Mary Todd Lincoln's extravagances on display at Lincoln Presidential
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[August 28, 2012]
SPRINGFIELD -- First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was
a woman of contrasts. Her embarrassed husband had to bail her out
when she overspent the White House budget; she bought entire
supplies of cloth so no one could have a dress made like hers; and
she spent her later years keeping persistent creditors at bay. Yet,
when it came to hiring the African-American seamstress who would
later become one of her closest confidantes, Mrs. Lincoln was very
frugal, as she was with other important things in her life.
An exhibit of original items relating to one side of Mary Todd
Lincoln, her extravagances, is on display through November in the
Treasures Gallery at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in
Springfield. The exhibit includes the first public display of the
original jury verdict form declaring her insane.
admission is required to see the exhibit.
All of the original items in the exhibit come from the Abraham
Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's collections, and many have
never been publicly displayed. They include diamond, red coral and
black onyx jewelry; a parasol and a fan; a plaid lap rug; pieces of
three custom-made dresses; ivory desk items and a letter seal; a
music portfolio; and a mahogany vanity with mirror.
The darker side of Mrs. Lincoln's extravagances will also be
represented in the exhibit. Items include vouchers for overdue
bills, some quite large for the time; a letter from Mary Lincoln to
a merchant, apologizing for a late payment; the black mourning veil
and scarf worn after her husband's assassination; a painting of
President Lincoln's deathbed scene showing Mary weeping; and the
1875 signed jury verdict declaring Mrs. Lincoln insane. Mary's son
Robert successfully had his mother declared insane after presenting
evidence of her excessive spending habits, among other things.
A podcast detailing her jewelry items in the exhibit may be
A podcast about the deathbed painting that is also part of the
exhibit may be accessed at
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The presidential museum exhibit is the latest in a series of
events this year surrounding the life of America's most
controversial first lady. Events earlier this year were a mental
health round-table discussion April 16 at the Illinois State Capitol
and a curriculum development session June 18-20 that helped put new
materials in the state's middle and high school classrooms. Other
events will present retrials of Mary Todd Lincoln on insanity
charges Sept. 24 in Chicago and Oct. 1 in Springfield, using modern
legal standards and judges; and "Culture of Clothing" programs Nov.
12 in Chicago and Nov. 19 in Springfield that will examine the role
of fashion in women's history.
The Mary Todd Lincoln events are produced by the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum and the Illinois Supreme Court
Historic Preservation Commission. The Illinois State Board of
Education collaborated on the curriculum development.
Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
file received from the