The Fates of 7 Grisly Assassination Artifacts

Abraham Lincoln's top hat, worn the night of his assassination
Abraham Lincoln's top hat, worn the night of his assassination
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The murders of prominent political figures generally have a huge cultural impact; long after JFK's assassination, many could recall exactly where they were and what they were doing. As a result, there's a certain grim fascination around the relics of these events, some of which have been preserved in museum and private collections for decades—or even longer. Below are seven such assassination artifacts from the past few centuries.

1. ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S TOP HAT

At an impressive 6 feet and 4 inches, Abraham Lincoln was the tallest U.S. president, a fact that was enhanced by his fondness for wearing a top hat. On the night of April 14, 1865, as he set off for Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. to watch the play Our American Cousin with his wife Mary, Lincoln put on his hat, complete with black hatband worn as a sign of mourning for his son Willie. Lincoln reportedly enjoyed the play and laughed several times.

Then, at 10:15 p.m., actor and disgruntled Confederate John Wilkes Booth slipped into the president’s box and shot him in the head. Booth jumped onto the stage and broke his leg, but still managed to escape on horseback. Lincoln was taken to a nearby boarding house and doctors were called, but efforts to save his life were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. the next morning.

The War Department took Lincoln’s hat and other items from where they fell at Ford’s Theater for safekeeping. In 1867, the hat was transferred to the Smithsonian Institute, where it was hidden away in a basement storage room because the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry, felt its appearance would provoke agitation. He stated that the hat should not go on show “under any circumstance." However, by 1893 enough time had passed that the Smithsonian allowed the hat to be exhibited by the Lincoln Memorial Association. Today it is a prized possession at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and a potent reminder of Lincoln’s enduring status.

2. JEAN-PAUL MARAT’S BATHTUB

French revolutionary Jean Paul Marat Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jean-Paul Marat was one of the most prominent voices of the French Revolution, leading the radical Montagnard faction and writing essays on political theories. He also suffered badly from a skin condition (doctors today aren't sure what kind, though one popular hypothesis is that it may have been eczema), and spent many hours writing in a medicinal bath to relieve his symptoms. On July 13, 1793, Charlotte Corday, a young supporter of the rival Girondin faction, tricked her way in to see Marat, pretending she had important intelligence for him. After Marat scribbled down the names she supplied, Corday lunged at him, stabbing him and causing him to quickly bleed out. Corday was captured and sent to the guillotine, while the bathtub was apparently squirreled away by relic hunters.

The Montagnard revolutionaries quickly realized that the terrible murder scene could serve as propaganda, and Madame Tussaud was reportedly called in to take a wax cast of Marat. The celebrated painter Jacques-Louis David was also asked to paint The Death of Marat, which went on to become one of the most famous paintings of its day. In 1885, the bathtub was sold to the Musée Grévin in Paris, where a grisly waxwork scene was created depicting Marat in his bath. The scene, with original tub, is still on view today.

3. THE FLOOR TILE ON WHICH JAMES GARFIELD FELL

James Garfield had been president for just four months when, in July 1881, he was fatally shot by Charles Guiteau, who was angry after being looked over repeatedly for a government post. Garfield was catching a train at Baltimore and Potomac Station in Washington, D.C. when he was shot twice, falling back on the floor and exclaiming “My God, what is this?”

According to legend, the tile on which he fell was afterwards pulled up from the floor by an unnamed individual who later presented it to Garfield’s son. (Was it actually the tile Garfield fell on, or was it just one of the tiles from the floor? No one knows for sure.) The relic was one of many collected by people who felt the need to preserve the scene of this historic tragedy. Garfield’s son donated the tile to the Smithsonian, where it remains today.

4. ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND’S BLOODSTAINED SHIRT

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia riding in their car, minutes before their assassinationSTR/AFP/Getty Images

As heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand was not a welcome visitor to Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo, which had been annexed by the empire in 1908. When the Archduke and his wife Sophie rode through the streets on June 28, 1914, crowds thronged their open-top car, hiding a number of disgruntled would-be assassins. One threw a bomb at the car; it bounced off the hood and into the crowd, exploding and injuring several people. After attending a meeting at the Town Hall, the Archduke insisted on traveling to visit those injured in the attack—a fatal mistake. As the Archduke's motorcade made its way to the hospital, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip saw his chance. He fired two shots at the car, hitting Sophie in the abdomen and Franz Ferdinand in the neck.

