Abraham Lincoln disputed hat 2012

Punk rocker Henry Rollins holds an encased stovepipe hat at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in October of 2012. Whether the hat truly belonged to Lincoln has been called into question as state lawmakers evaluate how to make the private foundation supporting the library more accountable.

The issue of who knew what and when about whether an old hat purchased by the private Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Foundation has bled into an Illinois congressional race.

The ALPLM foundation owes $9.7 million of a $25 million loan for all kinds of artifacts held in the state-run library. That includes a stovepipe hat valued at $6.5 million thought to have belonged to the 16th president. The loan comes due next year.

Chicago Public Media reports the Smithsonian in 2013 called into question whether the hat belonged to Lincoln. Despite that, the foundation lobbied the state for tax dollars to repay the loan.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said the foundation lobbied for tax dollars for the loan, despite holding secret a report calling into question the authenticity of the hat. He said if the report was favorable, they would have heralded it.

“When it asks questions whether or not it was Lincoln’s hat, then they kept it secret and they didn’t share it, and they didn’t share it with us in the General Assembly when they came to us,” Butler said. “That’s a real problem.”

A registered lobbyist for the foundation was Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who’s running as a Democrat to replace Taylorville U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis. Davis said Londrigan needs to answer what she knew and when she knew it.

“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered by those who have been there and those who have worked there and one of those is my opponent,” Davis said.

Davis said the questions of who knew what and when are important.

“Especially when those who are part of the foundation's team that have lobbied Illinois elected officials to have taxpayers bail out that purchase,” Davis said.

“The Lincoln collection was purchased before Betsy arrived, and in her capacity as a fundraiser she was not involved in determining its authenticity or FBI investigations into that matter,” said Londrigan Campaign Manager Emma Brown.

In an email Illinois News Network obtained from 2016, Londrigan tells the state-run Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum director about the hat before he headed to a meeting. The email mentions nothing about reports questioning the hat’s authenticity.

ALPLM Director Alan Lowe has told several media outlets he was not told of the reports until just a few months ago. Davis said he also found out about the reports questioning the hat’s authenticity a few weeks ago from media reports.

“The director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum who showed me the hat had no idea that it wasn’t the hat and that there were questions about the authenticity of that hat when he showed it to me a few months ago,” Davis said.

The foundation contends nothing in the Smithsonian report and a later FBI DNA analysis that came up inconclusive proves the hat wasn’t Lincoln’s.

State lawmakers plan a hearing on the issue sometime in November.

Watchdog.org Contributor

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for Illinois News Network and Watchdog.org. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.

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