SPRINGFIELD — State Rep. Tim Butler said Wednesday the Illinois House should hold hearings to get to the bottom of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation and a hat purportedly owned by Abraham Lincoln that the foundation shelled out millions to obtain.
Butler, R-Springfield, called for the hearings in the wake of a report Wednesday by WBEZ radio in Chicago about a previously undisclosed report by historians and an FBI analysis that further undermine claims the hat was ever owned by Lincoln.
“I just find it incredible that the foundation could sit on this report for five years while also out there advocating for private and public dollars for a collection where the most iconic item they have, a report that says it may not be Abe’s hat,” Butler said.
The hat, which is occasionally on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, was the centerpiece of the Louise and Barry Taper Collection bought by the foundation in 2007 for $25 million. The foundation borrowed $23 million to purchase the collection. It still owes $9.7 million on the loan, which must be repaid by next year.
Last spring, the foundation approached the Rauner administration about securing money in the state budget to help repay the loan but was not successful. Butler said the foundation’s attempts to secure state funding is one reason the issue deserves more public scrutiny.
The WBEZ report said the foundation secretly tried to authenticate the hat through DNA testing done by the FBI. However, the FBI said it was unable to collect enough DNA from the hat that would have come from Lincoln’s time.
WBEZ also reported a report written by two historians at the Smithsonian and the Chicago History Museum determined there was inadequate documentation that Lincoln owned the hat. The two also said the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum might want to avoid displaying the hat until it can be authenticated.
Butler said he wants the House Tourism Committee to hold hearings since the foundation was seeking tourism money to pay off its debt. He said the two historians should be asked to testify along with a representative of the FBI. He said the committee should also try to get to the bottom of the foundation’s finances.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the office is looking into the timing and logistics of a hearing, such as whether it would be held in Springfield or Chicago and when. Butler said he doesn’t want to wait until the post-election veto session to hold the hearing.