The death of Franz Ferdinand set off a chain of events that contributed to the outbreak of World War I. The blood-spattered shirt he wore that day was preserved as a relic by the Jesuit priest who read the couple the last rites; it was acquired by the Austrian Military Museum in Vienna in 2004, but is only rarely on show due to its delicate condition.

5. THE BULLET THAT KILLED GANDHI

Wikimedia // Public Domain

On January 30, 1948, as Mahatma Gandhi was walking through a crowd to a prayer meeting, he was shot three times at point-blank range by Nathuram Vinayak Godse. A Hindu nationalist, Godse detested Gandhi's pleas for peace during India's religious violence, and his calls for tolerance toward Muslims. Gandhi fell to the ground and was later pronounced dead.

Gandhi had been such an influential figure for his promotion of non-violent protest that his death was mourned the world over. His iconic status meant that any items associated with the great man became revered, and in 1961, a collection of objects once owned by or otherwise related to Gandhi opened as the National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi. Among the museum’s most prized exhibits are the bloodied loin cloth Gandhi was wearing when he was shot, and one of the three bullets that took his life.

6. JACKIE KENNEDY’S PINK SUIT

President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy arriving at Dallas in 1963National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Jackie Kennedy was famous for her style, as epitomized by the bright pink Chanel-style suit she wore on the day in November 1963 that her husband, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. When JFK was shot through the neck and head while the pair rode in open-top car through Dallas, he slumped down onto Jackie’s lap, and the side of her suit became soaked in blood. Just hours later, after JFK had been pronounced dead and his body loaded onto Air Force One, Jackie—still clad in the blood-spattered suit—stood stoically at the side of Lyndon B. Johnson as he was sworn in as president.

Jackie finally removed the suit at the White House the following morning, and a maid placed it into a bag. It was later reported that when aides had suggested she change clothes earlier she had refused, saying, “I want them to see what they have done.” Her mother put the unwashed suit into a box and wrote on top: “Jackie's suit and bag—worn November 22nd, 1963." Caroline Kennedy donated the suit to the National Archives in Maryland, where it's stored with the proviso that it remain out of public view until 2103, to avoid dishonoring the president's memory or causing grief to his family.

7. THE ICE AXE USED TO KILL TROTSKY

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Leon Trotsky was, alongside Lenin, one of the leaders in the founding of the Soviet Union. But after a power struggle with Joseph Stalin, it was Stalin who succeeded Lenin, sowing the seed for a lifelong antipathy between him and Trotsky. The latter became increasingly critical of Stalin’s absolutist style, and by 1929, he had been expelled from Russia. Trotsky was eventually granted asylum in Mexico in 1936—but his card was marked.

The first attempt on Trotsky's life came in May 1940, when a gunman peppered his home with bullets. Trotsky and his wife, by some miracle, survived. The next attempt involved a Spanish communist named Ramon Mercader, who had infiltrated Trotsky’s inner circle over a period of years. On the morning of August 20, 1940, Mercader arrived at Trotsky’s highly fortified compound, claiming to want Trotsky to read a draft of an article he had written. When Trotsky welcomed him into his study, Mercader plunged an ice axe into the politician's skull, fatally wounding him. Trotsky died the next day. The Soviet Union denied responsibility, but today many historians believe that Stalin was behind the attack.

The axe was taken into storage as evidence at the Mexico City police station and later removed by secret police officer Alfredo Salas, who claimed he wanted to preserve it as an historical artifact. Salas passed it on to his daughter (or granddaughter—sources differ) who stored it under her bed for 40 years before deciding to sell it. Keith Melton, an American collector and author of espionage books, purchased the axe for an undisclosed sum. In February 2017 he hosted a talk at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where the axe was displayed to the public for the first time in over 75 years.

