President Lincoln artifacts, including his famous stovepipe hat, could be auctioned if foundation can’t raise funds

Andrew Pourciaux
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One of the greatest gifts that museums bring to the world is providing a means to preserve history and bring it to the public square. Indeed, museums are an extremely crucial piece of keeping the past alive and in the hearts and minds of generations old and new.

Yet, for the Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, they are finding out that keeping a legacy intact is no small ordeal.

In 2007, the Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation was given the opportunity to purchase several artifacts that belonged to Abraham Lincoln from a private collection.

Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. Photo by Rogerd CC BY-SA 3.0

These items were Lincoln’s presidential seal, his famous stovepipe hat, as well as the gloves that he wore on the night of his assassination.

The gloves were even spattered with his own blood from his tragic murder at the hands of John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

Top hat worn by Lincoln to the theater

If the Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation didn’t step in, these precious items would have been put up for sale to private collectors.

Knowing that these items deserved to be in the public eye, not in someone’s private collection, the foundation decided that they would purchase the items.

Abraham Lincoln, painting by George Peter Alexander Healy in 1869

The only problem was that they lacked the finances to do so, as they were still a fledgling organization that didn’t have the funding to make such a large purchase. Still, with the belief that these artifacts belong in a museum, they decided to obtain financing of $20 million to purchase them.

Ford’s Theater Scene in the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois Photo by Winonave – CC BY-SA 3.0

According to the fundraising team’s page on GoFundMe, the Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation was able to raise $15 million in order to pay off the debt, but still, have nearly $10 million left to pay off.

The rest of the debt is due in the next 20 months, and that leaves the foundation in a very uncertain place. If they are unable to raise the money needed to pay off their debt, they will be forced to put several of Abraham Lincoln’s artifacts up for auction.

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If this is the case, then the items will most likely end up in the hands of private collectors for their own collection and the world will be deprived of having access to seeing such pivotal pieces of American history in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Lincoln in February 1865, about two months before his death

The foundation is working on different strategies in order to be able to meet their financial obligation.

One such strategy is to appeal directly to the state of Illinois’ governor, Bruce Rauner, for aid with their funding.

Unfortunately, according to the Chicago Tribune, Rauner doesn’t see much of a need for government intervention, as he believes that with the due date being so far off, the foundation will have plenty of time to figure out a course of action.

The governor also commented that since the foundation isn’t a public organization, it does need to be kept separate from the state. This doesn’t bode well for a state intervention.

Shown in the presidential booth of Ford’s Theatre, from left to right, are assassin John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Clara Harris, and Henry Rathbone

Another strategy that the foundation is working toward is the utilization of crowdfunding in order to be able to pay off the debt. With the help of a GoFundMe Page, the foundation’s fundraising team has put together an opportunity that will allow anyone to donate money for the purpose of paying off the debt.

President Lincoln’s Chair. Photo by: Jodelli CC By 2.0

So far, within the last 15 days, they’ve been able to raise more than $7,000 for the cause and will hopefully be able to gain much more over the course of the next 20 months.

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Many feel it would be an absolute tragedy for this foundation to have to give up these artifacts that belonged to the president who not only saved the Union but also passed the Emancipation Proclamation, setting about freeing the slaves in the South.

Andrew Pourciaux is a novelist hailing from sunny Sarasota, Florida, where he spends the majority of his time writing and podcasting.