Lincoln Collection Has a Good Shot at Staying in Indiana

June 9, 2008

For release June 11 and thereafter (730 words)

by ANDREA NEAL

INDIANAPOLIS — Great news for Indiana Lincoln fans. State and Allen County leaders have put together a “compelling proposal” to keep the Lincoln Museum’s $20 million collection right here in Indiana, the 16th president’s boyhood home. Credit a coalition of concerned Hoosiers headed by retired Lincoln Financial CEO Ian M. Rolland.
   
“We’re going to put in a very strong proposal,” Rolland said Monday. “We believe we’ve got the facilities and the financial wherewithal to maintain the collection.”
   
If Indiana’s proposal is accepted by Lincoln Financial Foundation, memorabilia could be available for viewing as early as next year, the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday. A final decision won’t be made until December.
   
In March, the foundation announced it would close the Lincoln Museum on June 30 and offer its $20 million collection to another institution in hopes of wider exposure. The private museum had been in Fort Wayne since 1931 when it was created by Lincoln National Life Insurance Co.; its closure was foreshadowed in 1998 when the company moved corporate headquarters from Fort Wayne to Philadelphia.
   
Indiana’s bid, while strong, is not a done deal, according to those involved. Among others in the running: the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and the Lincoln Museum and Library in Springfield, Ill.
   
Rolland will announce on Thursday a campaign to raise roughly $8.5 million for an endowed fund that would maintain the collection, which includes books, photographs, signed documents and artifacts. Under Indiana’s proposal, the materials would be shared by the Indiana State Museum, which would dedicate a Lincoln Gallery for their display, and the Allen County Public Library.
   
Rolland, a lifelong Hoosier who had much to do with the accumulation of the collection during his 21 years as the Lincoln CEO, said the proposal is the result of an “enormously positive collaborative effort” between the Allen County Public Library, Friends of the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, the governor’s office, State Museum, State Library, Indiana Historical Society and Indiana Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. He says it is “the best possible and strongest proposal that we could make.”
   
Gary Abell, spokesman for Gov. Mitch Daniels, agreed. “We’ve had a lot of people working on this and we’ve put together what we believe to be a compelling proposal.”
  
Another compelling proposal, this one by a citizens group seeking to create a Lincoln Park along the canal in Downtown Indianapolis, got new life May 23 when the Indiana Finance Authority suspended a process to put an economic development project there.
   
At issue: Almost an acre of grassy hillside across from the Indiana Historical Society, home to an extensive collection of Lincoln photographs, political cartoons, portraits and other memorabilia.
   
Earl A. Goode, chief of staff to Gov. Daniels, said the election of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard prompted the state to hold off on development, giving the new city administration a chance to consider what it would like to see on the property. Although most of the land is state-owned, the city has title to a six-foot strip adjacent to the water.
   
Preserving the land as an urban green space in Lincoln’s memory “hasn’t been ruled out,” said Goode. “It hasn’t been given any thought either.”
   
On Feb. 12, the 199th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, a grass-roots organization called Canal Park Advocates urged the land be set aside and named for Lincoln. The area is one of few green spaces left in Downtown Indianapolis and is a popular site for picnic lunches, civic gatherings and listening to concerts held along the canal.
   
Lincoln would no doubt approve. Little known is that Lincoln signed into law legislation setting aside land in California’s Yosemite Valley “for public use, resort, and recreation … inalienable for all time." This was the first time in history that a federal government had set aside scenic lands simply to protect them and to allow for their enjoyment by all people.

In something of a bicentennial coup, the traveling Lincoln exhibit of the Library of Congress will be coming to the Indiana State Museum early in 2010. “We’re one of only four cities in the country that’s going to be able to display this collection,” Abell notes.
   
Obtaining the exhibit has been a priority of the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission headed by Connie Nass of Huntingburg.
    
For folks interested in attending, the commission’s next meeting will be July 1 at 11:30 at the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial in Spencer County.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.



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