When I was an Historian working for the President Benjamin Harrison Home in Indianapolis, I had the opportunity of a day of research at the Ft. Wayne Lincoln Museum. The people there were warm, friendly and incredibly helpful. My son has been there twice and loved it (and he hates history) I was so looking forward to sharing this with my daughter next Summer. I'm just very saddened that we may lose this amazing Indiana Resource. If this collection doesn't stay in bulk here in Indiana, then [IMHO] it will be a very sad day for Indiana and our National reputation.
In March of this year Lincoln Financial Group announced it is closing the famous Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The museum houses an extraordinary collection of Lincoln memorabilia, including books, manuscripts, photos, and other unique pieces associated with the nation's 16th president. It's served as a invaluable repository of information for Lincoln scholars, researchers, and fans. Unfortunately, the museum has suffered from declining attendance and a company which values the financial bottom line over corporate good will.
According to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, the state of Indiana and Allen County (where Fort Wayne is located) have put together a strong proposal to keep the collection in Indiana. A group headed by retired Lincoln Financial CEO Ian Rolland spearheaded the package presented to the company. Those organizations are supported by the Indiana Historical Society, Indiana State Library and Friends of the Lincoln Museum. While the group feels it has made a strong case, it's up against formidable competition.
The Library of Congress, the National Museum of American History, Ford’s Theatre and President Lincoln’s Cottage have formed a partnership to obtain the collection from the museum, which closes Monday after 77 years.
Ian Rolland, former chairman of the Lincoln Financial Group and leader of the local drive, said he wasn’t surprised to hear the Washington players were in the game.
“We knew the competition was going to be tough,” he said. “I don’t think we need to be afraid of that kind of competition.”
Those hoping to bring the collection to Washington tout the area’s ability to draw large crowds of tourists.
“There really isn’t any group that can match the visitorship and financial stability of the Washington group,” said John Sellers, a Lincoln specialist at the Library of Congress.
Sellers calls Washington the “natural place” for the collection.
“It is where Lincoln became famous and made his mark,” Sellers said. “It is a natural place because the assassination happened here. It is a natural place because of the wealth of material related to Lincoln and the assassination.”
Those same arguments, though, can be turned around in Indiana’s favor, said Geoff Paddock of Fort Wayne, a board member of the Friends of the Lincoln Museum.
Lincoln spent his formative years in the Midwest and the collection was put together in Indiana, Paddock said.
The foundation board plans to narrow the proposals in the fall, invite the finalists to meet with the curators in Fort Wayne and then make site visits to the competing groups. A representative of the foundation said applicants ranged from small, not-for-profit institutions interested in one or two items to the nationally known institutions.
The museum’s collection, estimated at $20 million, includes a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and a signed copy of the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery, one of 350 documents in the collection signed by Lincoln. Other artifacts include the top hat Lincoln was wearing the night of his assassination, his patent model of a device for raising boats off sandbars, the brass inkstand used to draft the Emancipation Proclamation and the cup he used just before going to Ford’s Theatre. The furniture includes the Gardner Gallery chair, seen in some of the familiar photographs of the president.
The collection is becoming available at a time when both Ford’s and the American History Museum are undergoing extensive renovations. The museum is expected to reopen in November. The work at the theater is expected to be complete by February.
Ford’s Theatre, operated by the National Park Service, has preserved the box where Lincoln and his guests were sitting the night of the 1865 assassination. They have John Wilkes Booth’s derringer pistol, the clothing worn by Lincoln that night and the hoods placed over the co-conspirators at their hanging.
Via: Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, June 25, 2008
Photo: Honest by brunkfordbraun on Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike