When I arrived at the Lincoln Library, Pete introduced me to Dr. Samuel Wheeler, the Historian, and Director of Research, Collections, and Library Services for the Lincoln Museum & Library. (Then promoted in 2016 to the Illinois State Historian until July of 2020.
Our first stop was the Library’s research room. Here is where the public may request materials to study. There are not many books on the shelves so you need to ask the librarian for the material you wish to see.The thousands of Lincoln artifacts that are not displayed in the Museum are stored in the lower level of the Museum/Library. I was taken to a sub-level where there are 6 miles worth of movable, electronic filing shelves. I was told that most of the items stored here were waiting for the research on the provenance of the items.
This project was the removal of scotch tape residue from a Lincoln document from the mid-1850s.
Another person was working on the preservation of the “Members of the House of Representatives of the thirteenth General Assembly of the State of Illinois” photo-montage.
I was escorted into a small private conference room in the basement where Sam left for a few minutes then came back pushing a cart with boxes and items on it. The painting and bronze statute below were in the conference room along with some other historical artifacts that were never displayed to the public or were removed from the Museum for a change of exhibits.
I was privileged to be allowed to photograph some of the items Sam brought out to show me, but not all of them. He told me that these were some of his personal favorite Lincoln items.
The first item is Lincoln’s personal house key. The same house as the “Lincoln Home National Historic Site” at 426 South 7th Street in Springfield where the Lincoln's actually lived. I can just imagine Lincoln using this key every day!
The second item is Lincoln’s personal travel shaving kit which he took with him on his travels. Lincoln was clean-shaven when he began running for president. What you see is the kit open and the highly polished metal reflective surface (a crude mirror) Abe would look into to shave.
Lincoln grew a beard after receiving a letter from Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old girl from New York, in October 1860, a few weeks before the election. Lincoln responded to Bedell a few days later in a letter. Read the letters.
|Abraham Lincoln's first whiskers in 1860.|
Little Known Fact: By growing a beard, Lincoln nearly bankrupted a young entrepreneur named Milton Bradley, who had a booming business selling daguerreotype photographs of the clean-shaven candidate. Bradley destroyed his supply of daguerreotypes and turned to designing board games to make a living.I was shown (no photos allowed) a beautiful Tiffany (from New York) heart pendant owned by Mary Todd Lincoln. On one side were perfect diamonds (of course - it's Tiffany after all) covering the entire heart – on the reverse side was a single flawless heart cut diamond allowing you to view the spectrum of colors from the reverse side diamonds making it see-through.
Now comes my favorite item, again no pictures allowed. I saw a handwritten letter from Mary Todd Lincoln the day after Abe died, written on mourning stationery (black-bordered paper) where Mrs. Lincoln is giving instructions (i.e. her last will and testament) about what she desired after her death. She thought her sorrow was so massive that she was going to die.
The very first sentence stated that she should be in-state, open casket, for 48 hours. She was very afraid of waking up after being pronounced dead after being buried.
Doctors some times didn't know if a patient was actually dead as medical technology wasn't very accurate yet. Sometimes, people were buried, by mistake, still alive (evendent by scratch marks or tattered fabric on the cover of the casket). To combat this issue with a backup system, people were buried with one end of a rope tied to their wrist. The other end of the tope was hooked to an above-ground bell. If the person awoke in the casket, they would pull on the rope, ringing the bell, summoning help to dig them up before they suffocated. Hence the term"Dead-ringer."Last but not least, I saw 1 of the 3, Lincoln surviving stove pipe hats. Dr. Wheeler told me they were researching the hat to pin-down its provenance. He told me it might be an early hat from before Lincoln became President. It is made of beaver fur where the other two surviving hats were made from silk. There were two worn spots on the brim where the fur had worn through. It is where Lincoln's fingers would grab the hat's brim to tip it in greetings.
UPDATE ON THE STOVE PIPE HAT - July 15, 2020
After finding no evidence that a purchased stove pipe hat belonged to Abraham Lincoln, Illinois State Historian, Dr. Samuel Wheeler was out of a job, fired by Gov. JB Pritzker, on July 15, 2020, and had been escorted out of the building.
Since questions arose about the hat’s authenticity a few years ago, it has been removed from the display list. Trustee Kathryn Harris said that the subcommittee on July 7 authorized Wheeler to consult with textile experts to determine whether the hat’s material is from Lincoln’s era and whether labeling inside can connect the Great Emancipator with the hatmaker.
The hat was once appraised at $6.5 million.In the report, Wheeler focused on a history of double-dealing, conflicts of interest and a neglect of basic due-diligence in studying the hat’s provenance before its purchase. He also slammed a “weaponization” of the hat during years of friction between the museum and the not-for-profit that acquired it on behalf of the museum, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. The hat was the cornerstone of a $25 million haul of Lincoln artifacts in 2007 by the foundation — just as the newly-opened, state-run museum was looking to establish itself as a can’t-miss Illinois tourism destination and a nationally respected institution. Wheeler’s report also found the hat isn’t in Lincoln’s size.All in all — a wonderful way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination.
Harris said she sits on a committee of the ALPLM’s board, complimented Wheeler’s work, saying she’d heard of no complaints of his performance. She said she couldn’t say whether Wheeler’s departure was related to his report. “When people say we’re going to go in a different direction, that means nothing,” she said. “It’s words strung together that don’t mean diddly squat.
Copyright © Neil Gale, Ph.D