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Medical care during President Abraham Lincoln's final hours to be commemorated in new exhibit opening March 2, 2015

SILVER SPRING, Md. - "His Wound Is Mortal: The Final Hours of President Abraham Lincoln," a temporary exhibition at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) featuring artifacts related to the Lincoln assassination, including the bullet that killed the president, will open to the public on Monday, Mar. 2, 2015. The exhibit will be on display through the end of 2015.

The Lincoln exhibit is part of NMHM's observance of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death, and NMHM has planned several special events (described below.) NMHM, a Department of Defense museum founded during the Civil War as the Army Medical Museum, is open to the public daily and is located on the Fort Detrick-Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Lincoln Exhibit

On the night of April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot while watching a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Surgeons from the Army Medical Museum (known today as NMHM) treated the president until he died. Those same surgeons later performed Lincoln's autopsy, during which they recovered the bullet. The bullet, along with several small shards from Lincoln's skull and locks of Lincoln's hair, are featured in the exhibition.

A surgical kit that was among the tools used to perform the autopsy on Lincoln the day he died is also included in the new temporary exhibition. The kit is on loan from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

While many of the Lincoln artifacts have been on display at NMHM almost continuously for several decades, the temporary installation will organize the artifacts in chronological order and supplement them with additional contextual stories from persons involved in the tragedy.

"Rarely can a museum claim to be as much a part of an event as it is the holder of its historical significance," said Adrianne Noe, Ph.D., NMHM director. "In the case of the response to the assassination of President Lincoln, the National Museum of Health and Medicine tells our own history when we describe the medical response to that national tragedy."

"This new display of artifacts and specimens related to Lincoln's care and autopsy provides visitors with a more personal look at the Army surgeons and Medical Museum staff who spent time caring for the president, documenting his last hours and investigating his death," said Andrea Schierkolk, NMHM public programs manager, who curated the updated Lincoln exhibit.

"Medical and Surgical History" to be featured in new temporary exhibit

The Army Medical Museum, nearly from the time of its founding in 1862, was engaged in an innovative effort to collect, collate and share the lessons of battlefield medicine during the course of the Civil War. The grandest effort of its kind to date and hardly eclipsed in the decades since, the six-volume "Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion" was the seminal work of the museum in the late 19th century. "Medical and Surgical History" is replete with detailed case histories from surgeons in the field, and is illustrated with thousands of woodcuts, drawings and photographs documenting the nature of injury and attempts at treatment. In the parlance of today's military medical enterprise, "Medical and Surgical History" offers the "lessons learned" of battlefield medicine and hospital care from the Civil War. It stands today as a testament to the nature of scientific inquiry by the Army Medical Museum surgeons and curators of that day.

Concurrent with the temporary Lincoln exhibit, NMHM will install a special exhibit featuring the "Medical and Surgical History." Objects on display will include artifacts, specimens and images documented in the work, including a review of gunshot injuries, charts about the spread of disease and infection, and artifacts that chronicle the novel use of anaesthesia during the course of the war.

"The exhibit is designed to highlight many of the groundbreaking technical and scientific features found in 'Medical and Surgical History,'" said exhibit curator and NMHM archivist Eric Boyle, Ph.D. "The innovative use of graphics, the unprecedented scale of the data and specimen collection enterprise it captured, and the novel forms of statistical analysis it provided helped make the 'Medical and Surgical History' an unparalleled resource. It epitomized the Army Medical Museum's commitment to learn and record the experiences of Civil War physicians and patients in order to help educate future generations."

1865: Exhibit Update Concludes Commemoration of 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

In early January 2015, prior to the installation of the temporary Lincoln exhibit, NMHM completed another update to its Civil War medicine exhibit. Since opening at its new location in 2012, NMHM has updated the Civil War exhibit to feature artifacts, images and specimens from battles or events from 150 years ago that year. Notably, the museum featured specimens of persons killed or injured at the Battle of Gettysburg in 2013, and specimens from the Battle of the Monocacy were on display throughout 2014. These updates were part of NMHM's efforts to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. The new exhibit update features numerous examples of battlefield injuries and showcases skeletal remains collected during the course of 1865, as well photographs produced during the last few months of the conflict.