A New Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bobblehead Is Available for Pre-Order

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a devout champion for feminism and civil rights, and her influence stretched from the halls of the Supreme Court to the forefront of popular culture, where she affectionately became known as the Notorious RBG. Though there are plenty of public tributes planned for Ginsburg in the wake of her passing, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has a new RBG bobblehead ($25) available for pre-order so you can honor her in your own home.

There are two versions of the bobblehead available, one of Ginsburg smiling and another with a more serious expression. Not only do the bobbleheads feature her in her Supreme Court black robe, but eagle-eyed fans will see she is wearing one for her iconic coded collars and her classic earrings.

RBG is far from the only American icon bobblehead that the Hall of Fame store has produced in such minute detail. They also have bobbleheads of Abraham Lincoln ($30), Theodore Roosevelt ($30), Alexander Hamilton ($30), and dozens of others.

For more information on the RBG bobblehead, head here. Shipments will hopefully be sent out by December 2020 while supplies last.

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65 Years Later: 10 Fascinating Facts About the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted on February 22, 1956, by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey as one of the people indicted as leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott.
Rosa Parks being fingerprinted on February 22, 1956, by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey as one of the people indicted as leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott.
Associated Press // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Montgomery bus boycott is remembered as one of the earliest mass civil rights protests in American history. It's also the event that helped to make both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. household names when, enraged with the way Black Americans were treated, they helped organize and carry out the boycott, which lasted more than a year.

On December 1, 1955, a segregation-weary Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white rider, an action that led to her arrest. Her trial began just a few days later, on December 5, 1955, which marked the beginning of the 381-day boycott that led to the desegregation of public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama. On the 65th anniversary of this historic event, read on to learn more about the people behind the headlines and the unsung heroes of this revolutionary event.

1. Rosa Parks was a lifelong activist.

Rosa Parks is sometimes portrayed as someone who first stood up to power on December 1, 1955. Quite the contrary. “She was not a stranger to activism and civil rights,” Madeline Burkhardt, adult education coordinator at The Rosa Parks Museum and Library, tells Mental Floss. Parks and her husband Raymond were active in the local and state chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She had served as secretary of both branches, during which time she investigated sexual assault cases.

“She was an assertive Black woman against racism, though in a quiet way,” Dr. Dorothy Autrey, retired chair of the history department at Alabama State University, tells Mental Floss. “It’s a myth that she was physically tired that day [she was arrested on the bus], but she was tired of seeing racism against her people.”

After the Montgomery bus boycott, Parks participated in the 1963 March on Washington and went on to serve on the board of Planned Parenthood. She received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.

2. Rosa Parks was arrested twice.

Parks was initially arrested on December 1, 1955, for violating bus segregation laws. However, this wasn’t her most photographed arrest. Her famous mugshot and those pictures of her being fingerprinted (including the one seen above) are from during her second arrest, in February 1956.

Local police issued warrants for the arrest of Parks along with 88 other boycott leaders for organizing to cause the bus company financial harm. The protests had a mighty financial impact; according to Burkhardt, the protest led to losses of approximately $3000 a day, which would be the equivalent of $28,000 a day in 2020. The organizers dressed in their Sunday best, took a photo in front of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, then turned themselves in.

3. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first—or only—person arrested for disrupting bus segregation.

On March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on the bus to a white woman in Montgomery, Alabama.The Visibility Project // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Nine months before Parks made headlines, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white woman. Civil rights organizers didn’t initially hold Colvin up as a movement figurehead because the unmarried teen became pregnant shortly after her arrest. However, leaders later revisited her case, and she became one of five plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the federal court case that ultimately overturned segregation laws on Montgomery buses and ended the boycott on December 20, 1956. Parks wasn’t one of the plaintiffs, but several other local women were, including Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith, and Jeanatta Reese (though Reese later withdrew).

