This piano was in Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday, April 14th, 1865 when president Lincoln was shot. It was five days after Lee had surrendered to Grant and many were celebrating the end of the war. The comedy “Our American Cousin” was playing, starring Laura Keene, one of the most popular actresses of the day. It was also a benefit night for Laura Keene and the president wanted to boost attendance for her.
The piano belonged to Laura Keene, and traveled with her by train as she toured the country. She had it moved to the theater from her room at the Metropolitan Hotel, so that it could be used for several musical interludes scheduled to take place between the three acts of the play. Keene was to play the piano and sing a solo for the debut of a new song, “Honor to Our Soldiers”, written by the theatre’s conductor, William Whithers. Additional musicians were engaged to sing patriotic songs and to make the occasion even more joyous.
When Lincoln was shot during the last act of the show, it is said that Laura Keene made her way to his box and cradled the president’s head in her lap while washing the blood from it, even though Mary Todd Lincoln was there, until he was moved across the street to the boarding house where he died. The piano went back to Laura Keene’s home, but she never played it again because of the painful memories.
Keene's heirs later sold the piano to the Aeolian-American Corporation, which had absorbed Chickering in 1909, and built Chickering pianos in East Rochester, NY from 1932 until 1982. The company shipped the piano to various dealers around the country as a promotional display from at least 1940 through 1966. Upon the closure of the Aeolian-American plant in 1982, the piano was placed in the East Rochester City Hall, from which the PTG Foundation acquired it in 2006.
For a more detailed account, read the following article by Arch Merrill, published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, April 16, 1961:
A press release about the Keene piano on tour, from the Decatur (Iowa) Daily Review, January 5, 1940:
A later account from the Lansing State Journal, February 22, 1966:
The following letter, from the vice president of the Chickering division of Aeolian-American, contains an error. The piano was clearly not manufactured in 1841, as evidenced by the serial number, as well as the fact that Chickering introduced this design for the first time in 1858. (Also, Keene was 15 years old in 1841).