Uncertainty about Lincoln’s hat

A story in today’s Chicago Sun-Times raises questions about one of the most iconic artifacts at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL.  The provenance of a stovepipe hat which reportedly belonged to Abraham Lincoln is in doubt.

The story of the hat was first written in August 1958, when Carbondale resident Clara Waller signed an affidavit in which she said her father-in-law, William Waller, obtained the hat from Lincoln “during the Civil War in Washington” and, upon Waller’s death, it was passed on to her husband, Elbert Waller.…

Attached to Clara Waller’s affidavit is a handwritten statement from the late John W. Allen, a history professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, who said he had been told the “same” story about the hat by Elbert Waller and was “inclined to give it full credence.”

The problem is that nobody can document William Waller’s presence in Washington, D.C. during the period in question.  It’s possible that Lincoln may have given him the hat at some earlier point, perhaps in 1858.

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Filed under Lincoln and Memory, Lincoln Updates

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