mary todd lincoln
In a small, dimly lit back room of the Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse, New York, is a unique and priceless treasure…a civil-war era decorative eagle. [It is] made entirely out of hair, contributed by leading politicians, and their wives, most notably…President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. The artifact came about when the US Sanitary Commission, a volunteer agency working for the health of Union soldiers during the war, needed money for its efforts. [They] reached out to President Lincoln soliciting, a lock of hair as large as he [could] spare. Lincoln communicated the request to other members of the parliament and a surprisingly large number of politicians, and their wives, responded positively. [They donated] their hair for the Brooklyn jewelers Spies & Champney to weave a national symbol out of it.
The large showpiece, nicknamed the Hairy Eagle, featured an American eagle, perched on top of half a globe, spreading its wings and, surrounded with swirls and flowers. The eagle’s head was made from Lincoln’s hair, its back, from Vice President Hannibal Hamlin’s hair, its beak, from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase’s hair and, its wings, from the various senators’ hair. The wives’ hair, meanwhile, was used to create the floral arrangement, surmounted by the eagle and globe. The eagle became an immediate attraction when it was debuted at Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, organized to raise funds for the benefit of Union soldiers. Running for three weeks in April 1864, the fair featured events, attractions, auctions, raffles and more. For the entry fee of $2, visitors could view spectacular floral arrangements in the Temple of Flora, watch dances performed by the Fair’s Native American Troupe, enjoy Dutch cuisine at the Knickerbocker Kitchen and even buy a piece of Plymouth Rock. Tens of thousands of people visited the Hairy Eagle during this time. Underneath it, a small visitor book was kept, in which guests were able to sign their name on the payment of one dollar. The goal was to raise $1,000.
It’s not known whether the goal of $1000 and 1000 signatures was reached but, reports of the fair compiled three years later noted that the book was so popular that, 400 signatures and $400 were collected within the first three days of the Fair. The Hairy Eagle was meant to be presented to the Lincolns as a gift after the fair ended but, the wreath never made its way to the White House. Instead, it hung in the window of the Champney & Smitten shop in Brooklyn for many years before disappearing for decades. In the 1920s, F.T. Champney’s wife Ida donated the eagle to Onondaga Historical Association, where it has remained ever since.
Civil War Era Eagle Sculpture (Smithsonian Magazine/Jason Emerson/September 23, 2021)
The artifacts sold for an astounding $81,250 on September 12, 2020.
“[The] lock of hair and telegram, which provides details of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, are expected to fetch up to $75,000.”
A lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair wrapped in a telegram stained with the 16th president’s blood is up for auction online. [From RR Auction, based in Boston], [the two} inches of Lincoln’s hair was removed during his postmortem examination after the president was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth.
The hair ended up in the custody of Dr. Lyman Beecher Todd, a cousin of Lincoln’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln. The doctor was present at the postmortem examination and is believed to have wrapped the lock of hair in the telegram which had been sent to him the previous day by his assistant, George Kinnear. The telegram is stained with what is believed to be the slain president’s blood.
Bidding for the two items closes Sept. 12.
The hair is mounted to an official War Department manuscript telegram sent to Dr. Todd by George H. Kinnear, his assistant in the Post Office at Lexington, Kentucky, received in Washington at 11:00pm on April 14, 1865 […]. [A] typed caption prepared by Dr. Todd’s son reads, in part: “The above telegram […] arrived in Washington a few minutes after Abraham Lincoln was shot.
Next day, at the postmortem, when a lock of hair, clipped from near the President’s left temple, was given to Dr. Todd. [Finding] no other paper in his pocket […] he wrapped the lock, stained with blood or brain fluid, in this telegram and hastily wrote on it in pencil […] ‘Hair of A. Lincoln.’”
Dr. Lyman Beecher Todd‘s own account of the autopsy, now preserved in an 1895 manuscript held in the Ida Tarbell collection of Lincoln papers at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, differs slightly from his son’s, noting that he clipped the lock himself: “When all was over, General Hardin entered and handed me a pair of scissors, requesting me to cut a few locks of hair for Mrs. Lincoln. I carefully cut and delivered them to General Hardin and, then, secured one for myself which I have preserved as a sacred relic.”
Description From The Original Listing