Abraham Lincoln’s hat once caught a bullet intended for the President.

  • Abraham Lincoln’s top hat
Abraham Lincoln's top hat
Credit: EMU history/ Alamy Stock Photo

At a towering 6 feet, 4 inches, President Abraham Lincoln easily stood out in a crowd, especially thanks to his proclivity for stovepipe hats, which pushed his physical presence to nearly 7 feet from crown to sole. In some ways, this sartorial preference made him an inviting target for his enemies, yet on one occasion, the President’s conspicuous headgear may well have saved his life from an assassin’s bullet.

In August 1864, Lincoln was traveling on horseback to his summertime cottage on the outskirts of Washington when an unidentified sniper apparently took aim at the war-weary President. A sentry later recalled hearing a rifle shot at around 11 p.m., shortly before a “bareheaded” Lincoln and his excited horse arrived at the front gate. Although the silk hat was soon found nearby with a bullet hole through the top, Lincoln dismissed it as the handiwork of an incompetent hunter, and told his men to keep quiet about the situation.

The experience rattled the President more than he initially revealed: According to his bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln described how he “heard this fellow’s bullet whistle at an uncomfortably short distance from these headquarters of mine.” Yet Honest Abe refused to accept the concept that someone was deliberately trying to kill him, and he continued attempts to slip off on his own in spite of efforts to beef up security. Lamon was famously out of town when Lincoln attended a performance at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865. And the iconic stovepipe hat, his unlikely savior on a deserted path eight months earlier, was resting on the floor during the play, unable to halt the bullet that took the President’s life.

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