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Stupid and/or arrogant and/or hiding something

Thursday, Feb 14, 2013

* Dave McKinney at the Sun-Times has been writing about the doubts regarding the Lincoln Museum’s claim that it has an original Abe Lincoln stovepipe hat. The Lincoln Presidential Library’s foundation board paid $6.5 million to Louise Taper, a collector who also happens to sit on the board.

A descendant of the hat’s owner, claimed in 1958 in an affidavit that the stovepipe was given to her father-in-law by Lincoln during the Civil War. The library claims it was given to the man by Lincoln during an 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas. The library/museum’s curator James Cornelius had this to say last year

“I guess you’d say we’ve taken something of a historic liberty in re-dating it to a much more plausible time and place,” Cornelius said then.

So, it’s like a Gore Vidal historical novel or something?

* I dunno, but a couple members of the foundation board, including Tony Leone, tried this week to get the board to approve DNA testing. He failed

The panel did not vote on Leone’s push to have the hat tested for Lincoln’s DNA, a difficult task since Lincoln has no living descendents and his blood exists on precious artifacts from his assassination that might have to be altered for testing purposes.

When Leone brought up the idea, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s curator, James Cornelius, angrily interrupted Leone and belittled his idea.

“This is a dead issue,” Cornelius snapped. “Dandruff, bone, hair, forget it. It’s not there.” […]

Fischer, the board’s chairwoman, said she has concerns about “the potential damage” that DNA testing might cause to the hat and any artifact bearing Lincoln’s blood from the night of his assassination and embraces Cornelius’ explanation of how the hat wound up with William Waller.

“That’s history. We accept it,” Fischer said.

You don’t just “accept” history, particularly when facts have clearly been altered.

Are these people just stupid or arrogant or hiding something or all three?

* Another board member summed up why Chairwoman Fischer is a doofus

“I haven’t heard an explanation that fully satisfies me about the provenance of the hat. I’m sure somebody can explain it beautifully, but I just haven’t heard it,” said board member Shirley Portwood, a retired Southern Illinois University history professor who said she was troubled by the “large gap” in the hat’s history and believes DNA testing is in order.

“There’s a period of time where it’s not clear where the hat was, and I, as a historian, would have a problem with that. Even in a paper I was writing about it, I would have to have a footnote that said, ‘according to family lore, such and such,’ rather than it had been documented for the entire … 150 years,” Portwood said.

Maybe DNA testing isn’t possible or could damage other artifacts. I don’t know. But the board’s credibility is rapidly vanishing with this fictional account and a stubborn refusal to verify.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:26 am:

    Maybe Taper could but the hat back for say, $6.4 million.

    Any time a nonprofit does business with a board member, it’s usually a bad idea. This looks like Exhibit A.

  2. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:31 am:

    –The Lincoln Presidential Library’s foundation board paid $6.5 million to Louise Taper, a collector who also happens to sit on the board.e –

    You can’t make stuff like this up (or maybe you can make up some of the “facts” surrounding the issue).

  3. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:32 am:

    @47th, that’s one of the first things that stood out to me as well.

    Someone who has a financial interest in supporting the story both before and after the sale sits on the board?

    I wonder if she voted to approve the sale as well?

  4. - Sunshine - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:34 am:

    Trust but verify…..seems to me to be the proper thing to do.

    Boy, makes me very uncomfortable to be doling out that kind of cash to a board member. Sure looks very suspicious at best. Then, choosing a “….mor plausable date….” Wow!

    I say do DNA or Fugetaboutit!!!

  5. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    Even so, I hope the hat is legit. It serves as a great artifact and connection to our past.

    Meanwhile, who knows who else may have worn it or handled it over the past 250 years or so?

    Let’s say we happen to sample a portion of the hat with DNA from someone else’s fingertip after holding it or head after trying it on.

    I’m clearly not an expert but it seems we’d likely have to test multiple portions of the hat to be sure of any result. Would that cause irreperable damage?

    There may be a compelling case against testing, but the board sure isn’t communicating it. “Because I say so” isn’t much of an argument.

  6. - dupage dan - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    Stunning. Disturbing.

  7. - Susiejones - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:38 am:

    unbelievable; paying that kind of money to a board member then playing loose with the so called facts. stinks to high heaven. think they need to receive some ethics training!

  8. - zatoichi - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:39 am:

    They paid $6.5M for something and did not verify it was the real thing? Not a good approach for fundraising. Sounds like they got stung for big bucks which effects their ‘expertise’ standing. Even Rick on Pawn Stars pulls in the local pros to check out an expensive purchase.

  9. - LincolnLounger - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:39 am:

    Did the SJ-R cover this and I missed it? Troubling all around.

