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Thursday, June 28, 2018 12:06 am

ALPLM foundation sells Monroe memorabilia

Pitch to Pritzker doesn’t pan

 A dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe fetched $50,000 last Saturday as the struggling Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation sold eight non-Lincoln items at a Las Vegas auction.

Seven photographs of Monroe with Carl Sandburg collectively brought $15,000. A Sandburg bust proved exactly that and remains the property of the foundation, having failed to attract a required minimum bid during the weekend auction held at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Sin City.

The items, purchased with borrowed money, came from a collection once held by foundation board member Louise Taper, who sold a collection of Lincoln memorabilia, plus a few things that have nothing to do with the Great Emancipator, to the foundation for more than $20 million in 2007. The foundation went public with its cash crunch last spring, after a plea to the governor’s office proved unsuccessful. The governor’s staff has said that it wants to see a business plan from the foundation.

Between auction proceeds and an online GoFundMe campaign, the foundation’s debt for relics had been whittled to $9,625,621, which doesn’t take into account any commissions due the auction company for Saturday’s sale. A bank with ties to a foundation board member holds the note that comes due in the fall of 2019, and the foundation has said that it might be forced to sell relics to satisfy the debt.

Nearly 100 Lincoln relics from Taper’s collection already have been offloaded to the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier that returned to sea in the spring of 2017 after an overhaul that lasted four years. The overhaul included the creation of an on-ship museum funded by the Pritzker Military Foundation, which paid $125,000 to create a Lincoln museum for the ship’s crew and visitors, according to the library foundation’s most recent annual report. The transfer of relics, including broadsides, sheet music, lithographs and documents, was initially part of a larger pitch for cash aimed at the Pritzker foundation and Jennifer Pritzker, the foundation’s creator and cousin to Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker.

In a 2017 email to ALPLM director Alan Lowe, Carla Knorowski, library foundation chief executive officer, outlined the proposal that included $100,000 for relics to stock the aircraft carrier museum, with ownership to transfer to the U.S. Naval War College when the ship eventually is decommissioned. Insurance, packaging and transportation of the relics, plus display cards to accompany the relics and digitized documentation of the items, would cost an additional $25,000. Lowe, James Cornelius, curator of the ALPLM’s Lincoln collection, and Samuel Wheeler, state historian, prepared cards describing the 94 items, which the ALPLM says are duplicates of items in the institution’s vault.

Foundation officials had high hopes in advance of a February 2017 meeting with Pritzker, the head of a Chicago military museum that bears her name and the head of the Pritzker Military Foundation. “Fingers crossed we will leave the meeting with a $320,000 grant!” Knorowski wrote in an email to Lowe the day before the meeting with Pritzker, who is worth nearly $2 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

In addition to selling Lincoln memorabilia to stock the seaborne museum, the foundation proposed selling Pritzker naming rights to nine documents and relics, including two pieces of presidential china, a book, a broadside and five documents signed by Lincoln, that would remain at the ALPLM and be displayed for the first time together during 2018 state bicentennial observations, with Pritzker’s name attached. Knorowski suggested naming the nine items The Col. J.N. Pritzker Collection of Lincolnia at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The asking price was $206,000.

“Each time, in perpetuity, one or all of this nine-piece collection of Lincolnia is displayed publicly, either at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum or at another museum or library to which they are loaned temporarily, it would be noted they are from the collection as named by Colonel Jennifer Pritzker,” foundation officials wrote in their pitch.

It was not, apparently, successful. Contracts between the library foundation and Pritzker’s charities aren’t matters of public record, but ALPLM spokesman Chris Wills says the naming-rights proposal as described in the 2017 written pitch did not come to pass. “Nothing came of the ALPLM part of that Pritzker proposal,” Wills wrote in an email.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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