Not a shred of evidence says ‘Lincoln’s hat’ was Lincoln’s hat

The sooner the Lincoln Museum quits spinning malarkey, the sooner it can be taken as a place of serious scholarship.

SHARE Not a shred of evidence says ‘Lincoln’s hat’ was Lincoln’s hat
The stovepipe hat in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield in 2012.

The stovepipe hat in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Researchers have found no verifiable evidence Lincoln ever owned the hat.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield does not own Abe’s hat.

Can’t the folks there just accept that?

The sooner the museum’s leadership acknowledges there is no verifiable evidence — none at all — that the stovepipe hat in their collection was ever perched on Lincoln’s head, the sooner the museum can be taken as a place of serious scholarship.

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It is not enough to say the hat’s provenance remains an open question while keeping it on display. No researcher in the last seven years, including the state’s official historian, has found a shred of proof the hat belonged to Lincoln.

Until such evidence is found, it is dishonest for the taxpayer-funded museum to even suggest otherwise. That’s not how real historians work. The hat should not be displayed, and the museum’s online “Under His Hat” feature, in which the hat rotates 360 degrees, should be taken down.

The hat was part of a $25 million trove of Lincoln memorabilia purchased by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in 2007. At that time, the hat, said to have been owned by a farmer in the 1850s and passed down through generations, was appraised at $6.5 million.

In June, in an email to an aide to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the director of the museum at that time wrote: “It appears from my discussions with the state historian that he and his team have found no evidence confirming the hat belonged to President Lincoln. This does not mean the evidence does not exist, but the efforts of our team have been thorough.”

Former congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was appointed by Pritzker last week to head the board of the presidential library and museum, said the whole hat controversy — which began in 2012 with a Sun-Times investigation by Dave McKinney, now a WBEZ reporter — has been a “real distraction.” He said he hopes a new executive director, who is now being sought, will resolve the issue once and for all.

“If the hat’s not authentic,” LaHood told us, “it certainly should not be displayed.”

That strikes us as a sensible stance, with one caveat. The museum’s default position, for now, should be that Lincoln never owned the hat. That’s where the known facts lie.

Quit selling a line of malarkey to school groups of third-graders.

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