  10. - Hatless - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:43 am:

    James Loewen in “Lies my Teacher told me” discusses the Lincoln Birthplace National Park and how it is very evident that the home in the shrine is a very obvious fake with no provenence. A few avid historians will know it is a fake, but the vast majority will go home happy having seen the “real thing”.
    I’m not saying it is right, just the reality.

  11. - Just Observing - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:44 am:

    I would give Ms. Taper the benefit of the doubt that she believes (or wants to believe) that the hat is an Abe original. Whether it is or not is a different story.

  12. - Amalia - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:45 am:

    ah groupthink. too many bad memories here of being part of a board or office or campaign culture where questioning something or getting folks to face up to a truth means the one asking is the bad gal/guy. the UNO/d’escoto case reminds me of a situation where a guy hired his son and then told the rest of us to pay him. paying a sitting board member $6.5 mil without certainty is ridiculous.

  13. - Give Me A Break - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 11:51 am:

    The first clue to this being a problem is the tag that reads: Made in China for Macys Private Label”.

  14. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:00 pm:

    There’s mention on the google that the City of Springfield was asked to front the foundation by issuing bonds to purchase the Taper Collection for $23 million.

    Is that what happened? And no one can see an appraisal?

  15. - Esquire - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:05 pm:

    Is it correct that Lincoln has no living descendants? Years ago, I recall reading the obituary of Lincoln’s last male descendant. I am guessing that this was roughly twenty-five years ago. The man had died without leaving a male heir, but the obituary referred to his children all being daughters. Are none of these women or their offspring alive? While Lincoln’s direct male line may have come to an end, one would think that are some collateral relatives still about. Certainly DNA testing does not require a male heir.

  16. - Irish - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:05 pm:

    It looks Like “Chumley” handled this deal. They should have run it by “Rick” or the “Old Man.”

    It would be interesting to know what a genuine period beaver felt hat is worth. That will tell you what the “affidavit” was worth.

    If the Board is interested I just happen to have the axe Abe used when he was building fences. (Pay no attention to the “AMES” logo burnt into the handle.)

  17. - BleugrassBoy - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:11 pm:

    I also have some Lincoln Artifacts I am willing to sell them as long as they promise not to do any tests that disprove my claim of authenticity.

    There’s a blue shirt, some socks, a couple of pencils and his original 1st-generation iPod….

  18. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:17 pm:

    Ricardo dijo,

    “Stupid and/or arrogant and/or hiding something”

    All of the above?

  19. - Skirmisher - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:23 pm:

    Well, I have donated to that museum in the past but I will not in the future. The insider, conflict of interest aspects of this story are unbelievable even by Illinois’ sorry standards. Frankly, this purchase by the Board from a Board member should have been illegal even if the hat did have sound provenance, which it clearly does not.

  20. - Mouthy - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:32 pm:

    I have a Bell Captain’s red, with gold braid, with the name of Abraham Lincoln stitched on the upper arm. It came from the Abraham Lincoln Hotel which I helped scuttle when I was young, very young. Maybe I could get a couple of you folks to help me vouch that it’s Abe’s dinner jacket. I could use a seven figure payday….

  21. - Mouthy - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:33 pm:

    “Bell Captain’s Jacket” Oops.

  22. - ILPundit - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:40 pm:

    Can someone clarify — was the $6.5 million just for the hat, or was it for the entire Taper collection of Lincoln artifacts?

    Illinois is a skeezy place when it comes to insider politics, but Louise Taper isn’t from here, and has long been established as a top collector of Lincoln memorabilia, and a professional consultant to various Lincoln-related boards. I’d be careful about attacking her credibility.

    With or without the hat, scoring her collection for the museum was a major positive. The issue right now is regarding what the actual appraisal says about the hat?

  23. - ILPundit - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:44 pm:

    Also, not sure how you can do DNA testing on the hat. There are no living members of the Lincoln bloodline, and haven’t been any since the early 1900’s. You would have to convince the National Archives to do DNA testing on Lincoln’s blood stained clothes from the night of the assassination — which I would bet will never fly because of the damage they would do to those artifacts.

  24. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:47 pm:

    ===was the $6.5 million just for the hat===


  25. - MidsouthGal - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:52 pm:

    DNA could actually be collected from the hat without damaging it, simply by swabbing the area inside that would contact the head. Yes, if someone else wore the hat they could have left their DNA, but the person who wore it the most and sweated in it should be the major contributor. I guess the problem is finding something to compare it to. A descendent would be best, even if it is a female, but would not carry Lincoln’s full DNA profile. If a sample of his bloody clothes is still available and the blood is not degraded, a small sample of that could also be used.

  26. - jerry 101 - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:54 pm:

    Sounds like a job for…

    The History Detectives!!!

