The “Lincoln table” is an important historical artifact and has played a role in three inaugurations: It held President Abraham Lincoln’s bible and glass of water during his second inaugural in 1865, was used by President Ronald Reagan in his second inauguration in 1985, and was placed in Statuary Hall for President Barack Obama’s first inaugural luncheon four years ago. But it has a little known and interesting backstory.
The iron table has a wooden top and was made in the early 1860s especially for Lincoln by B.B. French, Washington’s commissioner of public buildings, who used three pieces of cast iron from the Capitol Dome. It is owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society. “It is unique, and there probably will never be another like it in the world,” French wrote in a letter dated 1866.
For his second inauguration, according to a source who knows the story, Reagan asked that the table be brought down from Boston, and it was. But the junior staffer who received the table wasn’t impressed. “He thought it looked dingy, and spray-painted it white,” our source said. The folks at MHS “had a heart attack.”
The table has since been restored and is on loan to the Capitol Visitors Center, where, according to our source, “if you look closely you can still see a few specks of white paint.”
We phoned Carol Knauff at the Massachusetts Historical Society to find out whether the staff person who handled the Reagan loan was available to recall the incident. She checked and replied by e-mail: “The gentlemen in leadership positions at the MHS at the time of President Reagan’s second inauguration are no longer here so we cannot confirm the story or any reaction to the story.”