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Flea Market Find Might Carry Lincoln's Last Signature

On a trip through a flea market in northern Ohio, amateur historian Bruce Steiner stopped to rifle through a box of old papers.

In the box was a book, an IRS receipt requesting $1 from a man for his use of a horse carriage and, at the bottom of the box, an envelope with a note written on it: "Let this man enter with this note. April 14, 1865. A. Lincoln."

Most interestingly, the note was written on the day the 16th president was assassinated. Steiner was skeptical that the note was real, but he decided to bring the box home.

"The man wasn't asking such a high price. I thought I'd just pick it up for something to look at, something to enjoy," Steiner tells NPR's Robert Siegel.

Steiner's trip to the flea market was three years ago, but it has recently come to light that the signature might be real. John Lupton, associate director of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project says he is fairly certain that the signature is authentic.

Now the speculation is over what the note means. Lupton has a few theories about what building Lincoln was granting permission for the note's carrier to enter. The top contender, in Lupton's mind, is the executive mansion — Lincoln had an open-door policy, and may have been giving someone permission to enter the mansion to see him.

"We kind of doubt that it would be the entrance to Ford's Theatre," says Lupton, "which is obviously the most tantalizing scenario."

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