A Whistleblower Busted the Lincoln Museum for Improperly Renting a Copy of the Gettysburg Address to Glenn Beck for $50,000
The conservative commentator hosted the rare document at a pop-up exhibition, and the museum got money to help pay off a debt.
Conservative media personality Glenn Beck, who for years propagated wild conspiracy theories on Fox News and later via his company the Blaze, has gotten a museum director in hot water by paying the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in Springfield, Illinois, $50,000 to rent a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
The museum’s executive director, Alan Lowe, got a free trip to Beck’s pop-up Mercury Museum in Dallas, where the document hung in Beck’s office. Lowe lost his job following an investigation that found that the rental and the free travel were illegal.
“On February 13, 2019,” says a September 3 report by the Office of the Executive Inspector General, the Office “received an anonymous complaint alleging that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) ‘pimp[ed] out’ the Gettysburg Address and other Lincoln artifacts to Mercury One for $50,000 in 2018, contrary to standard museum lending policies.”
The Lincoln Museum also rented Beck a lock of Lincoln’s hair and an effigy doll of the assassinated 16th president. Lowe put the money toward paying off the remaining $9 million of a $25 million debt the institution had incurred in order to buy a group of artifacts that included the hair and the doll.
According to a report from the Executive Ethics Commission of the State of Illinois, there are just five copies of the address in Lincoln’s handwriting. Schoolchildren across the state collected pennies (which, you may recall, bear Honest Abe’s profile) to cover the $60,000 price tag for their own copy in 1944. The document, which includes Lincoln’s proclamation that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” is now valued at twenty million dollars. Every year on November 19, the date Lincoln delivered the address in 1863, the document goes briefly on public view; it’s highly sensitive to light, so the rest of the year, it resides in a vault. It had been out on loan just twice before, and those processes took more than eight months to arrange. In this case, the document left the museum just twelve days after the agreement with Beck was inked.
Lowe defied a policy set down by the Historic Preservation Agency that said the document would not be lent out again, citing, in part, “increasingly worrisome security issues.” (We’re looking at you, Nicolas Cage.) Lowe had also offered the Emancipation Proclamation to Beck’s team.
Lowe organized the loan so quickly that insurance documents arrived about a half-hour before the FedEx truck bearing the document left for Dallas, says the report. It was to go on view at a two-day pop-up exhibition in June at Beck’s Mercury One studios. The Lincoln Museum’s COO, Michael Little, also got free tickets to Dallas. Neither he nor Lowe showed up for the transport, removal, or unpacking of the Gettysburg Address, says the report. Five months later, Mercury One sent a check for $50,000.
Michael Little, according to the report, was allowed to resign in lieu of being terminated; shortly afterward, he took a job working for Beck’s Mercury One, a nonprofit whose mission is to “restore the human spirit by encouraging dependence on God, providing humanitarian aid, preserving heritage, and empowering all to stand for truth.”
With his typical grandiosity, Beck declares in a video that “the summer of 2018 was game-changing for a lot of people because the Mercury Museum opened its doors for the first time in a temporary exhibit housed in the Mercury Studios in Dallas, Texas.” Mercury is Beck’s radio and television studio. Numerous artifacts are on view in the video, including a photo of Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump. The exhibit was titled “Rights & Responsibilities.”
In a Facebook live video, Beck dons rubber gloves and handles the framed Address. (That’s where we couldn’t bear to keep watching.)
A Mercury One spokeswoman said in an emailed statement to Artnet News that the Office of the Executive Inspector General never contacted Mercury One in developing its report. “It’s important that the public both in Illinois and around the world have full confidence in how the precious document was treated and in our plans going forward,” she wrote. “We have an artifact handling policy that was approved by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum that is very much in line with their standards. Mercury One is currently in a $160M capital campaign to build a world-class experiential U.S. History museum in Dallas/Fort Worth.” She did not reply to a follow-up question about whether Beck’s handling of the artifact was in line with the Lincoln Museum’s policies.
The Lincoln Library and Museum declined to comment.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.