* Bruce Rushton at the Illinois Times…
The year was 2007, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation was drooling over a collection of Lincoln documents and artifacts, including a stovepipe hat that’s become famous for all the wrong reasons. The hat was owned by Louise Taper, a denizen of Beverly Hills and a foundation board member. “From the onset, when Louise talked to me in my kitchen some three years ago, the price of her total collection was $15 to $16 to $20 million to whatever,” Julie Cellini, foundation board secretary, wrote in an April 1 (yes, April Fool’s Day) email to T. Tolbert Chisum, a foundation board member. “The price bounced around. But the ‘must haves’ were always in the proposed sale we discussed.”
The “must have” to which Cellini referred was a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln. That iconic – and presumably authentic – document, despite Cellini’s insistence, wasn’t included in the final sale, but the price tag stayed at $23 million. Who’d make a deal like that? Someone with buyer’s fever, which appears to have been contagious back when the foundation agreed to buy Taper’s collection, which included a hat that Pawn Stars would reject as iffy.
Thanks to a report last week by WBEZ radio in Chicago, we know that neither the FBI nor historians from the Smithsonian and the Chicago History Museum could authenticate the hat. That’s somewhat old news. Dave McKinney, the same journalist who broke the WBEZ story, reported in 2012 that an affidavit from the 1950s, once considered proof, doesn’t hold water. That shouldn’t have been startling to either the foundation or the state, given that an appraiser hired before the 2007 sale sent an email to Tom Schwartz, then state historian, and Taper, questioning the provenance of the hat, as well as a clock that is said to have come from Lincoln’s law office, as well as a fan that Mary Todd Lincoln is supposed to have carried with her to Ford’s Theatre. The same appraiser, who was paid by the state, also spotted a fake Mary Todd Lincoln letter (it was a clerical copy) and questioned whether Lincoln had actually signed a photograph bearing his autograph and whether invitations to White House dinners really came from Mary.
That’s a fair number of flags. Nonetheless, the foundation closed the deal, thinking it would be able to raise $23 million to pay off a loan so that artifacts would forever grace display cases at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
And now the foundation can’t pay back the loan and wants a state bailout.