Laura Keene’s Bloody Dress

Abraham Lincoln was watching the British comedy Our American Cousin when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865. The production was especially noteworthy because it starred the most famous actress in America, Laura Keene. As chaos broke out in the theater, Keene rushed to Lincoln’s box to try and give him water, cradling his head in her lap.

This is a swatch of the dress Keene wore that night stained with Lincoln’s blood, along with her handwritten authentication note. There are two pieces of the dress in the Presidential Library’s collection but archivists only recently uncovered and authenticated this one. This is the first time it has been exhibited to the public. Both pieces are cut into similar shapes, suggesting Keene saved and cut the dress—giving and selling pieces as her theater troupe continued to tour the country. In this way, Keene shared her personal and traumatic connection to Lincoln’s life and legacy.

MS-1866.00.00-MISC – New Keene Dress

Label Audio

Note Transcription

Laura Keene Note with Dress Swatch

I do hereby certify that the above is the Bill of the Play as performed at Fords Theater on the night of April 14th 1865 during which performance President Lincoln was assassinated, and the enclosed piece of silk is a portion of the Dress I wore during the play and Mr Lincolns blood is the stain on it.

Laura Keene--

Note Audio


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