Science Meets History in Abe's Blood Mystery

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 13, 2000 | Go to article overview

Science Meets History in Abe's Blood Mystery


A quick trip to Springfield, a bit of cemetery skullduggery, a little late-night diggety-dig-dig, snippity-snip-snip and we'd know for certain if this stain on the famed "wet with blood" cloak truly was left by a freshly assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

"No one is suggesting we dig him up," gasps every outraged expert subjected to my "exhume Abe and get his DNA" idea.

Instead, the Chicago Historical Society, owner of the cloak reportedly worn by Mary Todd Lincoln the night President Lincoln was shot, puts its faith in less controversial science methods.

"We've taken samples and we've done some testing but have nothing conclusive at this point," says David Stoney, a noted microscopist with the famed McCrone Research Institute in Chicago.

"The stuff is so old compared to what we normally work with," adds fellow research team member R.E. "Bob" Gaensslen, director of forensic science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But both scientists report "nothing looks bad" so far.

In 1920, the historical society paid $150,000 for the cloak, other Lincoln artifacts and the entire eclectic museum collection amassed by Chicago candy-maker Charles Gunther, says Rosemary K. Adams, director of publications for the historical society.

The cloak "came with an affidavit," but so did Gunther's framed exhibit of the "skin of the snake that tempted Eve in the garden of Eden," Adams says with a laugh.

With futuristic microscopic evidence and even DNA traces, modern science can alter what we believe about the past.

The McCrone Research Institute played a role in proving the Shroud of Turin (cherished as the wrappings of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion) is a fraud perpetrated in the Middle Ages.

Recent DNA tests concluded Thomas Jefferson fathered the child of his slave mistress. …

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