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In the Galleries: Lincoln's Bedroom

In the Galleries: Lincoln's Bedroom


The 150-year anniversary of the Gettysburg address reminds us about the lingering controversy over Lincoln's relationship with Joshua Speed. Artist Skylar Fein weighs in with an amazing re-creation.

Artist Skylar Fein is engineering Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed's sleeping arrangements into a curious exhibit at the C24 Gallery in New York.

Historians have wondered about Lincoln sharing a straw-stuffed mattress with Speed in 1830s Springfield, Ill. But Fein is taking the mystique out of it by reconstructing their bedroom. The artist notes that there are no photos of their housing, and so he relied instead on photos and sketches of similar places.

The exhibit brings visitors up the stairs above the shop and to the bedroom. The faint smell of hay and tobacco lingers, and music reminiscent of the time period plays.

See what it looks like in photos of the exhibit on the following pages.

Now through December 21.
514 W. 24th St., New York, NY 10011
For more information about C24 Gallery please visit


Skylar Fein, The Lincoln Bedroom, under construction, 2013. Photograph by Chris Berntsen. Courtesy of the artist and C24 Gallery

Click through for more images from this exhibit.>>>

The Lincoln Bedroom

The Lincoln Bedroom

The Lincoln Bedroom

In a statement in October, Skylar Fein explained his exhibit this way:

From 1837 to 1841, Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed shared a bedroom.

Famously, or infamously, they also shared the bed.

Historians say they know why: necessity. Springfield, Illinois, was a frontier town. There were fewer beds, and the two young men just didn't have other options.

Does this explanation make sense? Joshua Speed was the scion of a wealthy plantation family: no shortage of beds there. And Lincoln was offered a private bedroom of his own in the home of a wealthy lawyer and his wife a few blocks away, but turned it down in favor of sharing the bed with Speed.

If it was necessity that drove them to share the bed, it surely wasn't the necessity that the historians are referring to.

That's not the end of the story. Lincoln continues sharing beds with men, even in the White House. He invites the young captain of the guard to share the Presidential bed when Mary Todd is out of town on shopping trips, a fact noted by contemporaries, who found it queer.

Am I arguing that Lincoln was homosexual? I'll give the answer away right now: that question is probably unanswerable. In the end, Lincoln's same-sex bed sharing may mean less than its proponents want, but more than its opponents allow. The truth may lie somewhere in between, in a third category: messy.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other interesting questions. Why was the Speed store demolished, while the house that Lincoln set up with Mary Todd, a few blocks away, was preserved as a museum?

When General Sherman needed 10,000 rifles for the Union Army, and couldn't get them through the chain of command, why did he call Joshua Speed, who was able to get them for him?

Why didn't Kentucky join the Confederacy, and how important were the Speeds in keeping Kentucky a so-called border state?

Did a gay relationship save the Union? That is the third rail of the Lincoln story, and it is my strange destiny to touch it with both hands.

Click through for more art from this exhibit >>>

Ice Cold Whiskey Machine,
2013, Latex and gold leaf on plaster and wood, 40 x 18 x 10 inches

Lincoln (Frozen Hurricane), 2013, ink and spray paint on Sundance Felt archival paper, 24 x 36 inches

Magazines for Tomorrow's Man, 2013, acrylic and screenprint on plaster and wood, 96 x 156 inches

Fresh Hot Nuts, 2013, latex, wood, light kit, 21 x 26 x 10 inches

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