Lincoln library director fired for improper loan of ‘priceless’ handwritten Gettysburg Address to Glenn Beck’s nonprofit
The Lincoln library’s copy of the speech had only been loaned out twice before, once to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2008 and another time to the Chicago History Museum in 2009.
The director of the Abraham Lincoln library in Springfield was fired in September for improperly loaning a “priceless” handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address — one of only five in existence — to a pop-up museum opened by conservative media personality Glenn Beck.
Beck’s nonprofit, Mercury One, also arranged for the now ex-director, Alan Lowe, and another top library official to visit the exhibition last year in Dallas, according to a report from the Illinois executive inspector general recommending Lowe be fired.
Lowe was fired by Gov. J.B. Pritzker Sept. 20, though the reason wasn’t known until the report was released this week.
The report notes the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum acquired its copy of the speech in 1944 for $60,000, funded in part with pennies donated by Illinois schoolchildren.
“Although as a practical matter it is irreplaceable, the appraised value of the ALPLM’s copy of the Gettysburg Address is $20 million,” the report said.
Calling the artifact the museum’s “crown jewel,” the report argued it “should be treated with the very highest level of care and caution. However, Mr. Lowe did not even follow ... policies and standards that govern more ordinary loans when he loaned the Gettysburg Address to Mercury One in 2018.”
The library’s copy had been loaned out just twice before: to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2008, and the Chicago History Museum in 2009. Arranging those loans took time; almost a year for the first, and eight months for the second.
Lowe’s loan to Beck’s Mercury One nonprofit in June 2018 was made eight days after discussions started, the inspector general said. Five months later, Mercury One issued a check to the Lincoln library for $50,869.60.
Michael Little, the other library official flown out by Beck’s nonprofit for the exhibition, started working for Mercury One a couple of months later. Little had resigned from the library in lieu of being fired after leaving an artifact unattended and unsecured.
Lowe’s firing in September marked the latest chapter of turmoil for the Springfield institution.
Lowe, who started at the library in Springfield in 2016, replaced Eileen Mackevich, who resigned in 2015 over differing views with then-Gov. Bruce Rauner on the direction of the museum.
A veteran of the presidential library world, Lowe previously served as the director of national archives and records administration at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas from 2009 to 2016, when he was tapped by Rauner to lead the Lincoln library.
Lowe also worked at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in New York and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.
The Lincoln library has been plagued by debts and the foundation that runs the library and museum has weighed auctioning off Lincoln artifacts to pay off the $9.7 million it owes on a 2007 loan it used to buy the Barry and Louise Taper Collection.
That collection included a stovepipe hat, but earlier this year a historian found “no evidence” it ever had been worn by Lincoln.