From Lincoln's Ford's Theater rocking chair to Lewis And Clark's Compass, these objects not only changed the course of history but remain to tell their story.
The Rifle That Killed JFK
A Dallas policeman holds up the rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly used to kill President Kennedy. It is officially accepted that Oswald smuggled this gun into the Texas School Book Depository on the morning of the assassination, Nov. 22, 1963, and shot President John F. Kennedy with it. The National Archives facility in College Park, Md. has it now.
The Spruce Goose
Aircraft designer (and famous recluse) Howard Hughes helped design the H-4 Hercules, commonly called the Spruce Goose. It was the only prototype of a flying boat to be used in WWII. Assembled in secrecy and flown only once, the aircraft is now displayed at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Ore. Bassbro/Flickr
Attempting to seek asylum in Switzerland after escaping prison, Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were arrested in this 1939 model Alfa Romero. It eventually ended up with American army officer Major Charles Pettit, who shipped it to his family's farm in upstate New York, where he drove it until it broke down and then shoved it in a barn. One extensive restoration later, it was sold at auction in 2015 for $2.1 million.Wikimedia Commons
Lincoln's Rocking Chair
At Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, on April 14, 1865, during a production of Our American Cousin, the Lincoln Presidency ended in this very chair by the gun of a Confederate sympathizer. After the assassination, the chair was seized by the Federal government and eventually found its way back to the original Ford family, who later sold it at auction. Today, the chair, with a visible bloody stain, can be seen at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. The Henry Ford Museum
Lincoln's Top Hat
When we think of Abraham Lincoln, one of the first things we think about is his famed top hat, which made him tower over people more so than he already did. This particular hat had a black silk mourning band added in remembrance of his son Willie. The last time it was worn was on that fateful night in Ford's Theatre. It is now on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Museum
Frida Kahlo's Prosthetic Leg
Considering the iconic artist Frida Kahlo’s former home of Casa Azul in Mexico City is now a museum to honor her, it’s no surprise that that’s where her prosthetic leg ended up … wearing one of her colorful pieces of footwear. Kahlo lost her right leg at the knee in 1953 to gangrene contracted from a previous surgery.
Bonnie And Clyde's Car
Known for their bank robberies and murders, the famous criminal duo of Bonnie and Clyde were eventually ambushed and killed by law officers in their car, this 1932 Ford V-8, that was left riddled with bullet holes after the ambush. This photo was taken by FBI investigators on May 23, 1934, and the famed car that was once a traveling exhibit now sits in a casino in Primm, Nev.Wikimedia Commons
The Actual Diary Of Anne Frank
The Jewish teenager whose reprinted diary became a global best-selling book probably wouldn't have imagined it being on display after her death. Anne Frank’s original diaries detailing her life hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands is displayed at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.Wikimedia Commons
John Dillinger's Guns
Gangster John Dillinger operated with his gang to rob 24 banks and four police stations, among other unsavory activities. Shown are a few of his weapons found abandoned in a resort near Mercer, Wis. The city of Auburn, Ind. has lobbied to get back any stolen guns belonging to their police department so they can sell them to fund their new training center. Archive Photos/Getty Images
Edison's First Demonstrated Bulb
This is a bulb used in the first public demonstration of Thomas Edison’s most famous invention, the first electric incandescent lamp. It took place at Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory on New Year’s Eve, 1879. The year before, Edison set out to develop a practical electric light. The search for a practical filament at the Menlo Park Laboratory resulted in this carbon-filament. The National Museum of American History looks after it now.
Tesla's Power Circuit
Everyone has seen photos of Tesla’s famous coil, but here’s what powered it; the primary circuit, showing an oil capacitor bank, supply transformer, rotary spark gap, and part of the secondary winding. The high voltage generator was built in his Colorado Springs laboratory in 1899, and the first time Tesla fired it up, the power overload set fire to the generator of the electric company, destroying it. Many of Tesla's experiments were either auctioned off or burned in fires. Wikimedia Commons
The Rosetta Stone
This black granodiorite stone, carved around 196 BC, was the first Ancient Egyptian bilingual text recovered in modern times. With it, researchers were able to decipher the previously untranslated hieroglyphic language. Discovered in July of 1799, the key to understanding Ancient Egyptian literature and civilization now rests in London's British Museum. Wikimedia Commons
The Real Winnie The Pooh And Friends
Before Walt Disney turned Pooh and his friends into famous animated characters, they were very real - as was Christopher Robin Milne. The boy, living in England, received the bear for his first birthday from his father, author A.A. Milne. The toys were brought to the United States in 1947, and in 1987 they were donated to The New York Public Library.