"Not only was 1865 a significant point in the war, but it was pivotal in the foundation of the museum," said Gwen Nelmes, NMHM tour program coordinator, who organized the yearly Civil War exhibit updates. "This is the final year of the war and the beginning of this museum and its role in understanding military medicine."

APRIL 2015 COMMEMORATION EVENTS

NMHM's commemoration of Lincoln's assassination will continue with "Lincoln's Last Hours" on April 14 and 15, 2015, at NMHM.

  • NMHM will remain open to the public on April 14, until 10:30 p.m. Visitors are welcome to see the new exhibit during these special hours. The event is free and open to the public and reservations are not required.
  • A special family program will occur from 5 to 7 p.m. on April 14. Museum educators will offer arts and crafts activities for young visitors. Staff and docents will be available to answer questions and share information about the special exhibits related to Lincoln. The event is free and open to the public and reservations are not required.
  • At 7 p.m. on April 14, 2015, following the family program, NMHM plans to offer a special lecture program at the museum in Silver Spring. Speaker and topic is to be determined (as of Jan. 27, 2015). The lecture is free and open to the public and reservations are not required.

On the morning of April 15, 2015, at 7 a.m., NMHM will host a special ceremony alongside the artifacts related to the president's death. A moment of silence will mark the occasion of the exact moment of Lincoln's death 150 years earlier. Special invited guests (to be announced) will offer brief comments to remark on the solemn event. The ceremony is free and open to the public and reservations are not required.

Also on April 15, 2015, as part of the commemoration program, NMHM will review Lincoln's autopsy, as performed by Army Medical Museum surgeons, in a special gallery talk at noon. (Lincoln's autopsy occurred the same day as his death, and the procedure was conducted at the White House at noon, in what is now the President's Dining Room.) A special guest speaker (to be announced) will be featured during the gallery talk. The gallery talk is free and open to the public and reservations are not required.

SCIENCE CAFÉ: "Remembering Lincoln" Will Share the History of the NMHM's Lincoln Artifacts

NMHM staff will present the April 2015 Medical Museum Science Café, "Remembering Lincoln at the Medical Museum" on April 28, 2015, at 6 p.m. Collections managers and education staff members will discuss the history of the Lincoln artifacts in the NMHM collections. The Science Café is free and open to the public and reservations are not required.

VISITING NMHM: NMHM is open daily, including weekends and holidays (closed only on Dec. 25), from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. A free visitor parking lot is located on Linden Lane. Directions are available on the NMHM website. Visits to NMHM exhibits are self-guided, and guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more (four weeks' notice required.) Information about tour programs can be found on the NMHM website.

MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES: Media interested in previewing the exhibition must RSVP by calling (301) 319-3313 or email USArmy.Detrick.MEDCOM-USAMRMC.List.Medical-Museum@mail.mil at least 48 hours in advance. Information required from media outlets for NMHM access include: names of all persons attending, license plate number, make, model, year and color of the vehicle. U.S. government or state-issued photo ID required for entry. Parking is available. Download full press release (PDF 150 KB)

PHOTOGRAPHY: Limited photography of the Lincoln artifacts will be permitted. Use of flash photography is expressly prohibited. Stock photography of the NMHM Lincoln artifacts is available upon request.

For more information, contact Tim Clarke, Jr., NMHM Deputy Director for Communications, phone (301) 319-3349, email USArmy.Detrick.MEDCOM-USAMRMC.List.Medical-Museum@mail.mil.

About the National Museum of Health and Medicine:

The National Museum of Health and Medicine, established in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum, inspires interest in and promotes the understanding of medicine—past, present, and future—with a special emphasis on tri-service American military medicine. As a National Historic Landmark recognized for its ongoing value to the health of the military and to the nation, the Museum identifies, collects, and preserves important and unique resources to support a broad agenda of innovative exhibits, educational programs, and scientific, historical, and medical research. NMHM is an element of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command headquartered at Fort Detrick, Md. Visit the NMHM website at www.medicalmuseum.mil or call (301) 319-3300.

 

Caption: Bullet: Dr. Edward Curtis dislodged this lead bullet from President Abraham Lincoln's brain during autopsy. It was fired by John Wilkes Booth with a .44 caliber Deringer pistol. M-981.00322

(Disclosure: This image has been cropped, and portions of this image have been masked to emphasize the subject.) (National Museum of Health and Medicine photo illustration by Matthew Breitbart)