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ALPLM won’t display Lincoln hat and curator ousted

Thursday, Sep 20, 2018

* Illinois Times

A hat that purportedly but not provably belonged to Abraham Lincoln is off the display list at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum pending review of the artifact’s provenance that has been in question for years.

The announcement by the museum that the hat, which is not on regular exhibition, won’t be taken out for public viewing until provenance is reviewed comes in the wake of a Wednesday report by WBEZ radio in Chicago, which revealed that the private foundation that owns the hat engaged in secret efforts to prove that the hat is authentic. The efforts, which involved DNA analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and top historians from the Smithsonian Institution and the Chicago History Museum, failed to verify that the hat is real. […]

According to the WBEZ report, the private foundation’s verification efforts began in 2013 and were kept secret from the public institution, although ALPLM curator James Cornelius was in the know. When federal agents visited the museum to collect DNA samples from the hat and other Lincoln artifacts in 2015, Cornelius encouraged them to present themselves as a “news crew” upon arrival, according to the station’s reporting. […]

Cornelius was terminated on [Tuesday]. Wills declined comment when asked why. Cornelius could not be reached for comment. The curator had been on administrative leave since last spring. The museum has refused to release records showing why he was put on leave and why he was suspended last year for insubordination. Illinois Times, which had previously been granted Cornelius’ disciplinary records, sued the ALPLM in July under the state Freedom of Information Act to obtain the records. The lawsuit remains pending.

* Meanwhile, after reading Dave McKinney’s piece about the massive mess that is the not-for-profit Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, I took a look at its filings with the Illinois Attorney General’s office. The latest info online is for 2015, but check this out

So, they spent more on salaries and benefits than they did on direct support for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:33 am:

    I see one of the expenses is insurance. Could insurance pay them back for buying a bogus hat?

  2. - Not a Billionaire - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:34 am:

    Well don’t give them money and certainly no state money.

  3. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:39 am:

    It’s always nice to know that graft, mismanagement and greed are not just confined to the Chicagoland area. Why anyone has any hope for change in this state is beyond me.

  4. - wordslinger - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:40 am:

    Lot of big names on that foundation. They might want to reconsider their continued association with this grift.

    The hat purchase fiasco has all the makings of an insider fraud deal.

  5. - 100 miles west - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:42 am:

    less than 25% toward the mission. That is ugly.

  6. - Boone's is Back - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:45 am:

    I think the next QOTD should be who sold the fake hat to the museum.

  7. - Anon221 - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:55 am:

    Wonder what will be the effect of this fiasco on this fundraising event-

  8. - JS Mill - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:55 am:

    The good news? Rauner can finally point to some waste, fraud, and abuse (exclamation point)

  9. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 9:57 am:

    Somewhere Peter Fitzgerald is saying “told you so”

  10. - Skeptic - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:04 am:

    “Somewhere Peter Fitzgerald is saying “told you so” He’s not the only one.

  11. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:05 am:

    I can be a curator.

    Spend a bunch of money on salaries, buy phony hats… I’m in.

    Kudos to McKinney, not surprising, but kudos for his continued exceptional work. Top shelf.

  12. - Don Gerard - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:06 am:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa…I am THIS close to selling them the original floppy disc upon which Lincoln stored his favorite speeches!

  13. - Nitemayor - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:17 am:

    Looks more like Mary Todd Lincolns White House remodel budget.

  14. - Whatever - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:19 am:

    Lincoln walked 6 miles to return a 3 cent overcharge. How many miles does that work out to in this case?

  15. - JS Mill - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:35 am:

    Lincoln walked 6 miles to return a 3 cent overcharge. How many miles does that work out to in this case?=

    Did a spit take there, good stuff.

    I think it is a lot.

  16. - don the legend - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:46 am:

    We all know or have known people with only a grade school education that exhibit more smarts and integrity than the best of high society on this foundation board.

  17. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:50 am:

    75 percent of their revenues went to overhead, and only 25 percent to supporting the ALPLM.

    That doesn’t sound very good to me.

  18. - Wednesday morning - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:50 am:

    That hat has always been a fraud if you look at the chain of ownership. The question is, why was the ALPL Foundation so eager in 2007 to value it at $6.5 million as part of $25 million paid to Louise Taper? I’m not sure that the Foundation in 2013 should be faulted for trying to authenticate it. And it sure looks to me like the Foundation and the Museum are now doing their best to damage the other, and to what end?

  19. - A guy - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 10:55 am:

    They sure aren’t the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.

  20. - A State Employee Guy - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 11:03 am:

    Do you have a basis for comparison, Rich? Like, the ratio of labor costs and direct support to overall expenses for other non-profits? I want to say this is shady, but people gotta eat after all.

  21. - Montrose - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 11:11 am:

    We have to look at the expenses with a grain of salt. I don’t know how the foundation is setup or how staff spend their time. We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that things are poorly run because a nonprofit has a huge portion of their budget going to salaries. It may be the case here that things are totally messed up, but I want to caution folks to avoid the antiquated notion that if a nonprofit has overhead costs, they are a bad charity.

