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A closer look at Lincoln the man

Museum acquires personal effects

The gloves Abraham Lincoln carried on the night of his death are photographed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., Thursday.
The gloves Abraham Lincoln carried on the night of his death are photographed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., Thursday. (AP Photo)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A battered old hat, a pair of stained gloves, a child's silly rhyme -- hardly the stuff of history.

Except that this hat is a stovepipe hat, the gloves are stained with a president's blood, and the rhyme was written by a young Abraham Lincoln.

All three items are part of an immense private collection put together by a Lincoln fan over 35 years. Now the collection is about to go public after being purchased for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The collection contains hundreds of letters and documents, but its strength is the array of personal, everyday items related to the 16th president, his wife, and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Parts of the collection will go on public display next month.

The presidential library's executive director, Rick Beard, said it should help remind visitors that Lincoln was a real person with real problems who still managed to do great things.

"I think it's very important to understand that there are indeed great men, but that these great men are human, that they have a complexity to them, that they're not marble figures," Beard said.

The hat's brim shows two finger-sized spots where Lincoln continually touched it to take the hat off.

Its band is stretched from his habit of stuffing legal papers inside to carry around with him.

Lincoln hated wearing gloves, Beard said, yet he always carried them.

This particular pair appears to have been dropped on a red dirt road, but the stains are blood from Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865.

And the rhyme, neatly written in a childhood "sum" book for practicing math, shows a 15-year-old smart-aleck:

Abraham Lincoln is my name and with my pen I wrote the same. I wrote in both haste and speed and left it here for fools to read.

Acquiring the 1,500-item collection is "a coup" for the museum, said Daniel Weinberg, a Lincoln collector and owner of Chicago's Abraham Lincoln Book Shop.

The collection was pieced together over three decades by Louise Taper, who said she grew interested in Lincoln after reading a book about the president.

"I loved it. I loved reading about his life and Mary, and I wanted to know what happened to his children and the children's children," she said. "That started it, and it just took off."

The museum's foundation is buying most of the collection, and Taper is donating part of it.

Eventually, the foundation will give the collection to the museum so that the state owns it outright.

Neither Taper nor Beard would disclose the price, but specialists say the collection is likely to bring more than $20 million.

Beard said no tax money is involved. Instead, the foundation is working with the city of Springfield to issue bonds to pay for the collection now, and private fund-raising will pay off the bonds in years to come.

Rather than focusing on some particular aspect of Lincoln, Taper acquired items from throughout his life. Many collectors were most interested in official documents or Civil War strategy .

"That didn't appeal to me," she said. "I wanted to know more about Lincoln -- where he lived when he was young, and his parents and family, and how his relationship with Mary was, and their children."

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