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Lincoln’s boots made journey to Lynn

High school learns local lore of artifacts

Ruth Hatch of Lynn donated Lincoln’s boots to the nation, handing them over to Irving C. Root, head of the National Park Service Washington region, at Ford’s Theatre on April 30, 1947. Ruth Hatch of Lynn donated Lincoln’s boots to the nation, handing them over to Irving C. Root, head of the National Park Service Washington region, at Ford’s Theatre on April 30, 1947. (National Park Service)
By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2010

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In 1865, following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, a federal employee from Lynn returned to his home city carrying the boots Lincoln had worn the night of his death.

The Lynn resident, Justin Hatch, died in 1875. But the boots remained in Lynn in the care of his family until 1947 when his granddaughter, Lynn English High School teacher Ruth Hatch, donated them to the museum at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

How Lincoln’s boots — and several other artifacts from his deathbed — ended up in Lynn and what happened to them is a subject of rich historical lore in the city. But until recently, it was a story that seemed to be fading from the city’s memory.

That changed as a result of a Lynn English High School project to restore the Lincoln foyer located at the building’s south entrance and a life-size statue of Lincoln that adorns it.

At a May 10 ceremony to rededicate the statue and foyer, local historian Bob Marcotte recounted the Lincoln boot story, drawing from his extensive research on the subject. A newly installed plaque in the foyer also tells about the boots.

Tim Ring, a Lynn English High School teacher who spearheaded the privately-funded restoration, said he was thrilled that the effort could help rekindle interest in the city’s unique connection to Lincoln.

“History is a collection of little links like that, and when we find a link it’s fun to chase it down and follow it where it leads,’’ said Ring, who is also vice president of the Lynn Museum & Historical Society.

Ring said he first learned of the boot story about 15 years ago when he attended a talk Marcotte gave about it. Hoping to revive the story as part of the restoration project, Ring contacted Marcotte through Dexter Bishop, president of the North Shore chapter of the Civil War Round Tables of Massachusetts.

A 1966 Lynn English graduate who now lives in Peabody, Marcotte began looking into the Lincoln boot story after hearing about it in 1975. His efforts led him in 1976 to track down and interview Ruth Hatch, who then summered in Hamilton.

Marcotte said he learned that Justin Hatch was a federal treasury employee in Washington during the war who also worked in his spare time for a Massachusetts agency that assisted wounded soldiers from the state who were recuperating in Washington hospitals.

During that time, Justin Hatch befriended William Tilton Clark, a Massachusetts soldier detailed to Army headquarters in Washington, who was also a co-worker with him at the Massachusetts agency. It was to Clark’s room in the Petersen boarding house across the street from the theater that Lincoln was taken after he was shot.

Clark moved out of his room shortly after the assassination, taking Lincoln’s boots and other artifacts apparently left behind by a messenger who had stopped by to retrieve Lincoln’s belongings. Clark gave those artifacts — which also included Lincoln’s socks, a clipping of his hair, and a bloodied piece of towel — to Hatch as collateral for a loan.

Hatch returned to his Summer Street home in Lynn that year intending to return the items to Clark if he ever repaid the loan. But Clark never returned and the Hatch family retained custody of the artifacts.

Marcotte said there are many colorful tales relating to the artifacts during their years in Lynn.

One of them relates to the unfortunate fate of Lincoln’s socks. At some point early on, Justin Hatch’s wife, Caroline, fearful the socks would attract moths into the house, burned them in the fireplace.

The Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union Civil War veterans, borrowed the boots to display at a national encampment in Chicago. P.T. Barnum tried unsuccessfully to buy the boots from the family. Lincoln’s elderly former valet stopped by the house one day asking to see the boots, and is said to have wept when he was shown them.

As a child, Ruth Hatch would bring the boots to school to let her classmates “tromp around in them,’’ Marcotte said.

As a teacher at Lynn English, she would bring the boots to school around Lincoln’s birthday each year to show her history students.

In 1947, when Ruth Hatch was moving from the family’s home on Summer Street to a new apartment on Franklin Street, frames containing the clipping of Lincoln’s hair and the bloodied piece of towel were inadvertently mixed in with the trash and were discarded.

The mishap apparently convinced Hatch it was time to donate the boots to a museum. Marcotte said she would also have been mindful of her grandfather’s desire that any surviving artifacts be given to a “suitable government repository’’ if Clark did not claim them.

Lincoln’s boots remain today in the museum in Ford’s Theatre, which along with the Petersen House is a national historic site run by the National Park Service.

The Lincoln statue was donated to Lynn English by the class of 1934, apparently for reasons unrelated to the story of the boots.

Ring came up with the idea of the restoration project last fall after noticing that the foyer looked run-down and that the statue was suffering from vandalism and neglect.

“It’s a beautiful room. . . . To see them both damaged and dirty and vandalized’’ was disheartening, he said.

Bishop said he was thrilled with the project, which was made possible through donations by alumni, businesses, and others.

In addition to restoring the appearance of the room, “hopefully, this will ensure that Lincoln’s memory and what he stood for and what the war stood for will be remembered,’’ he said.

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