The Lincoln Museum, which has hosted an exhibit on the Lincoln Highway, will close June 30, 2008, after 80 years as a major resource for the study of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. It is operated by Lincoln Financial Foundation, the charitable giving arm of Lincoln Financial Group. The foundation owns one of the most extensive collections of Abraham Lincoln-related items — 230,000 items valued at $20 million — including a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and one of 13 Thirteenth Amendments signed by Abraham Lincoln. Also among the 79 artifacts are a cane he carried and his children’s toys. The collection also includes 350 documents signed by Lincoln, some 18,000 rare books and pamphlets., and 200,000 clippings.
The museum cites declining attendance, averaging 40,000 per year, according to an article in The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne. Priscilla Brown, vice president and chief brand officer for Lincoln Financial Group, said, in the paper’s words, that “the collection’s dispersal to other sites will better match the Lincoln Financial Foundation’s mission for the items, which is to ensure they get maximum exposure and remain accessible to the public…. The museum isn’t being closed as a cost-cutting measure and that it does not reflect any failure of the local museum staff.” The museum has about 20 staff members, most of whom will lose their jobs, and a “substantial” volunteer base.
The Lincoln Museum’s 19th century 5,000 photos and 7,000 prints is one of the most extensive in the world. According to Lincoln Financial, “Through invitation, the Lincoln Foundation will host a national informational session with potential public partners in late March to provide an understanding of the collection items and, in turn, discuss options for increasing visibility.”
An editorial laments the loss to the city, and the foundation’s reasoning that dispersing the collection will allow more people to see the parts in bigger venues:
Fort Wayne has lost out. A huge historical resource is, for all practical purposes, gone.
Oh, people will be able to drive to some other location, somewhere, and see some of the items, and they will be able to repeat the old refrain, “That was once in Fort Wayne….”
One expert told me [that] reactions have ranged from regret to anger to disappointment to shock to disbelief.
The image above, from the museum’s web site, shows a re-creation of Lincoln’s White House office, where visitors can view personal artifacts belonging to Lincoln, official documents, a chair from the Lincoln White House, a Senate copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, a Leland Boker souvenir edition copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, and personal and official letters of President Lincoln.
A second press release explains how Lincoln Financial plans to take a two-pronged approach to make its Lincoln Museum collection more accessible and visible in celebration of the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial in 2009.