    Certainly wouldn’t be the first time a museum called Tukufu, Eduardo, Gwen, Elyse, and Wes. Heck, even Clint Black, the country musician, called them up for help.

    For those of you who aren’t familiar, History Detectives is one of the best shows on TV.

    The History Detectives could put this one to rest.

  27. - Precinct Captain - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 12:59 pm:

    Sounds like a historical museum ought to have more historians on the board and less collectors with a direct financial interest in the museum acquiring certain ‘artifacts.’

  28. - Sunshine - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:03 pm:

    This raises another question: Board members are usually folks who are dedicated to the cause of the board, and to the cause of the people they serve.

    For a board member to be involved in this fashion, at considerable profit to oneself, sure raises ethical questions. So much so that I feel that they should resign and the other members of the board should decline the offer of the hat.

    Before we enter into any negotiations, and our entering into negotiations should not be a definite, all questions regarding the hat, its owners, timelines, and proof positive authenticity should be provided.

    Even then, the hat will likely still exist whether we have it in our possession or not. What is so important that we actually possess the hat?

    Kinda odd that this “find” comes about just when all the movies and PR is hitting. Let things cool down…..walk away from this one.

  29. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:03 pm:

    jerry 101,

    The History Detectives were on the case! Buried in one of the articles is a paragraph on their recommendations.

  30. - Raymond - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:05 pm:

    Let’s not forget this is the same institution that saw fit to include the faces of Bill and Julie Cellini in murals depicting sacred moments in this hallowed president’s life. Disgusting.

    Back when Richard Norton Smith was running the show at the museum, I looked into holding a reception there and was told that Augie’s had the exclusive rights to cater an event. And if I opted to go with a caterer other than Augie’s, then I would need to kick Augie’s a fee of several hundred dollars - they said that was actually in the contract - just to soothe Augie’s pain for not getting the job. Oh, and the guy I dealt with at the museum also had this to add: “You know, if you go with a caterer other than Augie’s, sometimes the other caterers have a hard time finding the door.” I kid you not - it was a Goodfella’s moment right there at the Lincoln Museum. Again, disgusting.

    I absolutely love the fact that McKinney is driving this hat story down their throats. They’ve earned all the grief he could possibly give them.

  31. - Siwash - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:22 pm:

    Raymond above! I didn’t realize the Cellini’s were that low.

  32. - Amalia - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:30 pm:

    If they can confirm the bones of Richard of England, they certainly must be able to do some testing to figure out if this is Lincoln’s hat. Esquire’s point about descendants from female children of Lincoln’s line is quite important!

  33. - Liberty_First - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:32 pm:

    This is Illinois: why is anyone surprised?

  34. - Barbie - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:35 pm:

    I hope Lisa Madigan is paying attention to this one. Holy conflict of interest Batman.

  35. - Barbie - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:38 pm:

    Oh–yes, and they have such a lovely building –I hope somone on the board checks back across every transaction associated with that place–poor old honest Abe–a scandal done in his name. Will this stuff never end?

  36. - Just Observing - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:50 pm:

  37. - Sir Reel - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:52 pm:

    $6.5 mil for a maybe hat bought from an insider. This will do wonders for future fundraising.

  38. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:55 pm:

    - Sir Reel - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 1:52 pm:

    “$6.5 mil for a maybe hat bought from an insider.”

    We are sure it’s a hat!


  39. - soccermom - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 2:09 pm:

    Oh for heaven’s sake — you can test the DNA of a fetus without injuring it, but you can’t swab the inside of a hat without doing irreparable harm?

  40. - Jake From Elwood - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 2:11 pm:

    Breach of fiduciary duty?
    Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

  41. - RNUG - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 2:11 pm:


    Reread the story; the deal’s been done.

    The only question now is whether or not the library got scammed.

  42. - Downstate Illinois - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 2:13 pm:

    It’s not the first time the museum has taken “historical liberty.” They also changed the carpet in the Cabinet Room because it “clashed” with the other decor and they gave Lincoln a closed casket because it might trouble some young child.

  43. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 2:23 pm:

    Ok, now it’s a little more interesting. From the SJR, 9/18/2008, on the acquisition of the Taper Collection.

    –The donation-and-sale arrangement required the museum’s foundation to finance the deal with $23 million in tax-exempt bonds from the city of Springfield.–

    I’ll try to track down that Official Statement on the bonds later. Supposedly, from another story, future private donation were to cover the bonds.

    But I can guarantee you they didn’t get issued with a promise of future private donations. There must be some municipal revenue source backing them up.

    Presumably, the City of Springfield was confident with the appraisal, and has seen it?