4. Rosa Parks had a previous run-in with bus driver James F. Blake.

In 1943, Parks got onto a bus James F. Blake was driving and paid her fare at the front. As she began walking down the aisle of the bus to make her way to the Black seating section at the back (instead of exiting the bus and re-entering through another door as was required), the driver forced her off the bus and pulled away before she could re-board. Blake was driving the bus Parks boarded on December 1, when she refused to give up her seat.

5. Although ministers are often celebrated as the boycott’s organizers, women were behind the initial protest.

Indoors at the National Civil Rights Museum stands a recreation of the bright yellow Montgomery city bus where Rosa Parks defied the city's segregated bus transport policy. Location: Location: memphis, Tennessee (35.135° N 90.058° W) Status: Courtesy of the National Civil Rights Museum // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson caught wind of Parks’s arrest, she and the Women’s Political Council (WPC) jumped into action. A bus driver had verbally assaulted Robinson shortly after she moved to Montgomery to teach, so when she became president of the WPC, a local Black women’s professional organization that fostered civic engagement, she made bus desegregation a priority.

They hand-cranked 52,000 mimeographed political flyers in one night to advertise the planned boycott. Robinson initially asked citizens to protest for one day, Dr. Autrey says. “They weren’t sure where the boycott would lead. They had no idea it would last over a year.” However, local ministers and the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that formed to oversee the protests, took up the mantle and helped the boycott last.

6. The turnout in Montgomery was massive.

More than 45,000 people, representing 90 percent of the Black community in Montgomery at the time, participated in the boycott. “Even with social media today, I don’t think we would ever have the level of organization they were able to get from flyers and church sermons,” Burkhardt says.

7. Initially, the protestors weren't looking for Montgomery to desegregate its public transportation system.

The boycott organizers' demands didn’t require changing segregation laws—at first. Initially, the group was demanding seemingly simple courtesies, such as hiring Black drivers and having the buses stop on every corner in Black neighborhoods (just as they did in white neighborhoods). The also asked that white passengers fill the bus from the front and Black passengers from the back, so that Black passengers weren’t forced into standing-room only sections while white sections remained sparsely seated. Those goals gradually changed as the boycott continued and Browder v. Gayle moved through the federal and supreme courts.

8. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 26 when he joined the movement.

John Goodwin/Getty Images

King was a relative newcomer when he was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), an organization founded on the same Christian principles of nonviolence that guided King throughout his career. His principles were put to an early test when an unknown white supremacist bombed his home on January 30, 1956. (Fortunately, no one was harmed.) King was chosen because he was largely unknown, unlike E.D. Nixon, the local NAACP leader, who was instrumental in organizing the community, but who also had a long history of confrontations with local politicians.

9. Carpools and underground food sales helped fund the boycott.

To help people avoid taking buses, Montgomery churches organized carpools. They purchased several station wagons to help with the operation, dubbing them “rolling churches.” However, local insurance companies wouldn’t provide coverage as they didn't want to support the protests, even indirectly. Instead, King found insurance through Lloyd’s of London, which, ironically, had once insured ships that carried enslaved people during 18th- and 19th-century ocean crossings.

Funding to buy these vehicles, insurance, and gas came from across the community, including from Georgia Gilmore, a cook who organized an informal diner called the Club from Nowhere to feed boycotters and raise money.

10. Working-class Black women were instrumental in the boycott’s success.

At the time of the boycott, Rosa Parks worked was a seamstress at the Montgomery Fair department store, and she was hardly the only working-class woman who made the boycott a success. “Were it not for maids, cooks, and nannies, the boycott would not have succeeded,” Dr. Autrey says. “They were the primary riders, and they also received the brunt of the hostile treatment. These women were fed up and were primed to take a role in the boycott.”

Many women walked miles to work instead of riding the bus or even carpooling. When a reporter asked one such woman, Mother Pollard, if she was tired, she responded, “My feet is tired, but my soul is rested.”

Though the Montgomery bus boycott ended more than 60 years ago, the effects of the movement are still felt—and honored—today. Beginning this month, a new initiative—spearheaded by Steven L. Reed, Montgomery’s first Black mayor—the city will be reserving one seat on every Montgomery bus in Rosa Parks’s honor.