Museum gets Lincoln collection

Monday, June 18, 2007
Abraham Lincoln's iconic stovepipe hat was shown at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. (Seth Perlman ~ Associated Press)

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.

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."

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.

Parts of the Taper collection will go on public display in July.

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