The Priceless Civil War Eagle Made Out of Abraham Lincoln’s Hair
The Priceless Civil War Eagle Made Out of Abraham Lincoln’s Hair – In a tiny, vaguely lit backroom of the Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse, New York, is an incredible and valuable artifact, an eagle that was decorated during the Civil War constructed completely of hair donated by famous women politicians, most particularly President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.
The object was created by an organization called the US Sanitary Commission, a non-profit organization working for the health and well-being of Union soldiers during the war. Because at that time it was in need of funds to support its work and approached President Lincoln to request an ounce of hair as big as he could afford.
Abraham Lincoln made the request known to the other members of the Parliament and a surprising number of political leaders and their wives agreed and donated their hair to Brooklyn jewelry makers Spies & Champney to weave into a national emblem the hair.
The massive showpiece, affectionately known as the “Hairy Eagle”, featured an American Eagle perched on the top of a half globe in flight, spreading its wings as it was surrounded by swirls of flowers. The head of the eagle was made of Lincoln’s hair; its back is made from Vice Hannibal Hamlin’s hair.
Its beak was derived from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase’s hair and its wings were made from the hair of the senators. The hair of wives was also used to make a “floral” arrangement surmounted by the globe and eagle. The eagle was an instant attraction after it was introduced at the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair organized to raise money to help Union soldiers.
The fair ran for three weeks from April of 1864, this fair offered activities, auctions, events and raffles, and much more. With a cost of $2, guests could see stunning floral arrangements in the Temple of Flora, watch dance performances performed at Fair’s Native American Troupe, enjoy Dutch food at the Knickerbocker Kitchen, and even purchase an item from Plymouth Rock.
Thousands of people were attracted to The Hairy Eagle during this time. In the shadow of it, a tiny visitor’s book was kept which allowed guests to write their names upon payment of one dollar. The aim was to raise funds of $1000. It’s not clear if the target of $1000 and 1000 signatures were achieved however, reports of the fair, which were compiled three years later, revealed that the book was so well-loved that there were 400 sign-ups as well as $400 in 3 days during the Fair.
The Hairy Eagle was meant to be given by Lincoln as a memorable gift at the conclusion of the fair and the wreath did not make it into the White House. Instead, it was displayed in the windows at the Champney & Smitten shop in Brooklyn for several years, before disappearing for a long time. The 1920s saw F.T. Champney’s wife Ida give the eagle to Onondaga Historical Association, where it has been since.