SPRINGFIELD – In an historic change-of-hands, First Lady Patti Blagojevich today accepted the donation of the most valuable original Abraham Lincoln item remaining in private hands - his document portfolio, or presidential briefcase. After accepting the briefcase and other priceless items, including a dress worn by Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady unveiled the new logo for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Today represents the first time the presidential briefcase has been on public display in more than 50 years and the dress worn by Mrs. Lincoln has never been publicly displayed.
“Abraham Lincoln actually carried drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation in this briefcase. This piece of history is regarded as the single most valuable Lincoln artifact in private hands,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “This gift reminds us that even before the Library and Museum open, the people of Illinois are already reaping the benefits.”
The donation was made by Tom Heyser of Maryland, whose parents received the materials from Robert Todd Lincoln, eldest son of Abraham Lincoln. Albert and Estelle Heyser were employed as housekeepers for then-Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln, during the ten years they resided in Georgetown. (The former editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradley, and his wife Sally Quinn now own this historic brownstone residence). Later, the Heysers helped Mary Harlan Lincoln at her home in Manchester, Vermont when Robert became ill. Both Albert and Estelle Heyser are mentioned in Robert Todd Lincoln’s will. Tom Heyser was joined by his wife Nicoletta and son Willie in making the donation.
The leather portfolio is stamped with Lincoln’s name in gold leaf. Portfolios were used before briefcases and served a similar function in carrying papers and drafts of speeches and letters. Lincoln often took work from the White House to the Soldier’s Home about three miles outside of Washington, DC, where he sought refuge from the heat and noise of the capitol. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently commissioned a book on the Soldier’s Home, one that claims Lincoln took drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation with him there to revise and edit. Undoubtedly, this portfolio was the means of transport for this historic document. In addition, Lincoln often spent time in the War Department’s telegraph office, where he did paperwork waiting for news from the front.
“Other than the celebrated stovepipe hat, probably no other object has closer association with the Lincoln story than this portfolio,” said Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Director Richard Norton Smith.
The Heysers also donated a dress worn by Mary Todd Lincoln, another rare find. The Smithsonian Institution has one dress and the Chicago Historical Society has two, while the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum now has three complete dresses as well as Mary’s wedding skirt. The Heyser donation also includes monogrammed pillowcases and handkerchiefs belonging to the Lincolns.
The State of Illinois’ 47,000-item Abraham Lincoln collection is among 12 million artifacts and documents pertaining to all eras of Illinois history that are currently being moved from their former location beneath the Old State Capitol State Historic Site into the new Presidential Library at Sixth and Jefferson Streets. The new building will open to the public when the move is complete in mid to late September. The adjacent Presidential Museum building will open in spring 2005 and offer state-of-the-art exhibits, special effects theatre shows, and galleries to display the state’s Lincoln treasures.
The First Lady also unveiled the new logo for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The logo was designed by David Brodsky, a graphic designer from Springfield and a native of the Ukraine. The logo will be used in all published and broadcast materials and highway directional signs pertaining to the Library and Museum. It combines the key architectural features of the Museum building with a presidential image of Lincoln.
“A world-class logo for a world-class Library and Museum – fittingly created for us by an immigrant whose creative talents have blossomed in America,” said Smith, who has also headed the Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan presidential libraries.
The $115 million Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is being built with a combination of state, federal and local funds. It is administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The Illinois Capital Development Board is overseeing the construction project. The Presidential Library is scheduled to open this Fall, the museum is scheduled to open in Spring 2005.