Lincoln Foundation Turns to Crowdfunding, Auctions to Cover Debt

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation has turned to GoFundMe to raise money to help it pay for a large collection of rare items once owned by the president. If the foundation doesn't reach the goal, it may have to auction the goods.

If you were facing a shortfall in your budget, would you ask the public to help you cover it?

That’s a move the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation has been trying, in an effort to pay off a significant debt it still owes on a series of artifacts owned by the Civil War-era president. The foundation borrowed $23 million to purchase the materials from a private collector more than a decade ago, according to a New York Times article. The purchase allowed a significant number of items to go on public display, but more than $9 million of that loan is still outstanding.

Among those items: A beaver-fur hat that was reportedly worn by Lincoln during his days as a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois, along with a pair of bloodstained gloves that Lincoln carried the night he died. The foundation took hold of the assets from the Louise and Barry Taper Collection in 2007, soon after the presidential library opened.

Now the foundation, which supports the state-owned Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, is trying a different tactic—crowdfunding—to cover the cost and prevent these artifacts from being removed from public view.

The GoFundMe, which has been up since May, has received wider attention over the past few days. It also has a bold goal of raising $9.7 million by October 2019. So far, it has only raised around $28,000.

In an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, the foundation’s executive director, Carla Knorowski, appealed to the cultural importance of the goods when encouraging donations.

“If a single Lincoln artifact goes to auction, taken from the public realm, then we, as a nation are collectively diminished and must look ourselves in the mirror and take responsibility,” Knorowski wrote. “It is not any one individual’s or group’s responsibility to bear; it is all of ours to bear.”

As the foundation tries the crowdfunding approach, it also has an undesirable plan B in place. Due to a lack of interest on GoFundMe so far, last week the foundation began actively looking for auction houses, a board decision Knorowski said was only made under duress.

“It’s certainly not a day any of us wanted to see come to pass,” she told The Washington Post. “Having said that, it’s something that we internally have been preparing for just in case. But every day that I wake up, that my colleagues wake up, and our board wakes up, we are working to figure out how we can raise money towards this, and how we can successfully bring this campaign to a conclusion.”

The Post reports that the foundation has already sold some items, specifically those that were tangentially related to the president, such as those belonging to Marilyn Monroe, who had an interest in the former president, and Carl Sandburg, who wrote a biography of Lincoln.

(Library of Congress)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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