Hayes artifact achieves movie stardom
The countdown for the Oscars is underway and Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln is expected to be golden. Although not a nominee, one star of the film resides at the Hayes Presidential Center. It is the pair carpet slippers worn by Abraham Lincoln until the time of his death.
So how did the original Lincoln slippers end up in the museum dedicated to President Rutherford B. Hayes? The answer lies in the Center's Manuscripts Collections where an exchange of letters between Hayes and Alex Williamson are preserved. Williamson served as tutor to William and Tad Lincoln for more than four years - up to the time of the asassination. He had become very close to the entire family. In a letter to Hayes, Williamson explains, "Before Mrs. Lincoln left the Executive Mansion she presented me with Mr. Lincoln's slippers, now in your possession, his dressing gown and shawl or plaid .."
Williamson earlier had sent the slippers to Hayes, who was in the second year of his presidency, with a simple note stating "Sir, Please accept the accompanying slippers. They were worn by the late President Lincoln up to the day of his murder." It was widely known that President Hayes was a collector of historical artifacts and it was not unusual for people to send him such items. However, neither Williamson nor Hayes left any record as to the exact reason for the gift.
In July 2011, Head of Photographic Resources Gilbert Gonzalez received a request for detailed photographs of the Lincoln slippers. He was told it was for a "Spielberg project." Manuscripts Curator Nan Card attended an opening-day showing of the movie and realized she was looking at the end result of that "project" - a starring role in Lincoln. The photographs had been used to create exact replicas of the Lincoln slippers, which are prominently featured early in the movie! Actor Daniel Day Lewis, who portrays Lincoln, kicks off the slippers before lying down next to son Tad in front of a blazing fire. After the touching scene that follows, the camera zooms in on the well-worn carpet slippers Lincoln was known to favor.
The Lincoln slippers are on permanent display in the Hayes Museum. They are part of the exhibit room known as the Hall of Presidents.