, that she should sell it on eBay," Swift said. "But she said that giving it to us felt like the right thing to do."

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