BLASER: Frauds and phonies are nothing new to Springfield
Updated: April 17, 2012 11:26AM
The recent news that a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln hanging in the governor’s mansion in Springfield is a fake proved not only interesting but also somehow appropriate.
It was interesting because all things dealing with President Lincoln are, at the very least, “interesting.”
Appropriate because most of the occupants of the governor’s mansion over the last few decades have also been fakes.
Have we had a governor lately who has even read about Lincoln? They certainly don’t try to emulate him.
The recent governors we’ve had in this state are mostly charlatans and frauds, political hacks and hangers-on. They are just the sorts of people who probably mobbed Lincoln in his day and are lost in the dust of history.
So it seems appropriate to me that the painting of Mary Todd Lincoln is a fake.
But it is also interesting.
As James Cornelius, the curator at the Lincoln Library and the Museum in Springfield, told the story, the original fraud was perpetrated on the Lincoln family. The fake painting was sold to them in the 1920s as a portrait of Mary that the former first lady intended to give to the president. Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated before she could give him the portrait.
As it turns out, the woman in the painting isn’t even Mary Todd Lincoln. It is some unknown woman.
In a way, I could see how it happens. The grandchildren become interested in their family heritage and look for stories, images, etc., about their grandparents. How would they know how grandma Lincoln really looked in 1865?
I’ve become interested in my family history, too. Thanks to today’s technology, I met a distant cousin who had pictures of my great-great-grandparents. Is it really them? I have no idea. But at least I can download a jpeg for free and not pay $20,000 for the painting.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet James Cornelius, who gave me a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the Lincoln Library. One of the treasures he showed me was a children’s book that was signed in that familiar script we’ve all seen: “A. Lincoln.”
But the book was published after Lincoln’s death. How could that be? Was it a fraud?
No, Cornelius told me.
It was a trick question.
The book belonged to “A. Lincoln” all right, and “A. Lincoln” definitely signed the book. But it was Abraham Lincoln II, the president’s grandson, who was known as “Jack.”