According to lore, the bedspread held for nearly a century by the Wisconsin Historical Society covered President Lincoln as he lay dying from an assassin's bullet. Some 150 years later, DNA testing could determine whether the story was as honest as Abe.
"This is an important item in the history of our country so I wanted to make sure that two independent labs looked at it to see if we got the same or different results."
- University of Wisconsin Professor Majid Sarmadi
The bedspread is currently being tested at both the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory, where forensics experts will compare what are believed to be bloodstains to samples from a pillow case known to have the 16th president's blood on it. The dual testing comes as the nation marks the 150th year since Lincoln was shot, on April 14, 1865. He died nine hours later, after lingering in a coma overnight.
"This is an important item in the history of our country so I wanted to make sure that two independent labs looked at it to see if we got the same or different results," said University of Wisconsin Professor Majid Sarmadi, a textile science expert who was tapped by the society to investigate the artifact's authenticity after Historical Society curator Leslie Bellais noticed what appeared to be small bloodstains on it.
The bedspread's purported journey into the hands of Badger State historians, who acquired it 54 years after Lincoln's death is quite a saga. After being shot by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theatre, Lincoln was taken across the street to a boarding house owned by William and Anna Petersen, where he lay for nine hours before dying. The Wisconsin Historical Society acquired the knit spread in 1919 from the owner of the Wisconsin State Journal, Richard Lloyd Jones, a Lincoln buff who said he had obtained it from the Petersen family in 1907.
Sarmadi extracted small fibers from the bedspread and tested them before passing it to the State Crime Laboratory. The fibers will be checked by both labs for blood which could yield DNA. Although Lincoln has no living descendants, and none of his possessions have ever been tested for his DNA, the pillow from the boarding house has been kept on display at Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia for more than a century.
“Finding DNA and finding Lincoln’s DNA are two different issues,” he said. “If we find DNA, we can only test it against the DNA on the pillow case that we are one hundred percent sure is his.”
There are reasons for skepticism. Bellais told WKOW that the spread the Historical Society holds has fringe but a photo taken by lodgers at the boarding house shortly after Lincoln died shows a bedspread without fringe. While the bedspread did come from the Petersen house, it may not have covered the mortally wounded president.
Sarmadi offers another explanation. “If we don’t find blood conclusively, it could simply mean the first couple of layers could have protected the piece from being contaminated with blood.”
Results of both tests are expected by the end of the week.
FoxNews.com’s Mary Kekatos contributed to this report.