Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Monday, April 13, 2009

Should Pennsylvania Museum Permit Testing Of Lincoln's Blood or DNA?

Today's issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper contains this article about an interesting dilemma facing a small museum in that city. The Grand Army Of The Republic (GAR) Museum and Library owns a small strip of the pillowcase which supported Lincoln's head as he lay dying in the Petersen House in Washington, D.C. The piece of fabric contains Lincoln's DNA in the form of dried blood and brain matter. Now a researcher has asked to borrow this strip so he can test the DNA in order to see if Lincoln had a rare form of cancer.

Mr. John Sotos, a cardiologist and author, wants to test the strip so he can confirm his belief that Lincoln had a rare genetic syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN2B). Sotos has carefully studied all 130 known images of Lincoln and combined with eyewitness accounts of Lincoln, believes Lincoln would have died eventually from cancer. But he needs to test the DNA on the fabric to confirm it. The article goes on to describe more fully how Sotos and a diagnostician have reached this belief. I wrote about Sotos and his belief previously in this posting.

The dilemma for the museum, of course, is should it grant Sotos' request and risk damaging this artifact from the assassination? Or should it refuse to loan him the strip of fabric in order to assure its preservation, not to mention honoring Robert Todd Lincoln's request to let his father rest in peace?

The museum board is going to discuss the issue at its next board meeting, probably on May 5th. It's retained a biologist to advise it. The president of the board of directors of the museum is against lending it, even if just two or three strands are required for the test. But he would vote only if the other directors split their votes.

My own opinion, for what it's worth? I would strongly encourage the GAR Museum board of directors to NOT lend this priceless artifact for this testing. I realize it's important to understand as much as we can about historical figures, but what's the purpose of knowing if Lincoln did or did not have this syndrome? We know he most certainly did not die from such a disease. He has no living direct descendants who would benefit from knowing if they were carriers of MEN2B. Finally, I'm forced to wonder if the descendants of Abraham Enloe are behind this push for testing, since they claim that Enloe was the true father of Abraham Lincoln. The Inquirer article mentions their longtime claim.

The bottom line is that history's interest in preserving this assassination relic outweighs the question about Lincoln's genetic status at the time of his death. I hope the board of directors will vote to retain the fabric as is and preserve it for everyone to enjoy.

The article contains more images of the fabric, including a close-up. Be sure to take a look.


Abigail said...

No! There is no living relative to grant this. Also just a quick one on the "who's your daddy" papers I have read. His sister mysteriously gets ignored, his older sister.

Geoff Elliott said...


Thanks for your comment. I agree, of course. I really think it's an attempt by the "Enloe" people to somehow "prove" their claims that Lincoln was illegitimate.

Tenzig Norgay said...

Why do you call this a "priceless artifact"? It's only priceless if it can teach us something, and keeping a stained piece of fabric under glass does not teach us a single thing! "Piece of bloody cloth: 4 cents. Inspiration from knowing the greatest President in American history overcame cancer and a rare genetic illness: priceless."

Mini Choco-Pretzels said...

Lincoln was also suffering from small pox at Gettysburg.

Geoff Elliott said...

You are quite correct, "Mini." I believe it was called "variloid" at the time, a mild form of small pox.

Thanks for your comments!

Mini Choco-Pretzels said...

I guess the only thing that matters if Abraham Lincoln was "illegitimate" is simply for historical data and that alone. I don't believe anyone is "illegitimate", anyway. We're all here, and that's legitimate in itself.

Unknown said...

I greatly admire Geoff's knowledge of history, which is far above mine, and I respect his opinions very much. It is also rare that I would disagree with him. However, I will take the liberty of casting forth my dissenting opinion on this one. I feel that the public may stand to gain more by learning what Lincoln's DNA may have to tell us, than by leaving the artifact untouched. I would guess that most people, like me, have never seen the artifact, and probably never will. Millions might hear of the DNA research results, however, if the analysis is allowed to proceed. A side note: wouldn't it also be interesting to put the endless Enloe debate to rest, one way or the other? I am not a passionate follower of that debate, and am not an Enloe descendant, but I am curious.

Seraphim9 said...

Bob, as an Enloe descendant (which, for my family, the spelling of the name evolved to "Inlow" over the years) I am quite curious as to the parentage of Abe Lincoln. If nothing more, as you said, to put to rest the rumors within this family.

On a personal note, I am also curious to know if he indeed suffered from the malady for which the cardiologist is wishing to test the DNA. Not knowing such a syndrome ran through the family lines, it could possibly help to explain thyroid issues I am dealing with these days!

Unknown said...

I think that the DNA tests should be done. I am sirnamed Lincoln.
We would like to know how our DNA
compares to his. We have an "Old Mord" in our family tree. Knowledge
can't hurt us. The illegit aspect
depends upon the definition thereof. Abe made himself what he was- and his record stands. He was a product of our culture and his decisions as much as his DNA. The Lincoln bloodline is saddled with various diseases, and for medical reasons Abe's DNA should be studied. What a clone he would make! Hah! Bill Lincoln, Tall Fl

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