Air Date: 061308
Subject: The History of the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Web Site: The Lincoln Museum
Book: Did Lincoln Own Slaves?: And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln
Guest: None. See the summaries.
Summary: Gerry Prokopowicz covers the history of the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, scheduled to close on June 30, 2008.
Brett’s Summary: Gerry covers what he calls “an unsuccessful preservation effort” in regards to the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Gerry has a very personal interest in this topic, having worked there for nine years. Lincoln had a tenuous connection to Fort Wayne, having stopped there only briefly during his trip to Washington, D.C. to be inaugurated. The museum was created in Fort Wayne, Indiana because the Lincoln Financial Group was founded in 1928 and had its headquarters there at the time. The first move towards building the Lincoln Museum came in 1928 when Arthur Hall, founder of the Lincoln insurance company, hired a Lincoln historian named Lewis Warren to publish a weekly one page newsletter called Lincoln Lore which could be used in newspapers and other publications. Lincoln Lore kept expanding up to (possibly) 32 pages, and it is still published today. Gerry unfortunately believes Lincoln Lore will stop being published when the Museum closes on June 30, 2008. The Lincoln Museum was started in the basement of the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in 1931. When Gerry got to the Museum to interview for a job in 1993, he was pleasantly surprised at the way the Lincoln material was being presented. By that time, many people had asked the question, “What does a life insurance company have to do with a museum?”, and the company tried to shop the collection around in 1992. However, the company found that they would also have to bequeath a gift of money to whoever took the materials, and public outcry arose over the potential dismantling of this valuable educational resource. As a result, when the company moved offices, they decided to move the Lincoln Museum to the new corporate headquarters, and began hiring some new staff as well. Gerry was hired to take the place of Mark Neely, who was moving on in his career. In 1993, Gerry and others worked to build the new museum, which eventually opened in 1995. Gerry mentioned that contrary to the usual solitary work of a historian, museum work actually involves quite a few people working together. In a museum exhibit, Gerry argued that Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves and preservation of the Union “were far more than the sum of their parts.” Gerry relates that he absolutely loved working with the artifacts, something he couldn’t do in a lot of other jobs a historian can hold. He believes the most valuable artifact in the entire museum is the inkwell Lincoln used when he signed the final Emancipation Proclamation document. The staff was slowly downsized in the years since 1995, and Gerry left in 2003 to go to East Carolina University. The Lincoln National company left Fort Wayne and moved to Philadelphia. Gerry sarcastically mentions the hundreds of millions of dollars used by the company to obtain naming rights to the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium and the sudden unavailability of the several million needed to keep the museum going in Fort Wayne. Gerry closes by mentioning the unknown future of the museum and the collection housed there.
Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.
In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.