This Civil War-era Artifact Was Made With Abraham Lincoln's Hair

And it's on display in upstate New York.

A very unusual relic from the Civil War called "The Hairy Eagle" is almost exactly what it sounds like, an eagle made from human hair. However, the name doesn't let on that the hair used in the artifact is from a very famous head: President Abraham Lincoln.

The Hairy Eagle at Onondaga Historical Association
Sandy Roe/Photosat1020/Courtesy of Onondaga Historical Association

"The first time I saw it, my jaw hit the floor," Robert Searing, a curator at The Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) in Syracuse, NY, where the piece is on display, recently told Smithsonian Magazine. "I couldn't believe it. First of all, the fact that it is human hair, and that it is so incredibly well-crafted. And then obviously, as a historian, as somebody who has a deep affection for Abraham Lincoln … words escape me. … There's not another item like this anywhere as far as we know. And the provenance is indisputable."

Hair was a fairly common decorative material in the 19th century, the magazine noted. Many people displayed decorative hair ornaments in their homes or kept locks of hair inside jewelry, often as a reminder of deceased loved ones. This "hair wreath" is about a foot in diameter and is perhaps one of the most priceless remnants of Civil War hair art.

The Hairy Eagle at Onondaga Historical Association
Sandy Roe/Photosat1020/Courtesy of Onondaga Historical Association

The artifact came about when the U.S. Sanitary Commission — a quasi-governmental volunteer agency working for the health of Union soldiers during the war — needed money for its efforts, they reached out to President Lincoln for a lock of hair.

The president — along with 36 other government officials — obliged. Included in the final sculpture is the hair of President Abraham Lincoln, his vice president, and cabinet members, First Lady Mary Lincoln, the speaker of the House of Representatives, several senators, and three wives of cabinet members.

The sculpture was put on display at the Metropolitan Fair, a charity event held in New York City in April 1864. Guests paid $1 to sign their name in an accompanying visitors book, with the goal of raising $1,000 for war efforts.

"The Hairy Eagle" was then meant to be given to the Lincolns as a gift, but the wreath never made its way to the White House. It hung in a Brooklyn shop window before disappearing for decades, according to the magazine. In the 1920s, the family of the man who had made the wreath donated the piece to the OHA, where it has remained ever since.

The last time "The Hairy Eagle" was publicly displayed was February 2019, the 210th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. The wreath is stored in the historical association's collections and has only been on public display three times since the OHA procured it.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at

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