LONGPORT - The borough's historical museum has all the local history you could want - classic pictures, precious records and a century's worth of Longport memorabilia.

Oh, and it also has this one bit of history that's not quite so local - Abraham Lincoln's bed.

At least people in Longport believe they have the headboard to a bed personally carved for one of America's greatest presidents, the man credited with preserving these United States in the Civil War. That war also gives Lincoln - who was born 200 years ago, in 1809 - a tight link to the holiday his nation celebrates this weekend.

Memorial Day, which now honors all of America's war dead, was founded from a post-Civil War tradition of decorating the graves of soldiers who died fighting for the Union.

And earlier this year, Longport Historical Society officials replaced their old exhibit in the Borough Hall - just a few steps from the society's museum - with a portrait of Lincoln and a little tease of a sign:

"Lincoln never slept here, but we think we have his bed."

The reason they think that is because U.S. Army Gen. Thomas Cruse bought an old Longport home in about 1926, after he retired from a highly decorated military career - including being awarded the Medal of Honor for "distinguished gallantry in action with hostile Indians" in August 1882.

But Cruse also was stationed in Washington, D.C., for part of his career. And the story goes that when Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, was clearing her family's furniture out of the White House, she had an estate sale - or a yard sale, according to Mike Cohen, a former Longport mayor and the historical society's founder.

Cruse either bought the bed then or at an auction later, according to a 1949 account in this newspaper from the general's daughter-in-law, then freshly widowed by Cruse's son, Col. Fred Cruse.

And when "Mrs. Fred T. Cruse" - she was not identified by a first name in The Press of 60 years ago - was packing up the family home to leave Longport herself, she told a reporter that the Lincoln bed was not going with her.

It "will not leave Longport," the widow said, adding she had just presented it to Mr. and Mrs. Carl Ankener, the home's new owners. "I understand they will plan to have a mantelpiece made from it."

Longport native Chris Dwyer picks up the story:

The Ankeners later traded the Cruses' rambling Victorian house on 13th Avenue to a Dr. William Long, with the selling point apparently being that the house Long was offering was built all on one level.

In 1965, Long sold the old house to his secretary and her husband, Jean and William Dwyer. The Dwyers moved into the Victorian house with their three sons, and they all heard the history of the unusual mantel over their fireplace: It was the footboard from Abraham Lincoln's bed - and the less ornate headboard for the bed also was in the house, stored away in the basement.

"Dr. Long always told us about the fireplace, but we never had anything written down," said Chris Dwyer, who now lives in Philadelphia. "I wanted to believe it, but it's a little like a ghost. Until I actually see it, I don't believe it."

The Dwyers liked to entertain, and Jean Dwyer also apparently liked to keep current with style. At one point, she decided to change the look of the mantel.

"My mother painted it. She antiqued it - painted it kind of a turquoise color," Chris Dwyer said. "At the time, it seemed like a good idea."

The headboard also saw its share of hard times down in the basement, because the Dwyers' brick cellar was not as waterproof as they wanted it to be.

It "suffered through many a flood," Chris Dwyer said, and in 1993, when he and his brothers were long grown and his parents were moving out of the old house, they agreed to donate the headboard to their local historical museum.

"We wanted it to go somewhere" it would be appreciated, Chris Dwyer said. "And we didn't feel like dragging it around someplace else."

Cohen does not deny a report that he basically stood outside the Dwyers' moving truck until they agreed to leave the mobile piece of the Lincoln bed in the borough where it spent so many decades.

"I was very aggressive," the former mayor said Saturday, laughing. "That piece of the bed is history, and we needed it for starting the museum."

Since that donation, the historical society has tracked down more of the bed's history - including the 1949 Press account from Gen. Cruse's daughter-in-law. Plus the Dwyer family got to meet the general's grandson, Jim Cruse, who added more details to the tale of the bed.

So now Chris Dwyer has a stronger belief in the Lincoln legend with which he grew up. And the people at the historical society also believe it - although the museum's curator, Mary Sue Lovett, admits that they're always looking for any new information they can get to fill in gaps.

And the historical museum is happy to share its treasures, national and local. In fact, it just switched Saturday from its winter hours - open two hours a week, on Tuesdays - to its vastly expanded summer hours.

During tiny Longport's busy beach season, the museum is open three hours per week, from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

E-mail Martin DeAngelis:

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