  22. - Chicago Cynic - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 11:18 am:

    Montrose is exactly right. It’s quite unfair to assume salaries don’t go towards the mission. The salaries are of employees most likely in support of the mission. Not saying there’s no waste there, but it’s literally impossible to judge based on the information presented here.

    I’ll draw a comparison. After 9/11, the Red Cross took enormous grief for spending donations on salaries and infrastructure. But salaries and infrastructure is how they carry out their mission. Same with other nonprofits. I’ve served on many nonprofit boards (unpaid). Some were well run, others not so much (which led me to quit when turnaround proved impossible) and every organization is different.

  23. - I Miss Bentohs - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 11:36 am:

    I am curious how the committee formed and who is on it. Did any of them throw up a red flag as about giving another member millions for her collection?

  24. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 11:39 am:

    I’ll say it…this looks way shady.

    Do they have to eat lobster…while others eat food stamps?

  25. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 11:39 am:

    Well this is right up the AG alley. Hope Lisa gives a going away present and starts an investigation

  26. - RNUG - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 12:08 pm:

    == Do you have a basis for comparison ==

    Charity Navigator is probably the most recognized evaluator of charities.

    According to them, really good charities spend 10% or less on overhead and 90% or better on their mission. Really bad charities spend 90% on overhead and 10% on their mission.

    CN apparently read the financials for the Foundation a bit different than we are here. They say 69% goes to the mission, with 31% to overhead. That gets the ALPLM Foundation a 2 star rating, which isn’t that good but better than some other charities.

    Link to CN’s Foyndation rating:

  27. - RNUG - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 12:13 pm:

    - A State Employee Guy -

    You can find all that information at Charity Navigator. They list the Foundation. I tried to post a link but it seems to be getting caught.

  28. - NoGifts - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 12:17 pm:

    What is the board looking over the museum activities?

  29. - Steve Rogers - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 12:57 pm:

    Regarding the salaries, what some people find objectionable is that the Foundation CEO makes something like $260,000. If that’s correct, that would be almost a third of the entire payroll for one person. Compare that to the Director of the Library and Museum, who makes about $125,000. Why does the Foundation Director make twice as much as the Library and Museum Director?

  30. - LakeCo - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 12:59 pm:

    To me, this is the most egregious part of McKinney’s piece:

    “In 1988, [State Historian Tom] Schwartz valued the hat at $15,000, a far cry from its $6.5 million appraisal in 2007, Lowe told WBEZ.

    “I’d like to ask Ms. Taper and Mr. Schwartz, ‘Why between 1988 and 2007, what new thing did you see that led you to change the possible value of that from $15,000 to $6.5 million?’ Certainly, that means somewhere along the point, you saw something that was a slam dunk by saying that this belonged to Abraham Lincoln. And if you didn’t, why did you do that?””

    Lowe’s question is a good one. Tom Schwartz has some explaining to do. I hope he gets to do it at Butler’s hearings.

  31. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 1:00 pm:

    I’m curious how that CEO was selected for that extremely cushy, low-accountability job.

  32. - 44th - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 1:20 pm:

    $480,000 interest expense! Wow that sounds like a lot of debt.

  33. - RNUG - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 2:29 pm:

    == $480,000 interest expense! Wow that sounds like a lot of debt. ==

    Just $9.6M if you figure a 5% rate.

  34. - Robert Lincoln - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 3:05 pm:

    I would have burned the hat if it belonged to dad. Or buried it in a steel cage under 10 feet of concrete.

  35. - Montrose - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 3:14 pm:

    I’ll say two things:

    1) ALPLF seems to have a lot of issues, including how it spends its money.

    2) Please don’t use simple ratios to rate the quality of a nonprofit and its work. Charity Navigator, along With Guidestar and the BBB ask you not to as well -

  36. - A State Employee Guy - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 3:57 pm:

    Thanks, RNUG.

  37. - FormerGOPer - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 4:01 pm:

    Doesn’t the foundation pay a portion of the museum director’s salary? That would be direct support to the museum. Doesn’t excuse the mess with the Tapper collection though.

  38. - Ugh - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 4:21 pm:

    ==Well this is right up the AG alley. Hope Lisa gives a going away present and starts an investigation==
    If there’s a whistleblower involved she’ll be defending the mismanagement against the whistleblower.

  39. - BaronvonHammer - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 4:44 pm:

    I have always the foundation to be suspect, dating back to the first director. Since the foundation serves to enhance tle ALPLM, its finances and operations need to be transparent.

  40. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Sep 20, 18 @ 5:32 pm:

    Montrose, point well made, point well taken. Certainly there are economies of scale in larger charities and foundations, which makes a ratio comparison incomplete.

    Having said that, there is plenty to ponder after reading the AG filing and Form 990, For example, why does the Foundation need a $35,000 lobbyist? Worth a read if you’re interested.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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