When the Lincoln Museum closed, it was a sad day for those of us who love our history and particularly the history of our 16th president. Few presidents have been studied the way Abraham Lincoln has and for good reason. Born into poverty, self-educated, blessed with a strong intellect and a wonderful sense of humor, this physically unattractive man proved what great leadership is all about.
The Lincoln Museum’s collection was gifted to the State of Indiana to be housed at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis and the downtown Allen County Public Library, under the umbrella of the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection. According to Jane Gastineau, Lincoln Librarian, the entire collection is valued at approximately $20 million.
“There are the 18,000 books and pamphlets and 7000 prints and engravings. We have over 6000 described photos, mostly 19th-century. There are 26 known surviving copies of the Leland Boker printing of the 13th Amendment signed by Lincoln—LFFC has one. We have 160 signed documents, plus 270 letters written to Lincoln after his election in 1860.”
Indianapolis received the three-dimensional objects and Fort Wayne has the papers, books, photographs and other reference materials which are being digitized on site.
Dale Ogden, chief curator of cultural history of the Indiana State Museum, said in an on-line article at www.civilwarnews.comt, “One reason the archival materials are staying in Fort Wayne is because Allen County Public Library has … ‘one of the country’s largest genealogical resources and a lot of experience with scanning documents and making them available.’”
Gastineau and Adriana Maynard gave Nicole Griffetts, our education coordinator, Karen Butler-Clary, our registrar, and me a tour recently of the storage, display areas and work areas of the Lincoln Collection at ACPL.
I’ve been a Lincoln “lover” since elementary school. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” and her subsequent talk in Fort Wayne about that work are something my husband and I still talk about as a one of the best talks we have ever heard. This summer we hope to take a trip to Springfield, IL and upon retirement to tour the Civil War battlefields, Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy packed with our belongings.
ACPL’s facility is housed in the sub-basement of the library, a truly interesting place, particularly if you’re a book lover. Scholars from as far away as Italy and Scotland have done research at ACPL via email and Harold Holzer, noted Lincoln scholar who has also been a featured lecturer in Fort Wayne, has spent a number of hours in the stacks. If you want to know more about Abraham Lincoln, Holzer is your author. Fort Wayne’s Sara Gabbard, executive director of the Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana, has co-edited two books in the last several years with Holzer and they are currently working on a third, all published by Southern Illinois University Press.
Staff and volunteers of the Lincoln Collection are busy digitizing as much information as possible, which you can find at http://www.lincolncollection.org. There are approximately 13,000 items that have been digitized, works that were produced prior to 1923 that are now in the public domain. There are 3,000 photos online and in January of this year, the collection achieved its one millionth download.
Gastineau and Maynard are a wealth of information about Lincoln and their enthusiasm for their subject is apparent as they take you through a tour of the facility. The rooms where archival materials are stored are kept at no more than 67 degrees to preserve the integrity of the artifacts. There are a number of photos in cases and others packed away in archival boxes. Among these is a “spirit photo” taken by William Mumler in 1872. The photo shows what appears to be the spirit of Lincoln, standing behind his wife with his hands on her shoulders. Mumler’s works are now considered hoaxes but they are still interesting and many can be viewed by “Googling” his name. Prior to his death, Gastineau said, Mumler destroyed all of his negatives. The photo of Mary Lincoln is considered his most famous.
Lincoln was coming down with small pox on his way to Gettysburg. His valet later died of the disease. There are a number of samples of Lincoln’s signature on view and one where his usually impeccable penmanship shows the signs of his illness as he writes to Secretary of State Seward to “prove” his illness and that he could not attend a cabinet meeting.
Henry Clay was Lincoln’s political hero and there is a book of Clay’s speeches with marks made by Lincoln in the margins noting passages that he wished to remember.
Lincoln is the only US President to hold a patent. On May 22, 1849, he received Patent No. 6469 for a device to lift boats over shoals, an invention he created after trips down the Mississippi River. The device was never manufactured but you can see a photo of it at: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/patent.htm.
The LFFC copy of the patent is online at https://archive.org/details/buoyingvesselsov00linc.
Maynard showed us a photo of Lincoln’s funeral in Indianapolis that has a frame made with wood from the bier his casket rested upon. Lincoln’s body was sent back to Springfield for burial along approximately the same route he took from his home when he traveled to Washington, D.C. for his first inauguration. In all there were about 12 funerals for the nation’s fallen leader, the first president in our history to be assassinated. The collection also contains diaries from such Indiana residents as John Wilkins of Vigo County and letters from George W. Squier, who lived in Fort Wayne and served in the Army.
“Squier, 29 when the war began, enlisted in the 44th Indiana Infantry at Camp Allen and was mustered out in the fall of 1865. He had risen from corporal to captain. His letters show devotion to his wife, keen observation of what was going on around him and a talent for writing.” http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20110529/feat09/305299929
Paper, as you might imagine, was at a premium during the Civil War and nowhere is this better represented than in a Vicksburg, MS newspaper from July 4, 1963…printed on the back of wallpaper.
Like a visit to the History Center, seeing actual documents, photos and items owned by historical figures makes history come alive far more than reading about it in a text book. Gastineau and Maynard welcome you to call them about a tour. They provide tours of the collection for individuals and groups by appointment. Tours can be scheduled between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, and Saturdays by special arrangement.