What was in Abraham Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated?

One of the more interesting collections at the Library of Congress contains the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night of his assassination in 1865 at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington DC.

Looking at these items brings up so many questions, including:

  • Why do you imagine that he carried these items?
  • Why was he carrying a $5 confederate note?
  • Is there anything special about these items?
  • What do these items tell us about Abraham Lincoln as a person?
  • What would an everyday citizen be carrying in their pockets?
  • How is it different from what people carry in their pockets today?

Ask students to ask their own questions about these items. Then, have them try to answer the questions they come up with, even if they don’t know the correct answer. In fact, there is no real answer here. The point of this activity is to make students practice using evidence to back up their conclusions, even if it is completely creative and unlikely.

As students learn about history, they can engage in literacy too! Have them create narratives using these items as pillars for a piece of short fiction. Ask students to write a one or two page story that incorporates at least 3 of these items, bonus points for using them all. As a teacher, you’ll be amazed at how different each story will be!

View full exhibit here.