Returns in February 2002
By Ken Baumel
The Pike County Historical Society (PCHS) held a "Welcome Back Lincoln Flag" ceremony at their Columns Museum in Milford Borough, Pennsylvania in early 2002.
The Lincoln Flag had been on loan to the Lincoln Museum of Fort Wayne Indiana since February 2001 as part of major Lincoln retrospective show. The museum is the nation's largest and most distinguished Lincoln museum, according to Lincoln Society President Joseph Garrera, a Lincoln expert who researched and published findings about the Pike Society's Lincoln flag in 1996. Historians and Lincoln experts acknowledged that Garrera presented a preponderance of evidence sustaining the flag's authenticity and provenance (chain of title).
The Pike Historical Society flag is one of five flags decorated the Ford's Theatre box in Washington, D.C. where U.S. Civil War President Abraham Lincoln sat on the night he was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth in April, 1865. Three of the flags were United States flags and two were Treasury Guard's regulation infantry flags with 13 alternating red and white stripes. Research authenticated three flags. Garrera's successful effort in Pike County prompted Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) personnel to check their documentation that accompanied their flag. The flag remained in storage since 1922, according to one of their museum officials. Their research indicated their flag was the one that caused Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth to trip in his escape, when a spur on his boot caught the flag and cause a fall that apparently broke his leg. See http://www.civilwarnews.com/archive/articles/conn_flag.htm for a full account of the CHS-owned flag.
Part-time Stage Manager of Ford Theatre Thomas Gourlay recovered the blood-stained Pike County Lincoln flag. He subsequently gave the flag to his daughter, Jeanne Gourlay Struthers, who settled in Pike County in the late 19th century.
Struthers’ grandson Paul Struthers bequeathed the flag to the society in 1954. Pike County Commissioner Karl Wagner recalled last week that when he was a child, he met Paul Struthers. He said, "The PCHS is blessed to have the national treasure in its possession."
Garrera said, "This flag (at the Columns Museum) has the best evidence that I have examined of all the flags that were at Ford's Theatre. This artifact will continue long after we are gone. Struthers could have given the flag to any one of the major national museums. But, he had faith that the society could be entrusted to care for the flag and defend it. Over 40,000 people saw the flag at the Fort Wayne Museum.”
According to Garrera, for that museum to ask for the Pike flag was another of a series of events in the past year or more that reinforced the PCHS's and Garrera's claim of the flag's authenticity, which had been previously challenged by the former PCHS museum director, treasurer, and some writers from regional newspapers.
But, the New York Times, Associated Press, the Pike County Dispatch, Pike County Courier, interviewed major Lincoln experts and historians nationally who without exception sustained Garrera's work as definitive.
Garrera called his original effort to assemble evidence a team project. He said that many people at the PCHS, other historians in the area, and volunteers contributed work that Garrera needed to complete his research. The Tri-State Community Chorus sang patriotic songs during the flag-return ceremony and Veterans of Foreign Wars' Mountain Laurel Post 8612 officers and leaders assembled at the Columns Museum as an honor guard at the flag's return.
PCHS President Fred Burke and PCHS project manager Bill Kiger acknowledged with satisfaction the loan and return of the flag. Former PCHS President Barbara Buchanan, Buchanan, prior to 1996, encouraged Garrera to reinforce the society claim of the flag's origin and chain of custody. She said, "I was pleased to witness the flag's return after having made a statement to a New York Times Magazine reporter, when the flag was originally authenticated, that the flag would only leave the museum over my dead body."