Only five known copies of the Gettysburg Address bear Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting. One sits beneath the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, for much of the year, in a vault where the humidity and temperature are tightly controlled.
But on June 15, 2018, those two weathered pages could be found in Glenn Beck’s office.
“Are they requiring you wear gloves?” Beck, the conservative radio host, asked an archivist who worked for a museum run by his charity, Mercury One. “That’s so stupid.”
Beck joked to the archivist about spilling chocolate sauce on the framed papers as he sat next to a black box containing the document, which has been valued at $20 million.
“You don’t get another one at Home Depot,” Beck said in a live Facebook video.
It turns out that the document memorializing Lincoln’s famous speech on Nov. 19, 1863, never should have been sent to the Mercury Museum in Irving, Texas, according to a report by a government watchdog released Friday.
Illinois investigators said the presidential library’s former executive director, Alan Lowe, had rushed to lend the document to Beck on less than two weeks’ notice, calling it an unusual and risky move that put the artifact in danger. They also faulted Lowe and the museum’s former chief operating officer for letting Beck’s charity pay for their plane tickets and hotel stays in Texas when they traveled to the Mercury Museum.
The former chief operating officer, Michael Little, took a job with Mercury One months after the document was displayed in a pop-up exhibit. Lowe joined an advisory board for the organization, though he said he was not paid and had decided to resign, according to the report from the Illinois Office of Executive Inspector General.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois fired Lowe in September, shortly after receiving the inspector general report, which recommended the firing. Lowe, Beck and Mercury One did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
The report describes how the museum’s staff felt rushed by Lowe to ship the document to Texas on an accelerated timeline that Carla Smith, the registrar of the Lincoln museum, told investigators was “ridiculous.”
The museum has lent the document only twice before, and in those situations it had months to prepare. This time, the timeline was so compressed that Mercury One sent its certification of insurance minutes before FedEx shippers arrived to pick up the document, Smith told investigators.
The report’s authors said Lowe had violated at least two policies of the state’s Historic Preservation Agency: one that expressly banned loans of the Gettysburg Address and another that required loan requests to be submitted six months in advance. Lowe told investigators he thought the museum was not bound by those rules after 2017, when it became an independent state agency, but investigators dismissed that claim.
The Lincoln museum’s copy of the Gettysburg Address was safely returned last year and is on display until Dec. 2. To avoid damaging the document in the light, the museum usually takes it out of the vault for only a few weeks each year, around the anniversary of the speech.
“The people of Illinois are fortunate that the Gettysburg Address and other artifacts ultimately returned safely” to the museum, the report said.
Lincoln delivered the short speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the Union Army had won one of the Civil War’s most important battles months earlier. In the address for the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, Lincoln extolled the virtues of the nation and those who had fought there. He said it was up to the living to continue their “unfinished work.”
The Lincoln museum has had its copy of the Gettysburg Address, known as the Everett copy, for about 75 years. It is named after Edward Everett, a politician who delivered a speech before Lincoln’s that has mostly been forgotten. Illinois schoolchildren collected pennies to raise most of the $60,000 the state needed to buy the document in 1944, according to Bob Willard, the president of the Abraham Lincoln Association.
Willard said he personally hoped the controversial loan would be a reminder that institutions should “take increased devotion to the important role they have of safeguarding our national treasures.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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