Last week, I wrote about how the chair that Abraham Lincoln may have used using the Gettysburg Address ceremony disappeared from Gettysburg College. This week, the rest of the story….
For years, Gettysburg College had displayed a rocking chair believed to have been the one Abraham Lincoln used as he sat on the platform during the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery where he delivered his Gettysburg Address.
At some point in the 1920’s, it disappeared from the collection. No one knew who had taken it or how and no big deal was made of its loss.
Then on April 7, 1945, the Gettysburg Times reported, “The little old rocking chair that Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have used on the platform in the National cemetery November 19, 1863, when he delivered his deathless Gettysburg Address, has come back to the sanctuary of the college campus after an absence of close to a quarter century.”
The reappearance of the chair was as mysterious as its disappearance and original appearance at the college.
In March, Dr. Henry W. A. Hanson, president of Gettysburg College, received an anonymous letter from Charleston, W. Va., that alerted him that the chair was in Charleston and being offered for sale as a historical object.
The college’s lawyer, Richard A. Brown, wrote back to a resident of the city and received a reply from someone who admitted that they had possession of the chair and offered to return it to the college.
“A few days after the letter was received, the carefully wrapped and crated cane-seated rocker arrived at Mr. Brown’s office. From there it was sent to the college campus,” the Gettysburg Times reported.
Who had the chair, how it made its way to West Virginia and the price it would have fetched on the market still remain unknown today. Librarians with Special Collections staff have looked through the papers of the college’s past presidents seeking some clue, but have so far found nothing to authenticate the chair.
So the rocking chair with its damaged cane seat and back and scratched wood sits on a wire frame in the college archives. A yellow ribbon is draped from the back to the seat to keep anyone else from sitting on it and a small card is taped to the back of it that reads, “This chair was reputedly used by President Lincoln during the dedicatory services of the Gettysburg National Military Cemetery.” This card, which has been on the chair since the college took possession of it, is the only record that the college has of the chair.
The college did not display the chair during the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
“We currently have the rocker in storage in Special Collections and not on public display at this time. Without documentation, it would not be fair to display it since we cannot be certain of its provenance. There is plenty more research to be done,” said Carolyn Sautter, director of special collections and college archives at Gettysburg College.
The chair is protected in the college’s modern archive storage built in 2001. The Special Collections staff also continues to search out more information with the hopes that they will be able prove that not only is the chair the college currently owns the one that disappeared in the 1920’s but that it is also the one that Lincoln used in 1863.
If the chair is ever authenticated, it will then be prepared for display such as removing the card and preparing a plaque describing it. Until then, it remains in a historical limbo.
With so many mysteries surrounding the college’s early collections, it would be great to be able to solve this one and affirm the chair as a piece of American history.