  44. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 2:27 pm:

    === This raises another question: Board members are usually folks who are dedicated to the cause of the board, and to the cause of the people they serve. ===

    That is an EXCELLENT point.

    Wouldn’t it have been something if the Lincoln Museum board member who cares so much about preserving Lincoln’s legacy donated that hat for posterity?

    Now there’s an idea.

    Not that anyone would ever consider donating to a cause they supposedly care for so much.

  45. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 2:35 pm:

    @Word - you just read my mind. This thing suddenly stinks even worse.

    From the 4-04-12 SunTimes:

    === It remained in the possession of the family of farmer William Waller until 1958. That’s when James Hickey, then head of the Illinois State Historical Library and overseer of the state’s Lincoln artifacts, bought it for himself in a move that today would almost assuredly spark conflict-of-interest questions. The hat changed hands again in 1990, when Lincoln collector Louise Taper bought it from Hickey for an undisclosed price. She, in turn, parted with it in 2007, selling it to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation as part of a $23 million haul of Lincoln memorabilia in 2007. The purchase was proclaimed a coup for the museum. The museum won’t say how much the hat cost but, for the first time, it has produced a 2007 appraisal valuing it at $6.5 million. The foundation is raising money to repay the city of Springfield, which issued taxpayer-financed bonds used to buy the Taper collection. The hat has been described alternately as one Lincoln wore during the Civil War and, more recently, one that he gave away after an 1858 debate in southern Illinois with Stephen Douglas. ===

    $6.5 million in taxpayer funds used to buy hat of unconfirmed provenance from a sitting board member.

    “And boom goes the dynamite”.

    And my brain.

  46. - Raymond - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 3:15 pm:

    Hey Chris Wills, welcome to the dark side! Looks like you might get busy …

  47. - walkinfool - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 3:29 pm:

    He’s “a doofus”

    Ouch! That stings.

  48. - Both Sides Now - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 4:52 pm:

    Based on the Wikipedia article mentioned above and further links, it appears that Timothy Lincoln Beckwith who is with the Florida State’s Attorneys office may or may not be the last surviving Lincoln decendant. Seems to me if a DNA test is done with him and there is a match, the case is solved. If not, there is no real harm to Mr. Beckwith as the hat’s authenticity is already in question. RING, RING, call for Mr. Lincoln Beckwith from Ms. Madigan!

  49. - dupage dan - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 5:02 pm:

    BSN - TLB has consistently declined to provide any DNA material for any tests to determine his parentage. Given the history - it is unlikely he is related to AL in any event.

  50. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 6:35 pm:

    Barbie and Raymond raise some interesting points.
    However, if I recall correctly, didn’t the Cellini’s at least fund the exhibit where their selfies appear?
    Keep digging, Brother McKinney.

  51. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 7:08 pm:

    A little more light….

    At one point, the City of Springfield was apparently on the hook for $23 million in tax-exempt financing to purchase the Taper Collection. Now, they seem to be in the clear.

    The ALPL Foundation puts out an annual report, which is not quite an annual report, as such, with columns and rows of numbers, but here are some claims from the 2012 edition:

    –In 2007, it acquired the Taper Collection for $23 million, financed by tax-exempt bonds.

    –At the end of fiscal 2012, through donations, the debt had been reduced to $13.6 million and refinanced, “as we redeemed the outstanding tax-free bonds and began a more traditional loan.”

    Who, what, where, how is not said.

    Still, if you’re trying to raise private contributions to pay off a $13.6 million loan, and the $6.5 million gem of the collection is called into question, I suspect that could cause some agita among the powers-that-be.

  52. - Cheryl44 - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 7:23 pm:

    Wikipedoa is full of things people make up.

    DNA analysis isnt nearly as easy as we are led to believe.

    The last surviving direct descendent died in the 60s, I think. There may be collateral descendents out there. Anyway, see above about the DNA.

  53. - Sangamo Girl - Thursday, Feb 14, 13 @ 7:47 pm:

    There are two boards involved here. The Board of Trustees for the IHPA is appointed by the governor and oversees the operations of the entire Agency, of which the ALPM is a division. The other is the Board of Directors of the ALPLM Foundation a 501(c)3 that supports the operation of the ALPLM only. Leone, Fischer, and Portwood sit on the former. Taper is a member of the latter.

    Julie Cellini was on the IHPA Board of trustees since its founding and was only recently replaced by the governor. She is still a member of the ALPLM Foundation board.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* Keep Your Family Safe This Winter - November through February are leading months for carbon monoxide related incidents
* Governor Takes Bill Action
* Illinois Department of Labor Director Hugo Chaviano Awards Governor’s Award for Contributions in Health and Safety to the Illinois Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum Company LP
* State Regulator Elected Treasurer of Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

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