� A crowd of people turned away | Main | The game to play is compromise solution �

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Things that you held high

downspout-window-IMG_1768.JPG

Springfield patterns.

sunset-IMG_1844.JPG

Sunset.

* Missing history: When historical documents disappear from courthouses:

As a supervisor in the department of state archives for the secretary of state’s office, Karl Moore makes a living by preserving records from courts and government offices throughout Illinois. His doesn’t have property records from Menard County for years prior to 1841, including two assessor’s books from 1839.
Would he like to have them?
“Yes,” Moore answers.
He wasn’t aware that assessor’s books that contain names of property owners including Abraham Lincoln are in the vault at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
“I would like to at least microfilm (them),” Moore says. “I don’t know how they may have gotten separated from the county. That does happen. I’ll talk to somebody over there.”
The assessor’s books aren’t actually owned by the museum. Rather, they are part of a collection of Lincoln artifacts known as the Taper Collection that the museum’s private fundraising foundation purchased in 2007 from Louise Taper, a California collector who sits on the foundation board but did not vote on the acquisition. Until the acquisition debt is paid, the book and dozens of other manuscripts belong to the foundation and are collateral for a bank loan, with the principal standing at more than $10 million. When the debt is retired, the documents are supposed to be titled to the presidential museum.

The taxpayers should own these records, no matter where they are located. I'm surprised the residents of Menard County aren't demanding return of these materials.

“What’s worse, these all seem to come from different counties, so it’s not just a situation where a person threw out a bunch of court records that were flooded or moldy in, say, Sangamon County,” says Travis McDade, curator of rare books at the University of Illinois School of Law library who has written two books on thefts of rare books and examined digitized documents in the Taper Collection at the request of Illinois Times. “These have all the hallmarks of having been quite deliberately taken at some point. … I hope that these things legitimately belong where they belong. I hope there is a reason why these can be in private hands. I just can’t think of any reason why they would be.”

Why doesn't a serious collector, who comes into possession of public records such as the assessor's books from Menard County, question the provenance of those records? I would hope a serious collector of Lincoln documents, who takes possession of entire record books, which obviously belong to a public body, especially one that is still in existence, would take immediate steps to return those public records to the public body or its successor. To not do so, calls into question the collector's credibility as a serious collector. You may not be a looter, yourself, and I am certain you are not, but you're no better than the one who looted these documents from the public in the first place.

I'm just shaking my head that these records were spirited away from Illinois and then sold back to Illinois. Sold. Let us not be dupes in the realm of Lincoln documents.

The concept of what constitutes a public record is evolving, says Stowell, who says that 1961, when the Illinois General Assembly passed the Local Records Act that spells out proper procedures for disposal of records, is a key year. Prior to that date, he says, records could be removed from courthouses without a crime being committed.
“I would say that the vast majority of Lincoln documents in circulation…were probably acquired well before the 1961 act, so there was nothing illegal about it,” Stowell says.
Then again, no one can be sure exactly when court records were removed from public files. Thefts have been documented as recently as 1998, when a researcher with Stowell’s team was sentenced to prison for stealing hundreds of Lincoln-era documents from county courthouses and selling them for tens of thousands of dollars. Nearly 600 were recovered by the state.
Joens, the state archivist, isn’t sure that it was ever OK to take legal filings out of courthouses.

As a sometime researcher of public documents, I agree.

After reading this article, I can't help but think there's an underworld out there that buys, sells and trades in historical documents. Big money.

* And told yourself were true.... (Joni)

Posted by Marie at November 29, 2014 8:19 PM