The mystery of Mr. Lincoln’s stovepipe hat

The Chicago Sun-Times reported, which 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.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln!

Being originally from Illinois, today is a special day in the State and one that we used to get off from school when I was young. It is even more special given the year. Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and it is the bicentennial of his birth. Lincoln’s importance to the history of this nation make celebrating his birthday as important as Washington’s (February 22). While both are honored with President’s Day, I personally feel that both mens’ birthdays should be national holidays because of the significance to our history that they have.

I would like to encourage you all, if you do not already own one, to pick up a book on Lincoln and learn about him. I recommend Abraham Lincoln by James McPherson, which I reviewed earlier, as well as David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln. Those of you in Illinois should go and visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, as it is a good facility. Try to find some way to reflect upon Lincoln, his life, and what he stood for.


Happy 200th Birthday, President Lincoln!

A sad anniversary

April 14, 2008 marked the 143rd anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and today, April 15 marks the anniversary of his death. His death was one of the final tragedies of a nation that suffered through the Civil War. His death also provided counter factual history with a tantalizing case. Given the different views regarding Reconstruction between Lincoln and Johnson, one only wonders how our history would be different had Lincoln led the nation through Reconstruction, but I will let other folks debate that story. With next year marking the bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of the war beginning in 2011, the date of his assassination and death will become even more significant. Having visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I have passed by the reproduced scene of his coffin lying in state and it is quite a moving thing to see. So, as a fellow Illinois resident, I say Rest in Peace, Mr. Lincoln, you are not forgotten.