In a desperate fundraising appeal, a stovepipe hat that was said to have belonged to the 16th President of the United States has been deemed a vital artefact of American history that needs to be saved for future generations. The hat is the correct size (7⅛), is made of felted beaver fur, and has a stretched band, which aligns with Abraham Lincoln’s habit of storing papers there. However, Carla Knorowski, chief executive of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, warns that the hat may need to be sold to pay a looming debt.
The foundation bought the stovepipe hat for the Lincoln museum in Illinois in 2007 for $25 million as part of a larger purchase of Lincoln artifacts. It remains the centerpiece of the museum collection, and is one of just three Lincoln hats thought to still exist. Now awkward questions have been raised about whether it ever actually belonged to the former president. Even the FBI has enlisted its forensic scientists to examine the hat for DNA.
The foundation in 2014 asked the FBI to see if DNA tests could establish a tie to Lincoln. Using DNA from Lincoln’s hair and blood-spattered items from his assassination they concluded there was insufficient DNA data remaining on the hat. Most of the DNA that was recovered could be related to contemporary DNA from an individual who had recently handled the item. Alan Lowe, the museum’s executive director since July 2016, has only recently learned about the DNA testing reports: a timeline that he has called “unacceptable” in a letter to the foundation.
An FBI spokesperson said it sometimes takes on cases like this because they can help improve the bureau’s ability to analyze degraded DNA samples, like those its analysts would encounter at a crime scene.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation is struggling financially following its 2007 purchases, and is said to be $9.7 million in debt. An online fundraiser was started in May, which has garnered only a small fraction of the funds needed before the loan must be paid in full in a year’s time.
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