The Pike County Historical Society is starting a major funding drive in order to raise the money to have three historical stage costumes stabilized and permanently displayed in the Columns Museum.
The costumes belonged to Milford resident Jeannie Gourlay. Miss Gourlay was an actress in the play being performed the night of President Lincoln’s assassination. Jeannie, or "Jenny" as she was known on stage, was in the wings waiting to come on stage at Ford’s Theatre when the fateful shot was fired.
Ms. Gourlay married and moved to Milford in 1888 and lived on Water Street, upon the Sawkill Creek, until she died in 1928. Jeannie is known for bringing the blood stained Lincoln Flag to Milford, her father Thomas Gourlay, also in the theater, taking it from the Presidents Box the night Lincoln was killed. The Lincoln Flag, three of Jeannie’s stage costumes, her stage shoes, and several other personal items were donated to the Historical Society in 1954 by Jeannie’s son.
While the flag is certainly a significant artifact, the Museum Director and Board of Directors of the Society feels it is time to give the costumes and Jeannie Gourlay their rightful place in history.
One of the costumes is known as "the gown that was never worn for the song that was never sung". This title was given to the Stars and Stripes gown, as it was to be worn by Jeannie for a special tribute, in song, to the President. Circumstance did not allow for the tribute to happen. Another of the costumes could very well be the very dress Jeannie wore that evening for her part as Mary Meredith, the poor milkmaid, in the production of Our American Cousin being performed that evening. The third costume, a gold gown, may have been worn by Laura Keene, star of the play and reported to have held Lincoln’s head in her lap before his death, in some eyewitness accounts. It was when she was asked to leave the Presidential Box that the Lincoln Flag comes into use to cushion the dying Presidents head.
The Historical Society will enlist the help of the Textile Preservation Workshop once the funds are raised. It is estimated that the preservation and archival display of each piece may be as high $8,000. The Lincoln Flag currently stands tall in the Lincoln Room of the Columns Museum, the story of that night at Ford’s and the journey of the flag, Jeannie, and her memories of the stage, can be told better and more vividly with the costumes exhibited alongside the blood stained flag.
The Pike County Historical Society will offer a series of fundraising events for the community to enjoy. Kicking it all off on February 9th and 10th with a one man performance of the well-received off Broadway production titled For the Benefit of Ms. Jennie Gourlay, written by and starring Mr. Billy Hipkins. A show worth seeing, and a cause worth supporting.
Tickets are $30 and include a "meet the actor" wine and cheese reception. All proceeds benefit the Jeannie Gourlay Costume Preservation Fund. Show times are 7 p.m. on the 9th and a 3 p.m. matinee on the 10th.
Please call (570)296-8126 to reserve or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The PCHS’s Columns Museum is located at 608 Broad Street in Milford and is open Wednesdays, Friday 6 to 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information visit them online at www.pikecountyhistoricalsociety.org.