News & Politics

The Untold Story of the Lincoln Table, the Reagan Inaugural, and the Spray Paint

The time a well-meaning staffer apparently defaced the historical artifact.

The Lincoln table. Photograph courtesy of the Capitol Visitors Center.

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

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

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.”