A fundraising campaign devoted to caring for a large collection of Abraham Lincoln artifacts, including the last portrait Lincoln sat for, raised nearly $7 million in its first six months, Indiana State Museum officials said Wednesday.
Campaign co-chairman Ian Rolland said he and his colleagues were advised to wait until after the recession before asking donors for the $12.5 million deemed necessary to conserve, exhibit and endow a fund for the collection’s long-term maintenance.
Rolland said the fundraising response to date — $6.9 million in gifts or pledges from individuals, businesses and foundations from around Indiana — shows Lincoln “holds a special place in the hearts” of the residents of the state known as his boyhood home.
“Abraham Lincoln spent a good share of his early days here in Indiana and the acquisition of this collection gives Indiana its proper place in terms of the Lincoln history,” he said.
Nearly half the money pledged so far, $3 million, came from Lilly Endowment.
Museum officials said the collection, valued at about $20 million, was once the nation’s largest privately held collection of Lincoln memorabilia.
Lincoln National Corp., which moved from Fort Wayne to Philadelphia in 1999, began amassing the memorabilia of Lincoln’s personal and presidential life in 1928. It includes campaign materials, about 300 documents signed by Lincoln and 5,000 photographs — many of which belonged to the Lincoln family.
In late 2008, the company donated the collection to Indiana. The collection is housed both at the downtown Indianapolis museum and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne.
Tom King, the state museum’s interim president and CEO, said that while the collection has been seen by many Fort Wayne residents and visitors to that city, it will be getting wider exposure at the museum.
“These remarkable treasures are just waiting to be discovered by the citizens of Indiana and visitors here,” King said during a news conference.
He said some of the fundraising campaign will be used to digitize the entire collection to make it available online to Lincoln scholars and anyone else who wants to see it.
Museum officials announced the campaign success with one of the collection’s choice pieces — the final portrait that Lincoln sat for — as a backdrop.
Lincoln sat for artist Matthew Wilson in February 1865, when the Civil War still was raging. Wilson finished the painting after Lincoln was assassinated two months later.
Rolland, who is Lincoln National’s former chairman, recalled that when the portrait was acquired in the 1980s he and a colleague never left the side of the crate carrying the painting, even taking it with them into the dining car.
Dale Ogden, the museum’s chief curator or cultural history, said the collection includes more than 30,000 objects, as well as about 220,000 newspaper clippings from the mid-1800s to the present about Lincoln.
Among its choice pieces are rare signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery, and the chair in which Lincoln sat for some of his most famous presidential photographs.
The museum will showcase some of the collection in an exhibit that opens Feb. 12. The same day, a traveling Library of Congress exhibit on Lincoln also opens at the museum.
© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.