The mystery of Mr. Lincoln’s stovepipe hat

The Chicago Sun-Times reported, which FoxNews.com picked up, that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois are in a quandary over a stovepipe hat supposedly having belonged to Mr. Lincoln. The hat, which is of beaver felt, bore the mark of a Springfield hat maker, and was the same size as Lincoln’s head is disputed over how a farmer came to own the hat. The story holds that William Waller acquired the hat from Lincoln in Washington during the war, but this is not supported by evidence. The other possibility is that Waller received the hat after one of the 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas, but there is no evidence to support this.

The hat is part of a larger collection of Lincoln artifacts that the ALPLM acquired several years ago for a significant amount of money and the hat is appraised at $6.5 million. Both articles insist that the hat is not a fake and that the Museum was not duped, but that it needs to be somewhat cautious in how it presents the story to the public, suggesting that both scenarios be noted. Having visited the site a couple of times, I have seen the hat (assuming it is the same one), which also (if I recall correctly) may have had his fingerprints on the brim, which were slightly visible. It is a truly humbling experience to view artifacts related to the man.

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer doubted the stories, as there is no evidence that Lincoln gave away the hat, but does note that the hat likely belonged to Lincoln, but that increased effort is needed to trace its origins. I have to agree with Mr. Holzer, as, even in that day, a beaver hat was not something casually given away, as it was still a fairly expensive item.

It will be interesting to see where this story goes, but I urge anyone heading to Springfield soon to check out the site and see the artifacts. While the museum itself has a lot of technological aspects that are designed to make it more accessible to the public, which is not my thing, but worth seeing, the library is really worth a stop, as they hold a large amount of wonderful historical items, including manuscripts, newspapers, and other materials for scholars researching on a wide array of topics related to Illinois history, the Civil War, and Lincoln. I donated a copy of my thesis to the library as a thank you for providing assistance and material that went into it.

That this story came out on April 15 is appropriate, as it is the anniversary of the death of Mr. Lincoln in 1865. May he continue to rest in peace.

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