A non-profit organization that went into debt buying the world’s largest private collection of Abraham Lincoln-related artifacts 11 years ago has turned to crowdfunding in efforts to pay off the remaining $9 million it still owes.
If it fails, some of the collection’s most valuable items may be put up for auction, including one of Lincoln’s signature stovepipe hats, locks of his hair and even the gloves he carried with him on the night he was assassinated in 1865—still stained with the 16th president’s blood.
Back in 2007, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in Springfield, Illinois borrowed $23 million to purchase some 1,400 artifacts belonging to Louise and Barry Taper of Los Angeles, California.
As a mother of young children in the 1970s, Louise had read a biographical novel about Lincoln and became obsessed with learning as much as she could about him. She got a job with a manuscript dealer in Los Angeles who agreed to pay her in manuscripts instead of cash. Louise’s collection grew exponentially after she married Barry Taper, whose family had made a fortune in the savings and loan business. By the late ‘90s, she owned a huge cache of valuable items ranging from the young Lincoln’s arithmetic book to a pair of Mary Todd Lincoln’s bloomers.
Over the past 11 years, many items in the Taper collection have gone on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, giving the public a view of the once-private collection for the first time. The foundation’s CEO, Carla Knorowski, said earlier this year that her organization had raised more than $15 million in private donations since purchasing the Taper collection, but still remained more than $9 million in debt. The loan is due in full in October 2019.
After trying to raise more money from private donors and soliciting grants from state government officials, the foundation started a GoFundMe online fundraiser, but these efforts have fallen short so far. Now, the New York Times has reported, the organization has begun the process of looking for auction houses, in order to sell off some artifacts to raise the remaining funds.
The foundation has already auctioned off some of the non-Lincoln items in the collection, including a slinky black dress owned by Marilyn Monroe, who was herself said to be a big Lincoln fan.
In a statement on the foundation’s website, Knorowski pleaded with the public to join the effort to save some of the most iconic Lincoln-related artifacts from being purchased by private collectors once again.
“If a single Lincoln artifact goes to auction, taken from the public realm, then we, as a nation are collectively diminished and must look ourselves in the mirror and take responsibility,” Knorowski wrote. “It is not any one individual’s or group’s responsibility to bear, it is all of ours to bear.”