The Lincoln Flag

In 1996, Joseph E. Garrera, current president of the Lincoln Group of New York, an organization dedicated to studying the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, concluded an independent year-long study regarding the authenticity of a bloodstained, 36 star, American flag which played an important role in the events at Ford’s Theatre on the night President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. His findings and conclusions, subsequently published in a 125 page research document, THE LINCOLN FLAG OF THE PIKE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, declare the flag “authentic.”


Mr. Garrera’s research traces the events from that fateful night in 1865 to the present. On April 14, 1865, Thomas Gourlay was the part-time stage manager and an actor at Ford’s Theatre in Washington. He was also the father of Jeannie Gourlay who had a lead part in the play, “Our American Cousin,” which was presented on stage that night.

After President Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth, those ministering to him noted that Gourlay was present with them in the presidential box. Laura Keene, the star of the evening performance, was also in the box, and cradled Lincoln’s head in her lap as he lay on the floor, mortally wounded. When doctors laid Lincoln on the floor, so that he could rest more comfortably, Gourlay, according to Garrera’s research, “pulled the large flag which had been draped over the balustrade and placed it partially under Lincoln’s head.”

After Lincoln was moved to Petersen House across the street from the theatre, Gourlay took the flag and kept it until, before his death in the 1880’s, he gave it to his daughter, Jeannie Gourlay Struthers. She moved to Milford, in Pike County, Pennsylvania, in 1888. Jeannie Gourlay Struthers then passed on the flag to her only son, V. Paul Struthers. In 1954, Struthers donated the flag to the Pike County Historical Society. He also donated other artifacts from the Civil War era, including clothing that belonged to his famous mother and an oral history which provided details of an unbroken chain of family ownership of the flag dating back to April 14, 1865,

Subsequently, the Society has had the blood stains on the flag tested on two occasions. Both times, the tests confirmed that the stains on the flag are human blood. Garrera’s research into forensic issues documented the fact that the blood stains are “contact stains,” consistent with a bleeding wound coming into direct contact with the flag. His research into other areas – such as the materials used in manufacture of the flag, the chain of custody of the flag, government policies on the use of American flags for ceremonial purposes, the disposition of all of the flags which were in Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865 – all serve to confirm the authenticity of the “Lincoln flag.”

George F. Cahill, CAE, Founder of the Pittsburgh-based National Flag Foundation, stated, “Pike County’s flag could become the most revered single flag of our day, similar in importance to Francis Scott Key’s ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ Betsy Ross’ creation, and the ensign raised atop Iwo Jima in World War II.”

Today, Jeannie Gourlay Struthers rests peacefully in Milford Cemetery, her place in American history as an eyewitness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln indelibly etched on the Ford’s Theatre playbill for April 14, 1865. The flag which she protected and preserved is on permanent display at The Columns, the museum of the Pike County Historical Society.


Join NBC10 journalist Terry Ruggles and Drexel University Online for an educational video exploration into the history of the American flag. This compelling and informative video is the perfect American history teaching tool for teachers, parents, and anyone interested in learning the intriguing history of our nation’s most famous symbol.

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Pike County Historical Society at the Columns

608 Broad Street, Milford, Pennsylvania
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Museum Hours

  • MONDAY Closed
  • TUESDAY Closed
  • WEDNESDAY 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
  • THURSDAY By Appointment
  • FRIDAY By Appointment
  • SATURDAY 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
  • SUNDAY 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM