White House: Restoring the Lincoln Bedroom

A hundred and ninety-eight years after Abraham Lincoln's birth, the White House's Lincoln Bedroom finally looks like a room the great man would recognize.

Until recently, Lincoln furniture and a copy of the Gettysburg Address were displayed against the pale walls, curtains and carpet of a 1950s city hotel—not the vivid golds and purples, heavy fabrics and large patterns of Lincoln's era.

One reason for this mild historical fib was to focus attention on the chamber's historic objects. Another: midcentury Americans disdained Victorian décor, which they equated with the horrific house in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."

But now, under First Lady Laura Bush and White House curator Bill Allman, the bedroom has been impressively restored to the time of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln signed there in 1863.

The chamber, of course, was never Lincoln's bedroom. It was his office, as it was for later presidents until Theodore Roosevelt built the West Wing in 1902. Harry Truman, though he was descended from Missouri Confederates, felt that Lincoln should be honored with the old mansion's only room named for an ex-president, its centerpiece, the haunting mahogany bed in which 11-year-old Willie Lincoln died.

Facing agonizing choices, chief executives often wonder: what would Lincoln have done? In its newest incarnation, the Lincoln Bedroom will allow them more than ever to sense that mystical aura of the Civil War martyr and the storm through which he guided us.