Lewis And Clark's Compass
Meriwether Lewis purchased this instrument in 1803 for a pending expedition into northwestern America. This silver-plated pocket compass (purchased for $5) was kept by Clark as a memento and later gifted to his friend, Capt. Robert A. McCabe whose heirs donated it in 1933 to the Smithsonian Institution.
The father of observational astronomy, Galileo Galilei turned the 1600s on its ear when he suggested the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. One of his scientific tools was, of course, the telescope, and he confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter, and observed Saturn's rings with these - which now rest in the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy.Wikimedia Commons
The Shroud Of Turin
Maybe you’ve heard of this notorious piece of cloth, but have you been witness to the mysterious image ingrained in the shroud? The intensely debated artifact of history has neither been accepted or rejected by the Catholic church as the burial shroud of Jesus. But if you want to see it in person, you’ll have to go to royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Wikimedia Commons
A Watergate Listening Device
These Chapstick tubes outfitted with tiny microphones were discovered in E. Howard Hunt's White House office safe during the Watergate investigation. They were used for clandestine operations for the Nixon administration, including contact with the burglars by transistor radio. They are now FBI property.Wikimedia Commons
Ed Gein's Grave Marker
The Butcher of Plainfield, Ed Gein, gathered widespread notoriety after he was outed as a killer and general nutjob. After his death in 1984, Gein was buried in the family plot in Plainfield, Wis. But you won't see a grave marker there. It was stolen in 2000, only to turn up a year later on a concert promoter’s Instagram. The headstone was confiscated and is now kept in the basement of the Plainfield police department.
Thomas Jefferson's Writing Desk
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence on this portable desk. He designed it himself, and it features a hinged lid for storage and a locking drawer. This desk was Jefferson's companion throughout his life as a patriot, diplomat, and president. It is now at the Smithsonian Institution. Wikimedia Commons
The Holy Lance
The Holy Lance, according to the Gospel of John, is the spear that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross. Academic experts say the likeliest date of this spearhead is the 7th century A.D. – and that the iron pin (claimed to be a nail from the crucifixion) hammered into the blade is "consistent" in length and shape with a 1st-century A.D. Roman nail. The spearhead is kept at the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria.
The Wright Brothers Airplane
The first sustained and controlled, heavier-than-air, powered flight comes courtesy of the Wright brothers and the Wright Flyer in 1903. The famed machine traveled 120 ft in 12 seconds at Kill Devil Hills, N.C. with Orville Wright at the helm and Wilbur running alongside to balance it. The real deal can be seen at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.Wikimedia Commons
Lindbergh Baby Ransom Note
The abduction (and murder) of the American aviator and military officer Charles Lindbergh’s son made so many headlines that it was referred to as the biggest story since the Resurrection. The convicted kidnapper and killer, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, wrote this grammatically incorrect note to the family requesting money for the return of the boy. Wikimedia Commons
The Dead Sea Scrolls
These ancient Jewish religious manuscripts, found in buried earthenware vessels in the caves near the Dead Sea, have great historical, religious, and linguistic significance. They include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon. The Dead Sea Scrolls are currently owned by the Government of the state of Israel, and most are housed in the Israel Museum.
"Objects bear the marks of how they've been used, giving us access to ideas that may have been too fundamental to a person's life ever to have been written down" - Katy Barrett
There are certain things that seem to exist only within the confines of history. Objects that are crucial to the events outlined in our textbooks but somehow seem intangible. Sometimes you have a rough idea of what these particular artifacts look like, but you've never seen them - or didn’t know you wanted to see them in the first place.
Perhaps this feeling persisted to a greater extent before the internet came along. Now our history is cataloged in detail and can be accessed at our fingertips - if only we have the desire and the time.
These historical objects are a key to the past. We gather information about how people used them just by looking - and can often determine characteristics of their owners from ruminating on the details. We can see how organized Thomas Jefferson was by the writing desk he designed for himself; how much Christopher Robin loved and played with the original Winnie-the-Pooh. How much power it took to run the original Tesla coil.
All of the photos here remind us that every artifact from history (that wasn’t somehow destroyed) still has a home. It’s just a matter of finding it. Someone out there - a collector or museum is preserving it until they must pass it on to the next keeper.
Whether it's the escape car from a ruthless dictator, telescopes that helped mankind find its place, or the chair and hat from the assassination that rocked a nation; these famous objects all have incredible stories that helped shape the world.
Enjoy this article on famous random objects? Next, see photos of history’s infamous assassinations, and learn more about the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde.