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Thursday, June 7, 2018 12:07 am

Storage wars

City, ALPLM contemplate Lincoln books

Story has been updated to include excerpts from an email sent to ALPLM by a former state official.

Anyone who suspects that faith in government institutions might be lacking need look no further than a behind-the-scenes kerfuffle involving the city of Springfield and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.


The stars of the show are two interment books from Oak Ridge Cemetery that contain burial records of Abraham Lincoln and  kin. The city recently paid $30,000 to restore the crumbling books. Now that the books are no longer falling apart, the city needs a place to keep them, preferably a place that controls for humidity and leaky ceilings and paper-eating insects and would-be vandals so that the books won’t crumble again.

Enter the ALPLM.

Museum director Alan Lowe last month signed a deal with Mayor Jim Langfelder aimed at keeping the books safe in the ALPLM’s vault. Now, some are questioning the arrangement, which is being tweaked in advance of a city council vote to establish a long-term agreement between the city and the museum.

It boils down to issues of trust.

No one is saying that the ALPLM isn’t the best place for the books. The goal is to keep them stored away and untouched and out of public view save for occasional exhibits that would feature the books safe inside glass cases. Digital copies exist, and if the internet isn’t sufficient, the city also has paid for replicas to keep at cemetery offices.

But some lovers of Lincoln, and the cemetery, are nervous that the agreement between the city and the museum doesn’t sufficiently protect the documents, or the city’s interests.

For one thing, the agreement now in place allows the ALPLM to make copies of the books. That doesn’t sit well with some.

City officials have said that the secretary of state’s office borrowed the books in 2003 to make digital copies and returned them unbound and in pieces. It’s an accusation disputed by the state. Secretary of state spokesman Henry Haupt says that his office never touched the books but rather handled grant money that paid for copies that were made under the direction of the state historical library. Haupt is backed by Alyce Scott, a lecturer at San Jose State University and former coordinator of the digital imaging program at the state historical library for a dozen years beginning in 2000.

Scott, who attached a photograph of one volume in a recent email to a top ALPLM official, said the book's condition "was not the greatest" when the city loaned it to the state for copying, and no damage was done during the copying process. 

"The vendor setup included digital cameras and a cradle for the book to be placed in during the digitization process," Scott wrote in an email to Michael Little, ALPLM chief operating officer, in response to accusations from city officials that the state had damaged the books. "As it was being digitized, the volume was handled with great care, and was never placed on a flatbed scanner. I know this to be true, because I saw the digitization in process. … To imply that anyone (from the SoS office, or otherwise) entrusted with digitizing a volume this precious would handle it in such a cavalier fashion, is a great slap in the face of all these people, but especially the vendor  who did such a careful job in creating the digital version."

Still, some city officials want to make sure that the state can’t ever be in the position to damage the books by making copies.


“The last thing we want, after paying to have these things restored, is to have someone take them apart again like the secretary of state did the last time to do a page-by-page scan,” says Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen. “I feel very comfortable with it being at the museum. We need a reasonable guarantee that the books are going to be protected.”

Michael Lelys, Oak Ridge Cemetery executive director, shares Theilen’s concern.

“If you already have copies, why do you need to copy it again?” Lelys asks.

There also are questions of future ownership.

P.J. Staab, a local funeral director whose relatives are buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, says that he’s concerned that the existing agreement is titled a deposit agreement as opposed to a loan agreement.

A loan agreement, Staab says, would help guarantee that the books never fall under state ownership in the event that future city officials somehow forget to renew the agreement between the city and the museum, which must be renewed every 10 years. “I kind of liken it to a shirt that you take to the dry cleaners,” says Staab, who provided a replica hearse for a 2015 reenactment of Lincoln’s funeral at Oak Ridge. “You don’t loan it to them, you deposit it. And if the shirt doesn’t get picked up in 30 days, the cleaner owns it.”

Corporation counsel Jim Zerkle says that the city’s ownership is protected under a deposit agreement. However, a revised contract attached to a proposed intergovernmental agreement presented to the city council on Tuesday would not allow the museum to make copies of the books. The current deal between Mayor Jim Langfelder and the museum, Zerkle said, was established so that the city would have a place to store the books pending city council approval of a formal intergovernmental agreement.

Chris Wills, ALPLM spokesman, says that the museum wants to help the city and is open to suggestions.

“We’d be happy to listen to whatever they have to say,” Wills said.

At least one thing is clear. No one should pretend they’re from the city and ask the ALPLM to hand over the books. Both the agreement that’s in place and the proposed deal up for city council approval state that anyone designated by the mayor to pick up the books must present photo identification issued by the state of Illinois before the ALPLM will surrender the manuscripts.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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