Curiosity reignites over Lincoln flag

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Thomas Gourlay reached out and grasped the first thing he touched to cradle the head of a dying man.

The American flag, hastily yanked by the actor and part-time stage manager from a balustrade in a Washington, D.C., theater 143 years ago, would become a cherished family heirloom, passed from generation to generation.

Now the bloodstained relic hangs in a tall glass case tucked in a dim corner of an obscure museum in a tiny Pocono Mountains hamlet, little noted by the world.

How it came here, a national treasure amid the stuffed birds, antique gowns and other eclectic artifacts in the collection of the Pike County Historical Society, is not in dispute.

But can that ruddy stain truly be the blood of Abraham Lincoln?

On the cusp of the bicentennial celebration of the 16th president’s birth in 2009, and with the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War looming in 2011, the keepers of the so-called Lincoln flag are anticipating a new wave of interest, and steeling for a fresh round of scrutiny.

“You can dismantle history anytime you want to, but at some point you have to believe the evidence,” said Lincoln scholar Joseph E. Garrera, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum in Allentown and president of the Lincoln Group of New York.

Today, Garrera is one of the staunchest advocates of the flag’s authenticity. He started out an unabashed skeptic, viewing the flag as a misidentified fraud at best, a preposterous hoax at worst.

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